Less than two years after its commissioning, Government has to now plug millions of dollars more into repairing the crooked $350M Hope Canal Bridge, which is one of the three main components of the Northern Relief
Channel constructed at Hope/Dochfour, East Coast Demerara, at a cost of $3.6B.
The Ministry of Public Infrastructure has already awarded the contract for repairs, to H. Nauth & Sons Civil Engineering Contractors. The project to remedy the eastern and western approaches of the bridge will cost the Government some $46,571,074.
Head of the Work Services Group, Geoffrey Vaughn told Kaieteur News yesterday that the contractors have already been mobilized, and that preparatory works have commenced.
Speaking on behalf of the contracted firm, Julian Archer, an engineer, said that the company has already submitted a new design for the approaches, to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure.
“We are monitoring the settlement while we wait on a response from the Ministry in relation to the design for the elevation,” Archer said.
Meanwhile, George Jervis, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, explained that contrary to previous reports, the repairs to the structure do not apply to the actual bridge itself, but the approaches to it.
“The bridge has no problem. That is perfect. What happened is that there were concrete slabs placed at the approaches. The road, with the asphaltic surface and so, was cast over it. But, as vehicles began to use the structure, the concrete slabs continued to sink further,” Jarvis told this newspaper.
When a flaw in the design had become clear, the contracting firm, DIPCON Engineering refused to take the blame, saying that it objected to the design of the bridge, but was told to go ahead by the consultancy firms – CEMCO and SRKN’gineering. This was done during the tenure of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C).
When the Coalition Government took office, it said that it would be instituting the penalty clauses against the consultancy firms.
Yesterday, Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder said that CEMCO/SRKN’gineering offered to do the designs to rectify the bridge, free of cost. However, the government shut down the offer and decided to withhold the monies it owed the company for its consultancy on the entire Hope Canal project, which was valued at $64M.
Asked whether stiffer action would be taken against the consultant firms, Holder said he would not be able to say at this time.
Meanwhile, as the books continue to reflect the cost of the Northern Relief Channel as being $3.6B, an audit report into the operations of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) showed that it was actually completed with additional $700M. A report compiled by Nigel Hinds Financial Services showed that the Hope Canal project actually cost taxpayers more than $4.1B.
In the report, which is available on the Ministry of Finance’s website, the authors said, “We were not able to obtain any information from the MOA (Ministry of Agriculture) to confirm whether any payments for the Hope Canal Project were made through its records as was done in the case of NDIA (National Drainage and Irrigation Authority).”
The auditors went further to state, “We were unable to obtain all the documentation to compute the actual cost of the Project, as it would appear that deliberate efforts were made to understate the actual cost. NDIA, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance were unable to access the Loan Agreement to determine the parties to the contract, the terms of the loan and the method of repayment.”
After about six deadlines and close to three years of continuous delays, the now defective 74.4 metres long bridge was commissioned by then President, Donald Ramotar. The structure has 47-metre sloped approaches on both sides, and the capacity to accommodate two-lane traffic. The bridge is also outfitted with sidewalks.
The construction of the Hope/Dochfour Northern Relief Channel was a venture undertaken by former Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, who estimated an 18-month completion, when construction commenced in February 2011. After a number of delays, the bridge component of the project was finally completed during the first quarter of 2014. (Rehana Ahamad)
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