Transportation Nation

Montana Lawmakers Consider Exempting Megaloads from Extra Environmental Review

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The ConocoPhillips megaload moving through a Helena intersection in February 2011. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

(Helena, MT – YPR) – The Montana Senate Natural Resources Committee plans to vote Friday on a bill that would exempt oversize loads from having to undergo a review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).

House Bill 513’s sponsor is Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City). He says the measure makes it crystal clear that the Montana Legislature “never intended for routine permits for oversize loads be forced to undergo the same scrutiny for environmental impacts that a new highway, a new coal mine or an oil refinery would be subjected to.”

The issue reached a flashpoint about two years ago when protesters sued to block several megaloads. At that time ImperialOil/ExxonMobil wanted to move oversize loads of equipment bound for the Oil Tar Sand fields in Alberta, Canada. Protesters also tried to stop oversize loads of coker drums traveling through Missoula to Billings.

“Prior to this particular incident in Missoula, the Montana Department of Transportation permitting process was always clearly designed and implemented to ensure the public notice and public safety were given substantial consideration without needless requirements or restrictions on the permitees,” says McChesney.

In order to haul an oversize load through Montana, companies need to obtain a 32-J permit. The current application contains an environmental checklist.

Opponents of HB 513 say because these megaloads could pose a threat to public safety, the environment, and cultural resources, a MEPA review may be appropriate. They add these projects should be subject to the MEPA process that expand the public’s right to know and the right of the public to participate in government decisions on such matters.

“If HB 513 passes, these monstrous, three-story, 200-foot long and 500,000-600,000 pound, made in Korea (loads) will be exempt from review for public safety, local highway infrastructure, cultural resources, the economy, and the environment,” says Montana Sierra Club's Claudia Narcisco.

Not true, says McChesney, a retired MDT employee who worked with oversize loads and the 32-J permits. He says before such permits are issued, MDT reviews the route, load size, and that public input is always welcome. He argues a MEPA review for the 32-J permit is redundant. “There’s no justifiable reason for this superfluous barrier to the commerce and the accompanying perception that Montana is a difficult place to do business.”

HB 513 was sent to the Montana Senate on a 72-26 vote.

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW MONTANA: Oil Boom in Canada Brings Megaloads South of the Border

Friday, December 30, 2011

A megaload moves through Montana (photo by Jackie Yamanaka/YPR)

(Billings, MT-YPR) The oil boom in Canada’s Tar Sands field and an oil refinery upgrade brought megaloads--huge shipments of drilling equipment-- across Western roads and interstate highways in 2011.

Opponents argue this equipment supports a dirty tar sands oil industry, will destroy public infrastructure, and disrupt scenic and wild landscapes. Proponents counter the megaloads will boost the economy. They add that until consumers no longer drive vehicles or use petroleum-based products, it's better to buy oil from friendly countries like Canada than from the Middle East.

Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil are seeking permission to move several hundred loads of large processing equipment from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, through Idaho and neighboring Washington and Montana, to its final destination – the Kearl oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

Earlier this month, the Idaho Transportation Department temporarily suspended shipments of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil refinery equipment following a collision with a vehicle. There were no injuries.

Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Director Timothy Reardon recently gave an update on the Kearl transport project to the interim Revenue and Transportation Legislative Committee (RTC).

Conservation groups and others are fighting movement of the oil sands processing equipment.  Opponents argue MDT should have conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) rather than an Environmental Assessment (EA) in issuing permits to the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil loads. In Montana, a state district judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the loads earlier this year. District Judge Ray Dayton later modified his order when Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil proposed smaller load sizes, and set a January 6, 2012 hearing date for arguments on a permanent injunction sought by opponents. Reardon, who has been MDT’s lead attorney before being promoted to director in August, expects the judge will instead request a trial for a full hearing on the matter.

Originally, the loads were up to 30 feet tall and weighed more than 500,000 pounds. Because of the size and weight, the companies were seeking to move the loads at night on two-lane roads. Now the companies have basically cut those loads in half and have been traveling on the interstate.

“They’ve moved 80 so far on the interstate and they’ve done so without incident (in Montana),” Reardon told lawmakers during December’s RTC hearing. “One of the distinctions about using the interstate route that has become apparent is with half-size loads on the interstate, most vehicles can travel 55-60 MPH.”

He adds traveling on the interstate means the passing lane is free for other vehicles to get around the loads.

Reardon told lawmakers the companies have submitted an application to move 300 oversize loads via I-90 and I-15.

A legislator had asked MDT if the state agency had adequately assessed state bridges to make sure they could handle megaloads. Reardon says during the state’s EA of the Kearl Transportation Project, the agency’s engineers “used their best judgment based on the information at hand to determine that the bridges on the proposed route were sufficient.”

Reardon told lawmakers that after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, Montana began an aggressive program to inspect all of its bridges. “They’ve all been found to be structurally safe as far as this route (the Kearl transportation project) is concerned. Our engineers tell me they do not believe there is a risk.”

“They get paid to make decisions about building bridges and telling us if they think they are going to fail when they get a heavy load on it,” Reardon says. “And so far, they tell me those bridges are sound.”

Reardon says at this point, however, none of the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil loads have moved any of its loads on any of those bridges.

Another megaload shipment that received attention in Montana in 2011 was a proposal by ConocoPhillips to move four coke drum shipments from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho to the company’s oil refinery in Billings.

Protesters met the ConocoPhillips megaloads in February as crews traveled down a Missoula street.  It was the only Montana community to hold a protest rally.

The ConocoPhillips megaload moving through a Helena intersection in February 2011

In Helena, a few onlookers watched. At the final destination in Billings, crews were greeted with coffee and donuts in April.

Because of the size, the loads were split into two. The final load arrived at ConocoPhillips refinery in August. The final shipment was delayed by several weeks because of spring flooding across portions of Central and south central Montana.


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Transportation Nation

ConocoPhillips Megaloads Set To Resume

Friday, July 22, 2011

A ConocoPhillips spokesman says its idled megaload shipments will resume travel through Montana Monday, shortly after midnight.  The move comes even as judge recently blocked a much larger shipment by ExxonMobil.

The two ConocoPhillips loads are each 26 feet high, 29 feet wide, and weigh 350 tons.

By contrast, ExxonMobil/Imperial oil would have sent some 200 loads to the Tar Sand fields in Canada.. The ConocoPhillips megaload is headed for the Billings refinery, with a total of 4 vehicles; 2 loads.

Those loads have been idled since the end of May in the Deep Creek Canyon area southeast of Helena, MT.

Company spokesman Rich Johnson in Houston says spring flooding along the route through central Montana kept the loads parked until Montana Department of Transportation officials could re-inspect the roads and bridges.

Inspectors had to wait for high water levels in a number of rivers and streams to go down before they could complete that work.

“So they were recently able to complete that task and cleared us to proceed,” says Johnson.

He adds its transport contractor Emmert International also was out inspecting pullouts to make sure they were still suitable for the heavy loads.

The only change to the route is north of Lewistown in central Montana. Heavy rain has washed out a portion of a road so the loads are being detoured around the area.

The destination for the coke drums is the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, MT. The travel plan approved by the state of Montana only allows the megaloads to be transported between midnight and 6 am.

These are the third and fourth loads bound for the refinery. In April the first two first loads arrived.

Johnson says once transportation of the loads resumes, the equipment should arrive the first week of August.


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Transportation Nation

Montana Flooding And Lawsuit Delays Megaload Transport

Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Flooding in central Montana is delaying the transport of refinery equipment bound for Billings while a lawsuit by a Missoula-based group is holding up another megaload bound for the oil tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada.

Megaloads are giant rigs hauling, in most cases, equipment for oil refineries.   They've been described as heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high.

Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch updated legislators on the Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee on the progress of the litigation over the Imperial Oil-ExxonMobil Kearle Module Transport Plan through the state.

“The matter has been briefed fully by both sides,” he says. “Now we’re waiting for the court’s decision.”

Before Lynch spoke, Missoula-based All Against the Haul issued a press release saying the MDOT’s environmental analysis was inadequate. The group says its report  still doubt Montana’s roads and bridges can handle the size and weight of these loads.

Imperial seeks to bring over 200 loads at night over 300 miles of Montana road.

When questioned about the group’s report by Missoula legislators, Lynch says, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know if I can answer that because I don’t know what report. I don’t know what engineer,” he says. “So I can’t say if I’ve seen it or not seen it. I’ve seen a lot of material that we received through the environmental process.”

Lynch told the interim legislative committee many of the questions lawmakers were asking about are in the current documents used to generate the permit to haul the megaloads through Montana.

All Against the Haul Campaign Coordinator Zack Porter says a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement should be conducted. He adds federal highway officials are now concerned about these loads and have contacted state officials.

“There was a memo just sent recently by Michael Onder, Team Leader of the Truck Size and Weight division of the federal Highway Administration in Washington, D-C,” he says. “The memo was sent to Director Lynch and MDOT regarding the concerns brought up by the representatives and senators here today who asked the questions just a moment ago.”

Porter says their study found shortcomings in MDOT’s ability to study the impact these loads will have on bridges.

Motor Carriers of Montana Executive Vice President Barry “Spook” Stang says the only community protesting these loads is Missoula. He says that’s unfortunate.

“These people (All Against the Haul) are here to obstruct it,” he says. “They’ve already held up this project a year and a half. By the end of this summer it will be two years. All they’re doing is adding cost to your fuel prices every time you buy fuel.”

But State Representative Sue Malek of Missoula wonders about the recent flooding from heavy rains that caused several rivers and streams to jump their banks. The damage washed out some roads and bridges and compromised some road beds.  Communities are bracing for additional flooding as record snowpack begins melting in the mountains.

Lynch says MDOT continues to monitor and analyze roads. Earlier in his presentation, Lynch told lawmakers to date Montana has spent about $2 million on repairs and is anticipating spending tens of millions of dollars just to fix state infrastructure damaged by flooding.

Lynch adds large loads are moving through Montana.

One that is delayed, however, is transport of the last set of Coker Drum equipment bound for the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Billings.

ConcoPhillips Spokesman Rich Johnson in Houston says the loads are parked near Townsend.

“Due to all the rain and flooding conditions that have happened in the region over the last several weeks the shipments have been parked in the area since the end of May,” he says. “We’re not able to resume travel until the road conditions improve.”

He says MDOT will notify the company when travel can resume. The state approved route is through areas where flooding has caused hills to slide, roads to buckle, and sinkholes.

Johnson says the company would like the equipment to arrive at its refinery, but that it won’t be installed until the next maintenance cycle scheduled next winter.


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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Transit Cuts May Hit Minneapolis, DC, Following Canadian Oil's Tension-Filled Trek South, and Will Poetry Return to NY's Subways?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will "Poetry in Motion" placards make a return to NYC's subway cars? Signs point to maybe. (New York Times)

If Congress cuts $150 million from DC's Metro, the agency's general manager says "the customers will really bear the burden...They will see the system deteriorating at a more rapid rate.” (Washington Post)

Twenty years from now, Canada may be supplying one-fourth of the US's oil needs. Which means more megaloads in Montana now. (NPR)

But Canadian drivers have their own problems: "In a new survey of major world cities by the Toronto Board of Trade, Toronto and Montreal have the worst commute times, worse even than London or New York City...Canadians need real options, and that means more public transit." (Globe and Mail)

A Wall Street Journal opinion piece takes President Obama's high-speed rail plan -- and Amtrak -- to task. "With Amtrak now the key to the President's rail program, a review of Amtrak's recent performance reveals that this "transformational" event will take place upon a foundation of epic failure, gross mismanagement, and union featherbedding."

Two freshman Republican representatives from upstate New York want to derail plans for high-speed trains across the state, leading to a new division in the state delegation. (The Buffalo News)

But a few hundred miles away, the Southeast High Speed Rail Association is holding an event called "The Conservative Case for Intercity & Higher Speed Passenger Rail” in Richmond. “Not every conservative — not even every libertarian — believes America’s unofficial motto should be ‘drive or die,’ ”the center's website reads. “There is a long conservative tradition of not wanting to see America reduced to nothing but strip malls, gas stations and pavement.” (The Hill)

The Minnesota House voted to trim the state budget deficit by reducing spending on Twin Cities transit, a strategy that could trigger fare hikes and service cuts. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Clinton Hill (Manhattan) residents say that the intra-city bus company, Megabus, has made the area of 9th Avenue in the lower 30s a "circus." (DNAinfo)

FastCompany passes along an infographic that shows, by state, what percent of commuters use bikes -- and then breaks down the 10 most popular bike cities.

The latest installment of WBEZ's "Dear Chicago" series interviews a bike advocate who wants the city's transportation infrastructure to pay more attention to pedestrians and bicyclists:

And finally:  a plot synopsis of a new movie about a killer tire. "Rubber is the story of Robert, an inanimate tire that has been abandoned in the desert, and suddenly and inexplicably comes to life....Leaving a swath of destruction across the desert landscape, Robert becomes a chaotic force to be reckoned with, and truly a movie villain for the ages." Metaphor alert!

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York City’s effort to create a fuel-efficient taxi fleet is getting a new legislative boost. Demand for fuel-efficient cars is "sluggish" -- despite high gas prices. And recent fatal bus crashes have led to a disagreement between the drivers' union and management.

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Transportation Nation

Megaloads Travel Through Montana's Capital City

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Early Wednesday morning, the big rigs hauling equipment to a Billings, Montana oil refinery crossed through the second major city on its route.

A big rig makes its way through Helena (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

Megaloads have been described as "heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high."  Their use has sparked some controversy over whether they sufficiently compensate the state for the wear and tear they cause on roadways.

Unlike the trip through Missoula which drew a crowd of several hundred and resulted in the arrest of one protester, only a handful of people watched the 2 coke drum shipments cross through a major intersection in Helena, Montana’s capital city. The big rigs were able to shoot a gap between the traffic lights. The signals did not have to be dismantled or pivoted out of the way. Utility crews in bucket trucks held up the utility lines so the rigs could pass.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

“That was cool,” says Jim Whitehead. The Helena resident waited nearly four hours for the big rigs to shoot the gap between traffic lights at this intersection.

He says curiosity brought him out on this rainy and windy night to watch the two megaloads bound for the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Montana.

A heavy haul truck pulled the load from the front while another pushes from the back. The company’s fact sheet says the rigs are 226 feet long, 29 feet wide, 28 feet high, and weigh approximately 300 tons.

“That’s just amazing,”  says Whitehead. “I had no idea they could move things that big on a street.”

About 30 people are traveling with the big rigs. This includes the transport company, Emmert International, traffic control vehicles, Montana Highway Patrol officers, numerous utility trucks, and others.

This is the first of two loads. The remaining shipments are awaiting transport to the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Billings at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho.

This is the first of a series of megaloads to be transported through Montana. ExxonMobil has loads also in Lewiston, ID bound for the oil tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada.

Protesters are trying to stop these shipments.

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Transportation Nation

Megaloads Travel Through Montana City

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A megaload waits on a snowy road (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – ConocoPhillips successfully transported its two huge megaloads of refinery equipment through the city of Missoula early this morning.

Hundreds of protesters and onlookers flanked the 15-mile route through a major city street.

Each load is 26 feet high and 29 feet wide. The loads are so big crews had to move traffic signals and utility lines out of the way. As described in an earlier TN story, each load is “heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high.”

Rich Johnson is a ConocoPhillips spokesman who flew to Missoula from Houston to accompany the loads. He says this is the first time he’s worked on a project this big that’s been the focus of intense media and public scrutiny.

“We had a lot of people out watching,” he says. “I mean there were the protesters. But there were many more people out watching to see this pretty amazing, unique site of these huge coke drums being transported through their city.”

The loads are not without controversy. A few protesters did try to block the loads. But they were removed by police. One person was arrested. Last month, the Montana Legislature was set to consider a bill that would have required separating permitting for megaloads, but it was tabled.

The route this morning through Missoula totaled about 15 miles. Johnson says the transport went smoothly.

“It went very well,” Johnson says. “We were able to safely transport our shipment from Lolo through the city of Missoula and ended up at our designated stopping point well before our required stopping time of 6 am.”

It took about an hour and a half to travel the 15-mile route. The load is destined for the company’s refinery in Billings.

The total miles to be traveled over the road is about 700. The loads were manufactured overseas, arrived via ocean freighter after traveling some 5,300 miles and then were sent by river barge to Lewiston, Idaho

When these two coke drums arrive at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, the crews will return to Idaho for the two remaining vessels, also bound for the Billings refinery. The equipment is to be installed next year.

Montana is awaiting another set of megaloads. That one is for an ExxonMobil project destined for the oil tar sand fields of Alberta, Canada.


You can read more TN coverage about this issue here and here.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Lawmakers Grapple With Megaloads On State Highways

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A "megaload" of refinery equipment waits in Idaho (photo courtesy of ConocoPhilips)

(Helena, Montana -- Jackie Yamanaka,  YPR) -  It's described as "heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high."

A so-called megaload of refinery equipment bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings is just east of the Idaho-Montana border, poised to make a circuitous 500-odd mile trip from the Lolo National Forest, and winding up to Roy, before making its way back down to a refinery near Billings.

These first of four coke drum shipments were trucked in from the Port in Lewiston, Idaho along the scenic Lochsa River corridor and along the boundaries of wilderness areas and national forest land. When the second shipment arrives, they will travel together to the south central Montana refinery.

Some Montana residents are concerned these loads will spawn an industrial megaload corridor that will cause excessive wear and tear on roads and bridges.

So Montana lawmakers are considering House Bill 507, which would require industrial equipment on Montana highways to obtain a new, special-use permit.

Zack Porter is the campaign coordinator for the group “All Against the Haul.”  He says Montana lacks a current state regulatory statute to deal with megaloads. "We do not use the word megaloads lightly," he says. "Today’s highway infrastructure, much less those bridges that were built in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in this state , wasn't built to handle this type of equipment.”

But Jim Lynch, the director of the Montana Department of Transportation, says the process already exists to evaluate and analyze the state’s roads, the hauling equipment, how that load will impact the roadways and make sure it won’t violate the federal bridge laws.

Lynch adds there’s also an environmental assessment conducted under the guidelines of the Montana Environmental Policy Act, as well as a safety plan, and an emergency plan.

“We permit a lot of megaloads,” Lynch says. “This is not the first megaload that has ever been permitted. It happens on a regular basis in Montana.”

Lynch says ConocoPhillips has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Montana that the company will pay for any damage now or in the future even if MDOT has made an error. He adds the company has also posted a $10 million bond. Lynch says that’s to ensure Montanans don’t pay for any possible damage.

Lynch says there are laws in Montana that govern the actions state agencies like his take.

“And I can assure the public,” he says, “that the Montana Department of Transportation did just that follow the existing laws. We can’t make up the laws as we go. We have to enforce the laws of the state of Montana equally among all the users of the highway system.”

Montana DOT director Jim Lynch Director testifying before the Montana House Transportation Committee. Behind him on the chair is a copy of the analysis the agency did for the Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil, transportation project. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

During the hearing, Lynch did not speak either for or against HB 507.

MDOT also recently granted final approval to Exxon Mobil Corporation to move large loads of refinery equipment bound for Canada’s oil tar sand fields. Under the newly approved plan, 207 loads of Imperial Oil equipment will move from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, through Montana and north to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

Opponents of HB 507 said the bill impedes commerce by delaying the issuing of permits.

Dave Galt represents the Montana Petroleum Association. He’s also a former Montana DOT director.

“The purpose of the Interstate system, the strategic highway system, the national network of highway systems, and the federal funding formulas that come to Montana are premised upon the fact that we need a system to move goods across the country,” he says.

And other opponents of the bill say the definition of a megaload in the bill would delay the transport of a number of goods, including wind turbines, large cranes used in construction, and other mining and drilling equipment bound for Montana work sites.

But supporters of the bill say megaloads could harm their small outfitting and guiding businesses by driving away tourists or causing an inconvenience. And they say this bill will ensure safety for other highway users.

The House Transportation did not immediately vote on HB 507.

See the information sheet that ConocoPhillips put out about megaloads below. An image of the route map can be found here.

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