Following a successful test run on Saturday, the bungled Supenaam ferry stelling will start operations today, almost a year after it was due to be opened.
The Government Information Agency (GINA) reported that the stelling “has been bedevilled with difficulties” following its initial restoration last year, after a series of remedial structural works still left it structurally unsound. In an interview with GINA yesterday, acting General Manager of the Transport and Harbours Department Kevin Trim said that after the test a week ago, the stelling is now functional and will be put into operation, though this will be done slowly, as a precautionary measure.
Last week, the Ministry of Public Works debunked media reports that the facility is unsound, saying that they had redesigned and repaired it. The ministry said it had strengthened crucial areas in order to make the stelling more compatible with vessels that ply the Essequibo route. Further, it pointed out that the trial run that was to be executed last Thursday by the MV Torani had been aborted after it arrived at the stelling during an abnormally high tide and was subsequently diverted to the Adventure stelling. The ministry said Saturday’s practice run lasted for 40 minutes and 18 vehicles, mostly 10-15 tonne trucks, offloaded successfully.
Since its construction, the stelling was found to be inoperable and public fears that those responsible for bungling the $450M project would escape culpability seemed to ring true when President Bharrat Jagdeo announced in May that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for remedial works.
The president had also ordered an investigation into the project following charges by construction company, BK International, that modifications done by the Ministry of Works led to it becoming inoperable. The ministry had denied this, saying that it was the Transport and Harbours Department that took over a facility “which was inadequate to handle the typical flotation as well as the arrangement to get on to the vessel for the heavy truck traffic from the Essequibo.” Minister of Transport Robeson Benn had said that his ministry had spent an additional $17.2 million on modifications, including a drawbridge and a pontoon, both of which he considered “absolutely necessary.”
Jagdeo then said that that the report on the project only revealed the agencies engaging in a blame-game for work on various aspects of the design and execution, but none assuming responsibility. Benn had said that the Ministry of Local Government supervised the construction of the stelling and later issued a certificate of completion to BK International even though the completed project had obvious defects. The drawbridge was also a major source of contention between BK and the Works Ministry, with BK saying that it should not have been attached to the loading ramp and Benn saying that the installation of the 1.7-tonne steel drawbridge was to guarantee the safe offloading and reloading of vehicles, particularly trucks, this newspaper reported.
In August, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon reiterated that taxpayers would be footing the multi-million-dollar bill for remedial works, adding that it was not “the time to just point fingers and allocate blame” but to correct the structure. Two engineers were commissioned to review the project, while Supenaam residents were left adrift after they had expected the stelling opening to ease transportation woes.