PASCO -- Mammoth containers filled with equipment are piling up at the Port of Pasco's barge terminal, destined for Canadian oil fields.
The modules started arriving in recent weeks after ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil ran into permit delays for their first choice of routes through Idaho.
Tri-City officials said the decision may not directly add jobs but will help the area's economy and could attract similar freight through the port.
For now, the port is storing the equipment until the state Department of Transportation issues a permit to allow the modules to be trucked north on state highways.
The oil companies need to transport the equipment to the Kearl Oil Sands Project, an Alberta open-pit mining operation. Oil sands are a mix of heavy oil known as bitumen, water and sand with the consistency of peanut butter.
The Kearl project will be one of Canada's largest open-pit mining operations with eventual plans to produce up to 345,000 barrels a day beginning as soon as late next year.
But the equipment shipments had to be re-routed after environmental groups slowed the permitting process for using Idaho's scenic Highway 12 for the loads.
Exxon Mobil and Imperial Oil would still like to use the initial route -- using Highway 12 through Idaho and Montana -- said Cynthia Bergman White, ExxonMobil media relations adviser.
"Because of the delays, we need to seek additional routes," she said.
And new routes mean dropping the size of the shipments, she said.
The modules are being shipped on barges from Vancouver, Wash., to the Port of Pasco's barge terminal, said Bergman White.
The equipment then will be trucked from Pasco on Highway 395 to Spokane, along Interstate 90 through Washington, Idaho and Montana and then north on Interstate 15 to Canada.
The companies applied for a permit in early July to the state Department of Transportation, she said.
Bill Legg, WSDOT's state Intelligent Transportation Systems operations engineer, said the request is not unusual in size or weight but the application still is under review. The state has to check construction projects and structures along the route before issuing any permits.
More than 7,000 superloads move on state highways each year, he said.
Bergman White said the loads would represent about 3.5 percent of the annual volume on Washington highways for loads of that size.
Had the full loads been taken through Highway 12, Bergman White said it would have taken them about 200 loads and a year to transport all the equipment. The loads would have been up to 30 feet high and about 523,000 pounds each, she said.
Because of the alternate routes, officials expect about 350 smaller loads.
The loads traveling on Highway 395 will be 208-feet long or less, about 20- to 24-feet wide and with a height of 10 feet to 15 feet,10 inches, Bergman White said.
The axle load for the trucks traveling on Highway 395 would be comparable to normal truck traffic, she said. They will weigh 212,000 to 345,000 pounds.
ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil's Canadian affiliate, have another alternate route that the companies have been using since July from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho that uses Highway 95 in Idaho, I-90 in Idaho and Montana, and I-15 to Canada.
If the Washington permit is approved, the widest loads would travel on Highway 395 and I-90 at night, she said. Others would travel during the day.
And while no workers are expected to be hired in the Tri-Cities for the project, Colin Hastings, vice president of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the area should see economic benefits from the movement of freight, including more business at Pasco's King City Truck Stop.
"It does put Pasco on the map," he said, and brings the area to the attention for those looking to ship goods using barges.
Sam Good, the Port of Pasco's director of properties and development, said the oil companies' use of the port could bring the port to the attention of other companies looking to move heavy equipment to Canada. She already has received one call from a company with shipping questions.
"The word gets out," she said.
Mammoet Canada Western Ltd., the company handling the transload from the barge to trucks at the port, has leased 22 acres including land at the port's container yard to store the containers, Good said.
The lease is month to month, and costs about $7,300 a month, she said. The port has been told the company will need the property for at least several months.
About 50 modules are being stored at the port, Bergman White said.
Good said officials have been told the company will take the upper half of the modules off to make the loads shorter before they are trucked.
Local hotels and restaurants also could benefit from the out-of-area workers from Mammoet Canada Western Ltd., Good said.
Other area companies will benefit as well, including Foss Maritime, a Northwest company that is barging the equipment in and Pasco's Moon Security, which is providing security at the port, she said.
The port also collects fees for using the terminal, Good said. In July, the port collected $25,000.
When compared to the port's annual total of $40,000 in fees for terminal use in 2005, that's significant, Good said.
Barge traffic at the terminal has been light in recent years after weekly exports to the Portland port stopped.
Generating revenue for the port is revenue that the port can reinvest into economic growth, Hastings said.
Keeping the Columbia River as a viable alternative for the transportation of certain loads is important, Good said, adding that there are environmental benefits to using the river for transportation instead of highways.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com