HELENA, Montana — A panel of Montana lawmakers on Tuesday questioned Missoula's requirement that companies pay $309 for a permit to move a megaload of oil-refinery equipment through the city, on top of the permit and fees already required by the state.
The Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee is looking at ways to remove impediments to shipping oversized loads such as the refinery equipment bound for the oil sands of Canada.
Economic development advocates say creating permanent corridors to Canada and the Bakken oil fields would be a boon for the economy. The shipments of megaloads have increased in frequency through Idaho and Montana over the past few years despite protests over concerns of potential damage to the environment along the scenic roadways.
Democratic Rep. Chuck Hunter of Helena said state legislators are wondering whether the Missoula permits are a way for the city to discourage megaloads from entering town.
No, Missoula Mayor John Engen told The Associated Press. The aim is for the city to recover its costs, not to deter shipments, he said.
"If 300 bucks was going to break the back of a megaloads hauler, they've got bigger problems than the city of Missoula," Engen said.
The Missoula permit is relatively cheap compared to that issued by the Montana Department of Transportation. The DOT permit for the last megaload shipment cost trucking company Omega Morgan more than $4,600 to move its 380-foot long, 450-ton load through the state.
The costs can be more than the fee, however. Barry "Spook" Stang of the Motor Carriers of Montana said there have been dayslong delays in shipments because a company didn't know a separate Missoula permit was required on top of the state permit.
"Our big question is: Does this set a precedent elsewhere in the state of Montana?" Stang said.
State Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, questioned whether the city has the legal authority to impose its own fee if the loads never leave U.S. Highway 93 as the highway runs through Missoula.
The fee pays mainly for overhead expenses in reviewing and issuing the permits, said Don Verrue, Missoula's assistant director of development services.
The main goal of the permits is to ensure the lumbering loads don't traverse the city during the day, Verrue said.