Sunday, February 8, 2009

How was the figure for the cost of the Hope Canal arrived at?

Stabroek News letter. 22 January 2009. How was the figure for the cost of the Hope Canal arrived at?

Dear Editor,

I applaud your January 12 editorial (‘Relief from the conservancy’) wherein a number of pertinent issues were raised regarding the proposed northern relief channel for the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) to be located at Hope/Dochfour.

There is no doubt this will be a complex and costly project and it is important, as was stated, that the engineering decisions be sound and carefully made to enable the completed project to satisfy the required objective of removing flood water from EDWC and discharge it into the Atlantic Ocean in an efficient, safe and timely manner.

An invitation to bid for consultancy services has been issued and responses have to be submitted by January 27. It appears there was a delay in the availability of tender documents and the time given for bid submission is evidently limited. These constraints will certainly adversely affect reputable consultants expected to submit meaningful bids let alone their ability to mobilize teams of local and foreign personnel for joint venture submissions. The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) should not delude itself into thinking that all the required skills needed to design and construct this project are available locally. Substantial engineering consulting work will have to be done overseas for data analyses and design since the work envisaged will include, but not be limited to flood routing and simulation/modelling of the conservancy with its various outlets to determine the capacity of the proposed relief channel. This capacity will also dictate the size and geometry of the inlet and outlet structures, channel width and slopes. Important data necessary for design remain to be collected. These will have to include stream gauging on all outlet structures to determine their discharges over a given time, but particularly during periods of heavy rainfall with the conservancy at its optimum level. Geotechnical investigations will have to be carried out for the foundations of the many structures to be built as well as for the channel slope and embankments. The effects of sling mud and other littoral drifts as well as tidal fluctuations on the discharge of the outlet structure into the ocean to ensure optimum output at all times will have to be determined for the purposes of hydraulic design. Last but not least will be the need for comprehensive topographic and detailed site surveys for various aspects of the project design. The consultants should also be required to examine the feasibility of constructing one outlet structure, preferably across the sea defence for the release of floodwater from the conservancy directly into the ocean instead of two (the other across the conservancy dam) as is now contemplated. This could possibly result in considerable project cost reduction.

After all the relevant data have been collected and analyzed, and the design completed, tenders will have to be invited for project construction unless NDIA is contemplating a turnkey project. If a construction contract is contemplated, it will take several months for contract review and award as well as for the contractor’s mobilization before actual construction starts. Therefore given the size and complexity of this project it is unlikely that it could be completed and functional in under three years.

Based on the requirements for data collection, design and construction given above it is inconceivable that this project could start in June ’09 and be completed by June ’10. Another major hurdle yet to overcome is funding. A cost of $3 billion (US$15 million) for this project has been stated by the President of the Republic. It is mind boggling as to how this figure was arrived at, since no design, bill of quantities and costing have been prepared for this project. NDIA has to assure the people of Region 4 in no uncertain terms where funding to construct this project will come from, particularly during this difficult financial period when loans, gifts and handouts have all but disappeared. In addition, the government has incurred large external debts, and is strapped for cash to carry out even basic services or provide financial assistance to flood-stricken farmers in the region and elsewhere who have suffered damage to their homes, loss of livestock and crops and who are on the verge of starvation as a result of the yearly flooding of their homesteads due to mismanagement and the lack of adequate investment in the drainage system in their community.

Finally, the residents of Region 4 should not be misled into thinking that the proposed relief channel for the EDWC will be constructed any time soon, despite the rhetoric. NDIA is accustomed to crisis management of its facilities, and much of the same should be expected during those cycles of heavy rainfall yet to come. Nevertheless, this is an important project and if it does get off the ground its execution should be transparent. Its design and construction should be undertaken by reputable consultants/contractors with proven track records to ensure that public funds are well spent on a much needed project whose objective is to alleviate the yearly sufferings and fears caused by flooding. It is hoped this project does not end up being another Amaila Falls Hydropower or Marriott Hotel, projects which have gone nowhere despite high expectations and the injudicious doling out of scarce tax dollars to undertake questionable upfront preliminary works hurriedly thought-out and based on uncertain promises.

Yours faithfully,
Charles Sohan
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