Green light is given for transport of huge piece of refinery

Shipment will temporarily block U.S. Highway 12 and may be first of many

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A piece of a refinery bound for Canada is scheduled to make a three-day journey from Lewiston to Montana, temporarily blocking both lanes on U.S. Highway 12 this June.

The Idaho Transportation Department has approved a plan by Imperial Oil/ExxonMobile to ship a test verification module along that route in what may be the first of 30 to 40 such trips, said Doral Hoff, ITD’s district maintenance engineer in Lewiston.

The cargo is presently in Vancouver, Wash. It will be barged up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the Port of Lewiston or the Port of Wilma in Whitman County just west of Clarkston, then unloaded.

The test verification module is 24 feet wide, 25 feet 7 inches tall and 120 feet 3 inches long. It weighs 106 tons. Those dimensions don’t include the trucks to transport it, Hoff said.

Typically the loads that tractor-trailers carry are 90 feet long, 10 feet wide, not more than 14 feet high and weigh about 40 tons, Hoff said.

But his agency has determined the infrastructure of U.S. Highway 12, including its bridges, are sturdy enough to handle it, Hoff said. “They’ll customize the wheel axles on the trailer to distribute the load properly.”

The move will cause delays of 15 minutes, Hoff said. The test verification module will travel at 20 to 30 mph in legs of four to six miles while oncoming traffic is stopped by flaggers before pulling off in passing lanes, turn lanes or pullouts to allow vehicles to move around it. “We leapfrog our way to Montana.”

The first day it will go from Lewiston to Kooskia. The second day it will go 60 miles east to milepost 139 before making it to the Montana border on the third day.

After it leaves Idaho, it will go through Missoula and then on to the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, where a substance called bitumen is removed from the sands before being refined into petroleum products, Hoff said.

ITD officials will examine how well moving the test verification module goes before deciding if it will approve other trips, Hoff said.

Some details of the first trip still haven’t been finalized.

TGM, a private company at the Port of Wilma that specializes in such transfers, has yet to hear from the company about whether it will or won’t be hired to remove the load off a barge, said Mitch Dimke, general manager of TGM.

Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld confirmed negotiations with the port have taken place in executive session about removing the oversized cargos from barges on the Snake River to trucks. But Doeringsfeld declined to identify who those talks are with and indicated nothing has been finalized.

The port could manage such a transfer with the equipment it has, Doeringsfeld said. The cargo might be placed on stands so a tractor-trailer rig could remove it from a vessel or it might already be loaded on a trailer when it arrives.

The port is seeking federal stimulus money or a federal appropriation to more than double the length of its dock to 270 feet, Doeringsfeld said. That improvement would be helpful, but not essential for oversized cargo.

This region’s ability to move oversized cargo started to get recognition about 18 months ago, when the Port of Lewiston handled a piece of equipment bound for Canada’s oil sands, Doeringsfeld said.

Later a shovel/excavator from the oil sands heading to Australia went through the Port of Wilma, Doeringsfeld said.

That prompted logistics coordinators to realize they could trim several thousand nautical and land miles from the existing route from Asia to the oil sands, where cargo goes through the Panama Canal and is unloaded onto trucks in Houston, Doeringsfeld said.

It’s not clear how much revenue the Port of Lewiston could gain if it receives the job, Doeringsfeld said.

The Port of Lewiston’s container yard has four employees and it may add more in the long-term if large cargo becomes a steady form of business, Doeringsfeld said. “It puts a little more meat in the sandwich.”

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobile has already made a significant investment in the Highway 12 route, paying utilities to raise power lines or reroute them underneath the road to limit delays that might have otherwise been caused by moving them for trucks, Hoff said.

That’s in addition to the $1,000 it will pay ITD for permits to haul oversized cargo.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.