Eight-gate sluice still holding back Hope Canal

-Engineer Sohan sees another year’s worth of work

Three of the four components of the $3.6 billion Hope Canal Project (HCP) have been completed with only the eight-gate sluice by Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited (CBCSL) still to be finished, according to Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

Ramsammy is holding firm to the revised June 2014 deadline for the flood-relief project though this is being doubted by an engineer who has been following it. The Minister said that everything else for the project was completed and only CBCSL has to finish its part.

Ramsammy told Stabroek News that the contractor was given time to finish the eight-gate sluice and that this time frame is the reality of the current situation. He stated that it has to be done and time had to be given unless Guyana was prepared to put the project on hold indefinitely. “It has to be done…unless then we wait until 2055,” Ramsammy said.

“I would wish that it could be done, but it is not going to be done before June period,” Ramsammy said. Work on the canal commenced in February 2011. Contractors however, due to myriad setbacks, were unable to complete the project within the stipulated 18-month contractual time-frame and so several extensions were granted. The deadline was revised again in January when the December 31, 2013 deadline passed. CBCSL was advised in the last quarter of 2013 to hire additional workers or to subcontract the work so it would not miss the December 2013 deadline.

Meanwhile critics have said that given the almost three-year period for the completion of the project, there has been incompetence and poor construction management of the four-part project.

Engineer Charles Sohan in an April 14 letter to Stabroek News was scathingly critical and said the project could take around another year.

He said then that the HCP sluice was about 50% completed and it was unlikely that its eight radial SS gates would be fabricated, installed and become functional this year. After the sluice is completed, Sohan further said that its abutments would have to be tied in with the existing sea defence and a 3km channel dug across the foreshore to allow floodwater from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) to be released into the ocean.

“These are extra works, and contracts to execute them are yet to be awarded. The road bridge is completed but work on its approach ramps and their alignment to tie in with the existing roadway is still to be accomplished. Also, excavation and shaping of that segment of the canal under the bridge has to be completed to allow floodwater to get to the sluice from the conservancy”, he argued.

Further, he said that the 11 km canal to channel water from the EDWC has been dug but its waterway is overgrown with weeds which have to be removed and its embankments have to be levelled after the thick bush growing over them is removed.

“Substantial complex work remains to be done on that segment of the canal between the crown and conservancy dams to make the pegasse soil comprising its embankments watertight and stable as they were not constructed with selected fill as should have been the case”, Sohan said.

He added that the impending rainy season will slow construction progress and impact adversely the June 30 completion deadline.

Aside from the sluice, Sohan said that the three-door head regulator is about 75% completed and after completion its abutments have to be tied in to the canal embankments downstream and the EDWC dam upstream. He said this work will have to be done by experienced constructors, particularly with a high water level in the conservancy unless its water level is lowered or very expensive cofferdams erected to facilitate. He added that these are all expensive additional works to the HCP and to date no contract has been awarded to undertake them.

“As could be deduced from the foregoing, and apart from contract work, substantial extra works remain to be done to make HCP functional and this will take over a year to accomplish. Minister Ramsammy seems to lack the expertise to assess a complicated project which was dreamt up and passed over to him in a chaotic state by his predecessor and whose final cost and eventual completion date continues to elude him as he artfully uses his political skills to mislead the Guyanese people by issuing unrealistic completion dates one after the other with impunity. When all is said and done he should be held responsible for the large cost and time overrun on HCP which he continues to defend, and which will eventually cost the Guyanese taxpayers dearly”, Sohan asserted.

In an earlier letter on February 18, Sohan stated that “lax project oversight and shoddy construction performance (canal and sluice gates) by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) through its executing agency the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority (NDIA)” has prevented the completion of the project in a timely fashion.

Sohan stated that the final cost of the project is yet to be determined. He noted that the various extensions would surely mean that more money is being spent. He said that “what has not been cited categorically is its projected final cost which is likely to be a ‘shocker’ when it is eventually made public, as no large government project with such an extensive time overrun has ever been completed without hefty additional costs.”

He said that the NDIA’s claims that the HCP will prevent flooding in the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary, Hope areas is un-substantiated. Ramsammy told Stabroek News that the various criticisms from Sohan have not been correct. However, he did not provide any data.

The engineer said that very little has been done since the 2005 flood to address underlying issues that leave theses communities susceptible to flooding and he highlighted that there has been no publicly released information that would back up the NDIA’s claim. “The NDIA has no data/report to back such a monstrous claim and the people living in low-lying areas which are influenced by EDWC should not be deluded by these unsupported assurances and become too smug about their safety and the protection of their property from flooding,” Sohan had said.

When Ramsammy spoke with Stabroek News in March he revealed that the head regulator, which he said at that point was 96% completed and will connect with the outfall site of the EDWC, had to be finished prior to the dam reshaping of the canal being completed.

 

The 2014 budget has allocated an additional $878 million for the completion of the HCP as well as for the acquisition of eight fixed drainage pumps, technical support, training and spares. The breakdown of how much will be going where was not given.

 

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