Big Oil's Next Victims

FightingGoliath Editorial

Like most Americans, we Idahoans watched in dismay during the summer of 2010 as Gulf fishermen’s families lose their livelihoods to British Petroleum’s oil gusher. Now, after more thantwo years of out-of-public-view planning among the Idaho Transportation Department, Port of Lewiston and the world’s most profitable corporation, Exxon Mobil, we north central Idahoans could become Big Oil’s next victims.

While securing $40-45 billion annual profits, Exxon Mobil hired South Koreans to build 207 mammoth equipment modules for shipment to Lewiston and, via U.S. Highway 12 and Montana highways, to Alberta, Canada. EM claims that in Idaho they will spend $12.6 million for utility and road modifications and transportation and calls these expenditures “economic activities.” To Exxon Mobil, they must be chump change.

But this is recession-socked Idaho. In north central Idaho, particularly, with its double-digit unemployment, people eek out a modest living. Many own or work at one of more than 150 businesses, Lewiston to Lolo Pass, whose income partly hinges on tourism. Thanks to promotional efforts of community and business leaders, the area’s single growing industry is tourism, an industry that provides almost 5000 north central Idaho jobs and, according to ITD reports, reaps an annual $149 million in revenues. Those revenues contribute significantly to Idaho’s $3 billion tourism industry, ranked in 2008 as Idaho’s 2nd largest. If the rural families of Highway 12 are to hang on to their livelihoods, tourism must be protected.

The U.S.12 corridor is unusually scenic and historical and is a paradise for outdoor recreationists – beach goers, 4-wheeler riders, hikers, snowmachiners, campers, backcountry horsemen, cross-country skiers, hunters, fishers, heritage tourists and many others. For years, the Clearwater River valley has been promoted as a tourism and recreation destination. As a result, the highway was nationally designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and one of  the nation’s 27 All-American Roads, identified as the nation’s #1 recreational motorcycle route (Motorcycle Magazine) and a segment of the Trans-America Bicycle Route, and its corridor is home to both the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails. The wild country to which the corridor provides access is part of the reason Lewiston was last year ranked 1st and this year 4th in the nation as the best town for sportsmen and women to call home. Three of the valley’s rivers are nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Since 2002, the scenic byway designation alone has brought $2,347,836 to the corridor in the form of federal grants for byway enhancement.  In other words, the bottom line shows that the U.S.12 corridor is an exceptional place which the State of Idaho should protect and cherish for its intrinsic qualities and significant contribution to Idaho’s economy.

Instead, very quietly, the State of Idaho, at the urging of the Port of Lewiston and giant oil corporations, has been planning to turn north central Idaho’s river valley highway into a permanent industrial truck route for the shipment of gargantuan loads. Exxon Mobil says it will ship at night when highway traffic is light. That may quell objections to the shipments, until you realize that ….

How many tourists are likely to return for another middle-of-the-night dose of lights and noise? How many businesses do you know – perhaps your own – that count upon the intrinsic qualities of the U.S.12 corridor to continue drawing tourists and recreationists? If U.S.12 becomes known as an industrial mega-load truck route, how many local families would see incomes decline or lose livelihoods? Which river valley communities can afford to lose their piece of the tourism pie?

And which can afford to lose their slice of the real estate cake? Surely the re-characterizing of the “scenic byway” as an “industrial mega-load truck route” won’t enhance river view property values.

For decades ahead gargantuan corporate shipments will ride the U.S.12 roadbed. Wider than 2 lanes, 3 stories tall, 3/4ths the length of a football field, and weighing half-a-million pounds, the shipments will move at 5-20 mph speeds in 3-night sequences to Lolo Pass. Although weight will be distributed over multiple axles, it seems predictable that damage will accrue to the narrow, winding roadbed designed to accommodate cars, pickups, light trucks, and standard commercial semi-trucks of  60-90 feet and up to about 90,000 pounds. In time, taxpayers will likely pay the repair tab and in effect directly subsidize the giant corporations’ transport projects.

Considering that for miles of roadway there are broken shoulders, no shoulders, weak shoulders, or shoulders mere inches wide, with riverbank and rock faces on either side, it also seems likely that one of Big Oil’s giant loads will tip into the river or damage the roadbed or a bridge to the extent that the highway is blocked for hours, days, or weeks. Oil company plans do not explain how such accidents would be remedied. Like BP, the oil companies aiming to use U.S.12 expect Idahoans to think, “It just won’t happen.”


Borg Hendrickson & Linwood Laughy
The Rural People of Highway 12
Kooskia, Idaho

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The 2011 Mega-Count

1 = Imperial/Exxon test shipment, February 2010
4 = ConocoPhillips
207 = Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil
63 = Korea National Oil (Harvest), a government-owned company
?? = Shell
?? = Premay Equipment
11 = Nickel Brothers

How many more?
According to the New York Times, Oct. 22, 2010: Port Manager Doeringsfeld "said he had been approached by several other companies..."
24=day Imperial Exxon's so-called "test" shipment took to cross Idaho (174 miles)
60 = Imperial/Exxon modules shipping north from the Port of Vancouver, Washington.
33 = Imperial/Exxon modules being cut in half at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, for shipment via Highway 95 to I-90 & east to Montana.


Saying "NO" to Mega-load Shipments and High and Wide Corridor on U.S. Highway 12




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