BREWER, Maine — The massive refinery modules that Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility crews have built over the last year are so big they must be moved by barge to Texas, where they will be part of a enormous refinery expansion.

Just four modules will be loaded onto the Columbia Boston, a 94-foot-by-354-foot black barge that arrived at the site’s bulkhead Tuesday. The vessel will ship out later this month.

“These are the first modules that will be shipped” of the 53 ordered by Motiva Enterprises LLC for its $7 billion expansion of the Motiva Port Arthur Refinery, general manager Joe Cote said while giving a tour. “Today is a long-awaited event.”

“Ten to 12 more trips are expected over the next year,” to transport the remaining 49, said Tanya Pereira, Brewer economic development deputy director.

Refinery modules are heavy-duty industrial steel frames filled with pipes, pumps and electronics. Three of the first four modules are massive. They are 120 feet long, 60 feet wide and 50 feet tall when mounted on the 8- to 10-foot-high steel base transfer beams. The largest weighs 650 tons. The fourth is about half the size of the other three, Cote said.

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“The load [of the barge] is dependent on the physical size, rather than the weight,” he said.

The size of the modules and the barge will determine how many will be shipped out at one time, he said.

Barnhart Crane & Rigging crews will use 100-wheel hydraulic transport vehicles to pick up the modules from where they were built, and load them onto the barge for their trip to the Gulf of Mexico.

They all have a certain center of gravity and have to be picked up just right, Cote said of the modules.

The hydraulic transport vehicles drive under the modules, lift them up and slowly move them onto the barges, where they are placed on transfer beams and lashed down. The loading is done at low tide, “to make it as level as we possibly can,” he said.

“They use the same [transport vehicles] to move the space shuttle,” said D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer economic development director.

The first barge of modules to ship out represents a return to manufacturing for this region, she said.

“I think it’s really exciting to see the Penobscot River used again for production,” she said. “It’s been 40 or 50 years.”

Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. made an investment in the community and the region when they chose the site of the shuttered Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill, which closed in January 2004, for its Eastern Manufacturing Facility, she said. Work on the modules began in April 2008.

The abandoned mill site is now a bustling manufacturing facility that, on Tuesday, had roughly 400 skilled laborers working and another 70 at its pipe manufacturing facility in Bangor, Cote said.

“We look at this as the beginning of something that is going to have far-reaching effects [and] long-term vitality,” he said.

The Motiva refinery produces Shell Oil brand products, and once the expansion is complete in 2010 or 2011, the plant will process about 600,000 barrels a day, making it the largest crude oil processing plant in North America.

Workers in Brewer have more than a dozen steel refinery modules under construction for the refinery expansion, which is the largest capital project ever undertaken in Texas. The modules, which look like big blocks of pipe, are visible from South Main Street and from across the river.

Once the modules arrive in Port Arthur, they will be rolled into place and must fit together perfectly, Cote said. Each pipe and fitting has been triple-checked to ensure they meet specifications, he said.

When asked whether he was nervous about the loading of the first module, Cote said he was confident.

“I have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing,” he said. “We have the right people on the job and the right contractors.”

The barge is scheduled to leave Brewer on March 26, and should arrive in Texas within 20 days of departing.