Hope relief canal will have best technical advice

-Persaud tells Parliament

Facing intense scrutiny over the location of the proposed $3 billion Hope canal, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud on Wednesday said the government would move ahead with inputs from the best experts.
Persaud announced that government would seek to engage a consortium of local and international experts to advise on the project, while saying that it is already on the verge of awarding a contract for technical analysis of the location and preparation of designs for associated structures. “Our government will act, based on the technical advice-the best technical advice-on what is best for the Guyanese people,” he said on the second day of consideration of the 2009 Estimates of Expenditure by the Committee of Supply. “It is our firm view, from all information and technical work that has been carried out so far, that Hope is the option,” he added.

Robert Persaud
Robert Persaud

At the time, he was on the receiving end of an interrogation by PNCR-1G MP Winston Murray on the technical basis that was used to decide the placement of the canal. At the end of the sitting, Murray remained unconvinced and chided the Minister for failing to provide any specifics about the technical work done so far to inform the government’s decision. Murray also sought to find out whether there had been a comparative analysis of the costs associated with the Hope canal against an alternative at either Shanks or Nabaclis, on the East Coast, which was originally proposed in the wake of the 2005 Great Flood. “All we are trying to do is to ensure we are confident that we are taking the best possible option,” he said, adding that everyone understood the purpose of the relief channel.

In this year’s budget, $2.8 billion has been budgeted for the canal and drainage of the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) and the purchase and installation of pumps.

Since President Bharrat Jagdeo announced the project last year it has been a lightning rod for criticism, with prominent local engineers and several groups registering their concern.

The canal, which will be constructed through the Hope/Dochfour area on the East Coast, is intended to drain the EDWC into the Atlantic Ocean, serving as a more efficient and less destructive means of releasing water from the conservancy. At the moment, when the EDWC is at a dangerous level, water from the conservancy is drained through the Maduni and Lama sluices, which has been causing catastrophic flooding in the Mahaica and Mahaicony areas.

Persaud assured that the government engaged “a number” of consultants in the conceptualisation of the canal and the decision on its location, noting that local and international consultants looked at early work done and found that it was workable. He recalled that the Drainage Task Force, set up in wake of the devastating 2005 flood, did not rule out a location between Nabaclis and Shanks for the construction. Further, investigations of the two options found the severe socio-economic and environmental implications ruled them out, he explained. At Nabaclis, he said “hundreds and hundreds” of residents would be put at risk and there would be “tremendous dislocation.” Meanwhile, Shanks, he added, would not provide “maximum relief” and because it drained into the Mahaica River, it would compound the situation. According to Persaud, Hope would result in “minimal dislocation,” with only eight lots in Dochfour likely to be affected. He said the government is moving to address the issue.

Persaud also revealed that the government would, through a process of tendering, engage a “consortium” of experts to look at the requirements for the project as well as the issues raised by Murray. But while insisting that he understood the need for technical soundness and a comprehensive analysis of all options, he expressed exasperation at the fact that the government faces constant criticism whether or not it acts. “We will not procrastinate, we will not hesitate and we will not deliberate indefinitely on this issue,” he boldly declared amid rousing support of fellow members in the government benches, “because there are farmers and residents and many people who are living under threat if we do not carry out this major type of intervention.”

Murray, who said he was not trying to be difficult, insisted on seeing the technical work done so far, but Persaud was not prepared to commit to providing anything before “the earliest appropriate time.” Murray was disappointed. “The Minister has pronounced and it seems as if political judgement has superseded technical consultation,” he said, grimly assessing Persaud’s report. Noting that taxpayers’ funds ought to be spent wisely, he emphasised the importance of studying the feasibility of the alternatives.

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