Columbia River Reopening, More Mega-loads on the Way

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River traffic is slowly coming back to life today on the Lower Snake and Columbia navigation system. Locks at the Dalles and Bonneville dams are reopening today following a three-and-a-half month maintenance shutdown. The last of the rivers' eight dams is scheduled to swing open this weekend.

Among the containers waiting to be barged from Portland, Ore., to Lewiston are Exxon/Mobil mega-loads destined for the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada. About a dozen of the controversial loads were sent to Lewiston before the dams were closed on December 10.

The Idaho Transportation Department has granted a permit for Exxon to send a "test" load from Lewiston across U.S. Highway 12 to the Montana border. The test run is slated for Monday, March 28. But future shipments across U.S. 12 will have to wait, pending a contested case hearing on April 25, when mega-load opponents will have an opportunity to air their grievances against the more than 200 shipments that Exxon wants to roll by their homes.

Meanwhile ITD is also reviewing an Exxon proposal to reduce at least 33 mega-loads so they can be shipped via an alternative route up U.S. Highway 95, through Moscow, up to Interstate 90, and across Idaho's panhandle to Montana before heading north to Alberta. Exxon said cutting the 33 loads in half could cost the oil giant approximately $16.5 million. ITD is reviewing the proposal to use Highway 95, though a fixed route has not yet been determined.

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