Work will continue at Monteil Trace, Fyzabad, where the Fyzabad Interchange is to be built. The Fyzabad Interchange is located along the disputed Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin. Photo by DEXTER PHILIP

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Highway jam

State faces $.4m a day charge on Debe to Mon Desir segment if projects don't continue

By Richard Charan richard.charan@trinidadexpress.com

THE decision to delay the start of the highway construction projects along the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin pending a review could cost taxpayers $US70,000 a day.

And by the time the independent committee to be appointed submits its finding on the feasibility of the route, the Brazil-based contractor, OAS Constructora, may have to be compensated millions of dollars.

A senior official at the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) told the Express yesterday that OAS Constructora was already positioning itself to make a claim based on a delay clause in its contract with the Government.

The clause allows the contractor the right to recover damages associated with construction delays out of its control.

Nidco's chairman, Dr Carson Charles, said while the contractor was entitled to make a claim, "the engineer will judge whether the claims are fair. It is one of the reasons why we are not instructing the contractor to stop work. And we do not believe in the current circumstances, claims will arise".

Charles also confirmed that work on the Siparia and Fyzabad interchanges, located along the disputed Debe to Mon Desir segment, would continue.

According to a Nidco official with details on the disputed segment, "Everyone has been focused on the benefits should the highway project be re-routed in the Debe to Mon Desir area, but no one has thought of the cost of stopping the project at this stage."

"There has already been a financial impact associated with the protests and protest camp set up (earlier this year) by Kublalsingh (near the site of the proposed Debe Interchange). The contractor, once stopped, has to be paid."

The Nidco official said the cost of the work being done within the Debe to Mon Desir segment was significant.

"Equipment and manpower has been mobilised. Everything is planned according to the contract, and they are supposed to schedule work in order to have cash flow. If they can't do the work, they can't achieve cash flow. And someone will have to pay for that. The last time we checked, it was US$70,000 a day. And remember, there is an ironclad contract in place."

The Debe to Mon Desir segment has an estimated cost of $2.1 billion, out of the total highway project cost of $7.5 billion.

The Nidco official said few people were considering "how this is affecting the people living (along the highway path). People who have already begun moving, who have located properties, those who have submitted valuations for properties and are awaiting payment. And who will bear the cost of conducting a few hydrological studies? Does the country know that to do a new EIA (environmental-impact assessment) could take four years?".

The official added, "People also need to think about how this review will impact the highway budget and what impact it will have should the project be stopped at this stage."

Charles said other than the Siparia and Fyzabad interchanges, "we will not be releasing any other area between Debe and Mon Desir.

"In addition, even at the interchanges, the contractor will use his own best judgment to conduct work in a manner which would minimise conflict. No one wants this to be going on with conflict. We expect peace."

Charles also said that OAS Constructora had scheduled a Christmas shutdown of the project, so there would be little work at the locations in a few weeks' time.

As of yesterday, work was continuing along the Golconda to Debe segment, the Mon Desir Interchange, Berridge Trace Underpass and the South Trunk Road near the Mosquito Creek. The contract will also be allowed to continue with its preliminary work in the area of the Siparia Interchange.

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