City Council 

Tolling the big rigs

Missoula City Council will soon vote on whether to increase the toll of transporting super-sized rigs through town, including those high-and-wide loads ExxonMobil wants to route along Highway 12 to oil fields in Alberta.

The new proposal—a rewrite of laws currently on the books—would increase the cost of acquiring a permit to transport large loads through town from $100 to $200 per trip. City number crunchers estimate permitting revenue from ExxonMobil's proposed project alone would bring in roughly $40,000. The rewrite would also up the bond requirement—a pot of cash the city can draw from if anything goes wrong—from $2,000 to $20,000.

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As it stands, the city doesn't expressly have authority to regulate rigs like those ExxonMobil proposes driving through Missoula. The rewrite would change that.

"We are making it more explicit," says Councilman Bob Jaffe, who, along with Councilman Roy Houseman, leads the effort to update existing regulations. "It's somewhat ambiguous now."

The city's proposal comes as the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is slated to announce within days its decision on whether it will allow ExxonMobil to drive some 200 massive oil processing "modules" through Montana. The petroleum company's pitch is raising concern along the proposed route. Missoula City Council in May passed a resolution calling for a more thorough analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the shipments.

Jaffe says the rewrite isn't designed to stop the modules, but better account for the plan's impacts.

MDT has different concerns. According to City Attorney Jim Nugent, once the department heard of council's intentions, an attorney with MDT called Nugent to question the city's legal authority to oversee transportation on state highways within city limits.

"(MDT) seemed to be concerned that the city was going to try to obstruct or preempt their permit, if issued," Nugent says.

It remains to be seen if MDT will officially weigh in on the ordinance when the city holds an Aug. 23 public meeting on the rewrite.

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