BREWER, Maine — Capts. Doug Fournier and Tom Toolis spent this week preparing to take the second load of four locally built Cianbro refinery modules down the Penobscot River. The barge is scheduled to leave the Cianbro Eastern Manufacturing Facility’s deep-water bulkhead at around 11:30 a.m. today.
The modules, which can be as large as six stories tall and 700 tons, are too big to travel by roads or rail and must be moved by water from Cianbro’s facility in Brewer to the Motiva Port Arthur Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. Cianbro, which shipped out four modules in March, has been hired to deliver 53.
Toolis is the skipper of the 100-foot Emma Foss, a tugboat that will again guide the Columbia Boston, a 94-by-354-foot barge loaded with the modules, along the 2,300-mile voyage down the Eastern Seaboard to their new home near the Gulf of Mexico. The Emma Foss is owned by Constellation Maritime of Charlestown, Mass.
Fournier is the captain of the 90-foot Fournier Tractor, based in Belfast, which will help guide the massive barge down the Penobscot to Searsport.
“We’ll pull the barge off the dock … [then] control the aft end of the barge for the Emma,” Fournier, who also is vice president of the Penobscot Bay Tractor Co. of Belfast, said Thursday.
Special propeller drives on the Fournier Tractor tug provide great maneuvering capabilities in the often swift-moving Penobscot current, Fournier said.
“The Fournier Tractor has a 3,000-horsepower V-Drive Azmuthing [propeller] that rotates 360 degrees,” he said. “It allows the tug to push or pull from any angle.”
Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. was hired by Motiva Enterprises LLC to build the 53 refinery modules for Motiva’s $7 billion expansion at the Texas refinery, which will make it the largest crude oil processing plant in North America when complete. The company makes Shell Oil products.
Cianbro set up its Eastern Manufacturing Facility along the Penobscot River in Brewer, at the site of the old Eastern Fine paper mill, to build the modules. The company now employs about 400 skilled laborers in Brewer and another 70 or so at a pipe fabrication plant in Bangor.
The first delivery of four ordered refinery modules — heavy-duty industrial steel frames filled with pipes, pumps and electronics — was made back in late March, when the Penobscot River still had a number of visible ice chunks floating on its surface.
That trip took 26 days.
Toolis, a 35-year veteran boat captain, said Thursday that he expects this second voyage to go much faster. The bad weather in late March and early April forced the vessels to lay over in Rhode Island for 2½ days, in Norfolk, Va., for five days, and in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for four days, he said.
“We should be able to do this trip in about two weeks,” Toolis said.
The vessels typically travel between one and five miles from the coast, but at points were as far out to sea as 150 miles, he said.
In the load leaving today, one of the modules is roughly 115 feet long, 46 feet wide and 53 feet tall; two are 120 feet long, 40-44 feet wide, and 53 feet tall; and the last one was small enough to be loaded by crane, Alan Grover, Cianbro spokesman, said Thursday.
“It’s just a little thing,” he said. “It doesn’t even look like a module.”
The small module is roughly half the size of the other three at 61 feet long, 15 feet wide and 12 feet tall, he said. It weighs 84,000 pounds, or 42 tons, and the largest module on the barge heading out today weighs 363 tons.
The first module in the second load was placed on the Columbia Boston on Monday and the last one was moved Wednesday. Thursday was used to tie up loose ends for today’s departure.
“It’s getting to be old hat,” Grover said.
The Columbia Boston and Emma Foss will dock for the night at the Maine Port Authority at Mack Point to prepare for the seagoing portion of the trip, and are scheduled to leave Saturday.
The remaining 45 modules to be built by Cianbro employees will be shipped out over the next year, Grover said.