HAZMAT ALLEY

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LOREN BENOIT/Press A semitrailer heads westbound on Interstate 90 Monday in Post Falls.

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

COEUR d'ALENE — Friday night's minor semi crash involving a load of 16, 2,000-pound bombs did more than shut down Interstate 90 in both directions for two and a half hours.

It also raised awareness of the widespread types and amounts of hazardous materials that roll through here every day.

When Post Falls' Michael Bailey, a retired Navy and Department of Defense weapons expert, saw news footage of the load reported by police as "missiles," he hit rewind on his DVR to take a closer look.

"They were MK84/BLU-109 general purpose bombs," Bailey wrote in an email to The Press. "I've seen thousands of them. I even posted a picture on one of my (social media) groups that is comprised of weapons, bomb, explosive and ordnance experts. They all agreed with me."

Bailey said the green color of the bombs was his first clue that they weren't missiles, which are blue. Also, missiles are transported in sealed containers, typically via airplane, he said.

Idaho State Police officials on Monday confirmed their agency erroneously reported on Saturday that the load between Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls was missiles.

However, ISP officials and Bailey said it was highly unlikely that the minor crash at the eastbound Huetter rest stop would have caused the bombs to explode because they were being transported without fuses.

A team from Fairchild Air Force Base that specializes in military ammunition responded as a precaution. They deemed the load safe and confirmed it did not shift during the accident, when the 2017 Volvo semi owned by Baggett Transportation became high-centered on a snow berm.

"The load was cleared good to go and was transferred to another truck that went on its way," said John Ayre, a Fairchild spokesman.

ISP Capt. John Kempf said the load was being transported from a Navy munitions center in Port Hadlock, Wash., to Indiana.

A message with Baggett Transportation was not returned by deadline Monday.

The driver of the semi, Mark Dearinger, 48, of Chickashaw, Okla., was cited for misdemeanor inattentive driving. There were no injuries.

Shane Grady, one of three hazmat inspectors for ISP in Region 1, said the load is among the many types of hazardous materials that roll through here every day — whether people are aware of it or not.

Cancer medicine, propane, gas, diesel, butane and oxygen acetylene for welding are examples of some other hazardous materials. Most loads, Grady said, are covered so the general public doesn't know what's inside. The bombs, for example, were covered by a tarp.

Grady said he's aware of at least three loads, including Friday's, of bombs being transported through this area in the past six months. Those are just the loads that he's noted through the inspection process.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, about 1,000 trucks pass the eastbound port of entry at the Huetter rest stop in a peak 10-hour period. Montana and Washington monitor westbound traffic. Weekends tend to be slower.

Grady said Friday's load was treated like any other hazardous materials transport involved in an accident would have been, not just because it involved bombs.

He said I-90 serves as a main route to transport hazardous materials. Inspectors check loads randomly at the port of entry, in the parking lots of businesses or at temporary stations set up at places such as Fourth of July Pass, St. Maries and the Coeur d'Alene Casino.

"Not all loads are inspected," Grady said. "There's just not enough of us to inspect every truck. I'll talk to drivers who have been driving for 25 years and have never had (their load or vehicle) inspected or I may be their first inspection."

ITD, which operates the ports of entry, does not regulate the content of loads.

"We do regulate the size and weight of loads that come through for the safety of other drivers and to protect our infrastructure," said Megan Sausser, ITD spokeswoman. "However, if a load is within the legal limits or is covered by an annual permit, often we don’t know the content of the load."

The ports check for hazmat placards and shipping papers that accompany the loads.

Grady said that despite the random checks, the motoring public should be relieved that there are rigorous regulations for the transport of hazardous materials.

"The amount of regulations involved to move these materials is intense," he said.

Grady said hazardous materials are around us all the time, but we may just not realize it.

"Even toilet bowl cleaners are a hazardous material,” he said, “but you don't think about it when you're cleaning the toilet."

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