Substandard work, among other problems on Hope Canal Project; Minister should initiate independent mid-term review

Dear Editor,
A few days ago we made a site visit to the Hope Canal Project to assess construction progress. What we observed with respect to project activities, quality control and the contractors’ abilities to organize and execute the work to complete their contracts on time was not very encouraging.

Work done on the Weir discharge structure across the sea defence indicates that only about 15% of contract work has been completed to date, and based on the contractor’s performance thus far it is unlikely that the structure will be completed and become functional before 2014. Excuses given such as the late delivery of materials, equipment failure and transportation difficulties all within his ambit are not severe contingencies to relieve the contractor of his contractual obligations to complete the Weir within the specified time-frame.

The timber piles driven show that many of them are out of plumb, drifting by as much as 3 ft. The northern row of driven perimeter steel sheet piling shows that some of them have listed eastwards by as much as 15 degrees, indicating that they have been driven with inadequate guide support and their toes have probably slipped out of the interlocking grooves. The driven out-of-plumb timber piles may have been broken at the splices and therefore their bearing capacity compromised.

The engineer responsible for observing materials and completed work to evaluate their compliance with the plans, specifications and design should have recognized these problems and instructed the contractor to take remedial measures to correct the sub-standard work. The slippages (delays in construction progress) should have been reported to NDIA (the owner) at an earlier stage and a plan proposed by the contractor, agreed to and monitored to get the project back on track. The Minister of Agriculture/NDIA engineers during their recent visit to the site must have seen that the piles were being driven out of alignment, but apparently they took no action to remedy the situation, continue to allow things to slide while the contractor goes about his daily routine executing sub-standard work.

The design and supervision of construction of this structure raises many troubling questions. Design of the foundation requires some 520 timber piles 120 ft long. Of necessity the piles have to be spliced and the splicing of timber piles in general is never recommended because of the difficulty to keep the piles plumb and prevent cracking and splitting during driving.

The design should have been reviewed by an independent consultant to check whether the structure was not over-designed, particularly the requirement for what appears to be an excessive number of piles to support the structure. Prior to construction, test piles should have been driven and loaded to determine the length and number of piles required to adequately support the structure.

Experience of previously designed and built structures under similar soil conditions such as the 7-door Weir across the Abary River shows that timber piles were not necessary to support the structure since the soil at that elevation could safely support the imposed loads. There are other features of the Weir design such as the elimination of gabion baskets upstream which would have made the structure more efficient and cost effective without compromising safety.

The canal is about 50% completed and not 83% as claimed. About 30% of the canal remains to be dug and re-dug to final bed grade. Some 80% of its embankments have to be raised to design elevation, compacted, trimmed, shaped and strengthened with geo-textile fabric. In some sections selected borrow fill may have to be used to replace unsuitable material.

Construction of the embankments between the Crown and Conservancy Dams is in a state of flux as the consultants/NDIA contemplate how the geo-textile fabric stored outside the Hope Estate Office should be installed to achieve the design objectives. It is worth noting that during our visit the pegasse built eastern embankment of the canal about 1 km north of the Head Regulator site was on fire, burning uncontrollably, and will probably compromise the geo-textile fabric if installed.

A major problem developing in the unfinished canal is weeds, which have taken over about 40% of the canal’s waterway and it is estimated that within six months if no action is taken the entire waterway will be covered with weeds. Their presence will severely restrict flow and negate the objective of discharging floodwater efficiently from the conservancy. Cost for their removal and continual maintenance will be an expensive exercise which NDIA is still to estimate and budget for.

The bushes growing profusely on the embankments will also have to be controlled by regular maintenance. Further to keep the Weir functioning at peak performance after it is completed will require excavation of the foreshore and continually maintaining the channel to keep it clear. This will be another additional costly work now awaiting consideration and execution.

Work on the Head Regulator is about 20% completed and piling is expected to be finished early in the new year. It is unlikely that this structure will be completed and be functional before the end of 2013.

The road bridge appears to be progressing slowly with an untidy work site, improper storage of material/equipment and signs of a disorganized work plan. Some of the pre-stress units being installed on the bridge show changes from the original design, and therefore certified test reports should be available to confirm their strength requirements. Those units on site awaiting installation should be properly stored to prevent excessive exposure to the elements which may very well compromise their strength requirements.

There can be no doubt that Dr Ramsammy, Minister of Agriculture, has been grossly misled that come June 2013 the Hope Canal Project will be completed and become functional.

To confirm our observations and to allay the public’s apprehension, he should initiate an independent mid-term review of the Hope Canal Project to assess progress with respect to the implementation of project activities focusing on the project implementation plan, its progress in achieving project outcomes, expenditures and the disbursement schedule. The review will show how skewed the NDIA/consulting engineers were regarding the timely completion of project works and their indifference to costs and the auxiliary works required to make the system functional.

Yours faithfully,
Malcolm Alli
Charles Sohan

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