Hope Canal won’t be abandoned – NDIA

The suspension of the excavation work on the Hope Canal does not signal an attempt to abandon the project, the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority (NDIA) says.

Omadatt Chandan, Corporate Secretary of the NDIA, said in a letter that “the NDIA will not abandon such a key project” since when completed it will allow the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) to cope with rainfall at high intensity with a longer return period. Chandan was at the time responding to a letter in Monday’s Stabroek News by Charles Sohan in addition to a recent Kaieteur News report.

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud had recently announced that the excavation exercise on the site had been temporarily halted due to the adverse weather. He said that other work was still being done on the ground.  According to him, should the weather hold, excavation may resume in January.

Sohan, labeled, the minister’s announcement as “bewildering”. According to him, the weather conditions should not have affected the operation of excavators to the extent that work had to come to a halt since a major segment of the proposed Canal from the Seawall to the Crown Dam could be excavated all year round irrespective of weather condition.  The weather, he said, would in most cases slow operations but not stop work. Sohan suggested too that the administration elected next year “may very well scrub this ill-conceived Project with a severe financial burden for us all to bear.”

In his letter, Chandan said that while works were temporarily halted in some sections of the relief canal because the area was being used to manage water in the drainage system and maintain the integrity of the conservancy, there is still activity and mobilization being undertaken for works to be carried out in other sections of the canal. When asked to elaborate on the statement, Minister Persaud told this newspaper the area south of the Crown Dam leading to the conservancy dam holds water and it is necessary to manage the release of the water. He said given the recent heavy rainfall, the intention was not to overload the system beyond the Crown Dam.

Meanwhile, Chandan defended the decision of the NDIA to do the earthen works on the canal, stating that such initiatives cut costs by 60 to 80 percent. Sohan had questioned the capability of the NDIA to carry out the necessary work. “In the past, hiring of contractors has proven to be a costly exercise resulting in the Authority increasing its fleet of equipment three-fold to undertake a larger work load in a [timelier] manner with the impact being less frequent inundation of agricultural and residential areas,” he wrote.

The $3.6 billion project, which was launched in October, 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. The canal is expected to be completed in two years.

Works are being undertaken by the NDIA with assistance from project consultants CEMCO. SRKN Engineering and the UK-based Mott MacDonald company have jointly undertaken consultancy work with CEMCO. At the moment, when the EDWC is at a dangerous level, water from the conservancy is drained through the Maduni and Lama sluices and this has caused catastrophic flooding in the Mahaica and Mahaicony areas.

There have been mixed views about the Hope Canal, as several experienced engineers have opined that the construction of the channel is not the best option to drain the EDWC, since there are other cheaper and more effective options available.  The Agriculture Minister, however, has repeatedly said that the decision to construct this canal is being done on the best technical advice.