CIRCLEVILLE— The first of two industrial dryers passed through Circleville Tuesday on its way to its final stop at the Sofidel Tissue plant south of Circleville.
The 260-ton dryer is 147 feet long, 20.5 feet high, and nearly 23 feet wide. It presented many challenges on its way to the plant and drew onlookers out into the cold to catch a glimpse of the rare site.
“The load is so big they have to raise traffic signals at intersections so it can safely travel through,” said Nancy Burton, public information officer at ODOT. “As many as five OSHP cruiser are part of the escort.”
Viewers along the route had to wait a little longer in the day to see the dryer enter into Pickaway County, as the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office held the load up at the county line.
“The county’s weight and scales officer made the call to check the size of the load,” said Dave Phalen, Fairfield County Sheriff. “The load was slightly overweight.”
A warning was issued out of Fairfield County, but once the truck was released, the load made its way slowly through through Circleville, crossing along Main Street between 2 and 3 p.m.
In addition to moving power lines, traffic lights and other obstacles out of the way, Chris Mullins, Pickaway County Engineer, said it was a logistical challenge for the roads and bridges themselves.
“Obviously, this type of load doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “We have to work with the company that’s doing the move to evaluate and understand the total scope of what they’re moving and what the weight is going be on their axels and on their tires, and look at the routes they propose.”
Mullins said some of the original routes proposed would work due to the weight on the bridges.
“Most of the county roads are in pretty good shape to where the individual tire pressures on that type of trailer configuration spreads it out,” he said. “The loading on the road is within reason but the bridges themselves, unless it’s reduced loads, are typically 40 tons. There are better bridges in the county that are 120 tons. Loads like this are four times heavier than those.
“You may not have the entire load on the bridge with a shorter span bridge,” he said, noting ways around it. “In this case, every original route had a longer span bridge; it wouldn’t work. Our bridges aren’t designed to handle 275 tons. It’s smaller, local infrastructure. They understood they would have to take the long trail to their destination.”
Mullins said the roads wouldn’t see any immediate issues and likened the giant load to a bunch of normal truck loads going over them at once.
“You’ve basically taken a bunch of truck loads and put it into one load,” he said. “The roads are designed to take so many truck trips before you have to repair them. This will speed up the aging process, if you will. It’s hard to quantify and depends on the weather. It definitely will accelerate deterioration compared to normal traffic.”
In an effort to finance any repair of the roads, Mullins said Sofidel had to post a $300,000 bond in the event of any damage, and that the county charged them a super load fee.
“They did have to post the bond and keep it in place until spring just to make sure we don’t see any road damage from it,” he said. “We had someone on site who took a look at the road immediately before and after and didn’t notice any changes.”
With all the effort to bring the large dryer to the Sofidel plant, the County Commissioners said it’s worth the challenges for what it means in economic development for the county.
When it comes to work, Pickaway County Commissioners Brian Stewart, Harold Henson and Jay Wippel noted the excitement that a physical manifestation of economic development has brought to the town.
“It’s great to see the interest in it,” Stewart said. “I think people are seeing that this is happening. I think it shows there’s a lot of work that goes into bringing jobs and progress to Pickaway County. It’s something this community has been working on for two years. I think finally having the proof and a tangible example of it rolling down the road is great to see.”
“There has been excitement around the Sofidel project since it was announced and it continues with this,” Wippel added.
Henson said the move was great publicity for the plant, noting all the news articles written about it from its journey through the state. Stewart said it was good to have the attention of people outside the county.
“A lot of communities around the state and other states wanted to have this project,” Stewart said. “I think it’s nice to have everybody’s eyeballs focused on Pickaway County.”
That excitement was mirrored by local residents who waited for the truck to pass by, including more than a dozen who waited along Lancaster Pike in front of Big Lots.
“It’s the biggest things since the Pumpkin show; look you can see the crowd,” David Knece, of Circleville, said. “I worked down there at the place hauling dirt for six months. It’s a big deal going to town. I’m retired, but they can employ a lot of other people that need jobs.”
William Jenkins, who was at Big Lots waiting on the arrival of the truck, said it was good to see a plant coming to Circleville.
“We are excited to see all the work all the manpower and equipment going through there; it is a big deal,” he said. “I think Sofidel coming to town is great. I worked at RCA. It closed, then GE closed. It’s good to see something coming back to Circleville, breathe some life into the economy, give people a place to work.”
The industrial dryer arrived at the Sofidel plant around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The new plant is expected to bring more than 300 jobs initially to Pickaway County and will open later this year.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Tyler Patrick