BOISE, Idaho - An Idaho lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require huge bonds for anyone who sues to block oversized loads from moving on Idaho's highways.
Republican Rep. Dick Harwood of St. Maries introduced the bill Wednesday that would require anyone who files a lawsuit against a transportation project on state highways to post a bond equal to 5 percent of the value of the items being hauled.
That could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would be forfeited if the plaintiff loses the lawsuit. The bill would also authorize the court to award damages to the hauler based on losses due to delays because of a lawsuit.
"This has been brought because of the megaloads," Harwood told the House State Affairs Committee. "Any time an individual group can stop our commerce from flowing, it's not a good thing, and that's what happened."
ConocoPhillips is currently moving two of four megaloads from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho to a refinery in Billings, Mont., using U.S. Highway 12. Each shipment is a three-story, 226-foot-long load carrying part of a 300-ton coke drum.
The first of those shipments was delayed for months by legal wrangling initiated by Idaho residents along the U.S. Highway 12 route who contended the shipments would harm the federally designated scenic byway that parallels the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in a narrow canyon.
The Idaho Transportation Department ultimately rejected those arguments and allowed the loads to start moving. ConocoPhillips said it lost $4 million due to the delays.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil wants to use the same route across northern Idaho to move more than 100 oversized loads across the state and through Montana to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.
Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, supports the proposed bill based on the delays caused by those opposed to the shipments.
"I think that that's totally justifiable because they really did put the Department of Transportation into a lot of extra hearings and transportation costs, going to North Idaho for the hearings and whatever else," Black said, adding that ConocoPhillips and the transportation department weren't reimbursed for the extra expenses.
Harwood compared his bill to bonds required for lawsuits involving state timber sales offered by the state Department of Lands.
Those bonds "pretty much ended any lawsuits on the Department of Lands," Harwood said.
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned the amount of the bond. Luker said the plaintiff should get some of the bond back if it's more than the transportation department's cost and costs associated with the project.
But "the bill doesn't say that," he said.