MOUNDSVILLE - Marshall County Schools Transportation Supervisor Dave Smith said some students arrived home about two hours late when their school bus got stuck behind the 41-yard long Williams Energy de-ethanizer "superload" during its trek from Benwood to its Oak Grove processing facility last month.
He hopes the company's next superload move - scheduled to begin Sunday morning, according to Williams spokeswoman Helen Humphreys - will follow a more precise schedule so motorists can avoid the roads during the times the mammoth machine is using them.
"If they would have stopped at Butch's Corner that first day the way they said they were going to, we would have been fine. But when they started going south on (W.Va. 88) that first day, that's when we got in trouble," Smith said. "We weren't prepared for them to be out on the road at that time."
Photo by Casey Junkins/Glen Dale Elementary School students watch as the first 41-yard long Williams Energy de-ethanizer “superload” makes a 90-degree turn in Glen Dale Feb. 20 from W.Va. 2 onto W.Va. 86.
Surrounded by a convoy of Marshall County sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers - and accompanied by American Electric Power and Frontier Communications workers in case of a problem - contractors working for Williams navigated the 510,000-pound de-ethanizer from the Benwood CSX rail yard south on W.Va. 2 on Feb. 20. Traveling at about 3 mph, the machine turned onto W.Va. 86 in Glen Dale.
After climbing the hill toward Sherrard, the superload was scheduled to stop at Butch's Corner for the evening. However, the moving team determined it could safely maneuver the superload another three miles down the road before the end of the day. This placed the giant device along W.Va. 88 at a time when it was not scheduled to be there.
"After I complained, they worked with us. But the first day was a mess," Smith said. "I am hopeful things will work better this time. We need to stay in touch with them so that we are notified of any changes."
Humphreys said the second de-ethanizer is set to begin its journey around 8:30 a.m. Sunday. She said the company hopes to have its de-ethanizer to Oak Grove by Tuesday.
"We are optimistic we can make the same progress as last time and get it to Oak Grove in three days. We have to plan for the possibility that it could take longer because weather is always a wild card," she said.
As for the school bus issue, Humphreys said Williams is working to identify places along the route where buses could pass the superload.
"We will keep (Smith) updated during the move. We asked him when we should see the first bus so we can prepare for it," she said.
Humphreys said the moving crew will take the de-ethanizer as far as they can each day. She said the company will alert motorists of its plans via road signs along the route.
"We want people to know when to seek a detour," she said. "Once you are on the road, things can change. It is possible that we may not make it in three days."
As of Monday, Mandy Crow, administrative secretary for the West Virginia Division of Highways District Six, said she could not confirm Williams' Sunday moving plans, noting she did not believe her office had issued a permit for the move.
"We have not received verification on this," she said. "The signs on the road are not our signs. They are signs that Williams has put up."
In addition to ethane, the propane, butane, pentane and methane in West Virginia and neighboring states are so plentiful and profitable that Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams is spending $4.5 billion to process the natural gas in Marshall County. The company has three sites of operation: Oak Grove, much of which remains under construction; the Fort Beeler processing plant; and the Moundsville fractionation plant.