Live map: track the Rowan M. McAllister and its "mystery barge" en route to Portland

October 10, 2013

Barge holding mystery structure due in Portland Harbor

Cianbro Corp. will outfit the building, but won’t say what it will be used for or where it’s going.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A four-story building on a barge is due to arrive in Portland Harbor sometime Thursday, completing a journey that began Wednesday in New London, Conn.

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A tugboat leads a barge carrying a mystery structure down the Thames River after it left New London, Conn., on Wednesday bound for Portland.

Photo by Tim Cook/The Day

A four-story building is floating our way

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While the daily newspaper in New London described it as a “mysterious four-story structure,” part of the mystery was solved Wednesday night when the head of a Maine-based construction company confirmed it has been hired to outfit the structure.

Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO for The Cianbro Cos., said the building will be brought into the company’s facility on Portland’s waterfront for a significant amount of interior finish work. He said he doesn’t know how long it will take to finish the project or where the structure will go after the work is done.

“I don’t have the authority to speak on behalf of my client, but I can say that we will outfit the building with a substantial amount of technology,” Vigue said Wednesday night.

He said the barge and the building will be docked at the Rickers Wharf Marine Facility, which is owned and operated by Cianbro Corp., a division of The Cianbro Cos. The structure will not be offloaded. All of the work will be done on the barge.

Vigue said that for proprietary reasons, he cannot identify the client or describe the building’s use. “Our client hired us to do this project and things have been very confidential,” he said.

The barge, accompanied by the tugboat Rowan W. McAllister, left New London around noon Wednesday, bound for Portland, according to The Day.

The newspaper has tried for weeks to determine what the structure is, with no success. It was assembled on a barge at the Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London.

The Day, quoting several sources, reported that the structure could be a movie set, a floating prison, a Department of Defense project, condominiums or office space.

Connecticut transportation officials told the newspaper that they didn’t know what was being built on the barge, and Turner Construction, the company hired to build the structure, refused to comment.

That led The Day to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Coast Guard for documents on the project.

Joleen Abbott, operations manager for Portland Tugboat, confirmed Wednesday that one of the company’s tugboats will escort the barge into Portland Harbor. Abbott could not say what time they will arrive.

The Coast Guard office in South Portland said it has not been contacted by the tugboat company about its itinerary.

Rickers Wharf is at the west end of Commercial Street, near Merrill’s Marine Terminal and Benny’s Famous Fried Clams.

“I heard it was coming, some kind of four-story building on a barge,” said Kevin Battle, Portland’s deputy harbormaster. “It’s definitely a mystery.”

Patrick Arnold, director of operations and business development for the Maine Port Authority, said he doesn’t know what the structure is, who paid to have it built, or where it is going, but “this looks to me like a modular fabrication for an industrial site.”

Having seen photos, he said the structure doesn’t look like a movie set or an office building. “It’s clearly a modular fabrication for a project of some type,” he said.

“It smells like a Cianbro project,” said Phineas Sprague Jr., the owner of Portland Yacht Services. “It’s going somewhere to have its guts put in, and so who in Maine has that kind of expertise? ... Cianbro.”

Sprague is moving a portion of his business from the foot of Munjoy Hill to a new facility on West Commercial Street, close to Rickers Wharf.

He said Cianbro has a reputation for doing interior wiring and electronics work on unfinished structures such as the one that will arrive in Portland on Thursday.

After seeing a photograph, Sprague said the structure looks like a control center for an oil terminal. Sprague said the structure could be headed to Newfoundland, where Exxon Mobil is undertaking a $14 billion expansion of an oil field.

Vigue would not be specific, but said his company is competing in the global market for contracts to build “E-Rooms,” or modules. He said the company operates a “world-class modular factory” on the Penobscot River in Brewer.

Last year, Cianbro shipped the last three modules – its contract called for the delivery of 22 – to an iron ore mining operation in Newfoundland. Those modules, which will be used as control centers, were fitted with electronic gear. The largest one is 120 feet long and 60 feet tall.

This won’t be the first time that Cianbro has had a working presence on Portland’s waterfront. In 2002, Cianbro built two oil rigs that were used off the coast of Brazil.

At the time, Vigue said the project in Portland Harbor employed more than 1,000 workers.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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