Megaloads are mega stuck

Approval process has lingered five months, second hauler vies for permit

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More than five months after three megaloads were proposed to move through this area, the oil refinery equipment en route to Montana remains stuck at the Port of Wilma near Clarkston, Wash.

Bigge Crane and Rigging of San Leandro, Calif., has entered the picture as a second hauler to vie for a permit through the Idaho Transportation Department, said Jason Minzghor, operations manager for ITD in Coeur d'Alene.

Mammoet USA South of Rosharon, Texas, requested a special-use permit in December to construct a temporary access ramp onto Interstate 90 for the loads near Higgens Point, east of Coeur d'Alene.

However, Mammoet later eyed U.S. 95 to Sandpoint and to Highway 200 as a possible route because the I-90 option triggered a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Mammoet temporarily suspended its permit request a few weeks ago, but has since decided to forge ahead with the request, Minzghor said.

"Both shippers are focusing on the Highway 200 route, as it's the path of least resistance," Minzghor said, adding that the I-90 option isn't technically off the table. "It takes time to get a temporary access ramp and shippers will do whatever takes the least amount of time."

A NEPA analysis wouldn't be required for the Bonner County route.

Minzghor said it remains unclear when a permit will be issued, but both transport firms are finishing up analyzing bridges along the U.S. 95/Highway 200 route. Mammoet had hoped to move the loads in January before running into the federal hurdle.

"It's possible that a permit could be approved in as soon as a couple weeks," Minzghor said. "Once the (reports) are submitted, I expect it to be a quick turnaround."

Mammoet wasn't allowed to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge on I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene, triggering the temporary on-ramp proposal from east Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive to bypass the bridge.

If Mammoet takes the shipments, the loads will be 472 feet long and weigh 1.6 million pounds each. If Bigge Crane hauls, the loads will be 310 feet long and weigh 989,000 pounds. Minzghor said proposed weight and size of the loads vary between the companies due to trailer size and truck configurations.

The equipment is headed for the Calumet refinery in Great Falls, Montana. The refinery doesn't have the fabrication capabilities to construct the equipment at its Montana site, so it's being transported there.

A traffic control plan and engineering reports are required under the megaload permit process. The loads would be transported overnight and cause intermittent traffic delays.

An open house on Mammoet's original proposal drew 67 attendees in December.

Those against the plan feared the loads could cause road damage and harm the environment. They were also concerned that Coeur d'Alene could became the default route for megaloads in North Idaho.

People in favor of the proposal said they were impressed with the safeguards and Mammoet's plan. Job creation was also cited as a positive.

A phone message left with a Calumet representative on Thursday was not returned.

Minzghor said several over-sized loads have been transported through Coeur d'Alene in recent years, including wind turbines that were 110 feet long. But the weight makes these loads unusual, he said.

"It should be interesting when they come through," he said.

Mega loads through Idaho have drawn protests and lawsuits in recent years. In some cases, protesters, including those in Coeur d'Alene and east of Lewiston, have been arrested.

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