It would come as no surprise if it turned out that the words “cost over-runs” were to the present Labour government what ostensibly holy water is to the devil.
With no prodding whatsoever a beaming infrastructure minister Philip J Pierre, with reference to the Bonne Terre bridge project, had pointed out to reporters back in April that “so far I can say no cost over-runs.”
The Minister was at the time giving the media a tour of the incomplete bridge, with his permanent secretary in tote. The tour was an apparent response to criticism that the project originally scheduled for completion in January 2013 was more than two months behind schedule. On the occasion no plausible explanation was given for the delay. The minister simply announced a new completion date: 5 May 2013.
The Bonne Terre Bridge had also drawn some earlier criticisms from the LPM, centered on cost. Engineers Pat Brown and John Peters, both writing in another newspaper, had expressed concern over the design of the bridge. Peters, in particular, was disturbed that projects like the Bonne Terre bridge did not go through proper soil investigation or geotechnical processes.
With so many dark clouds hanging over the project and with the government boasting of transparency, what then to make of the minister’s bewilderment when we sought a comment from his engineers about the delays in the project this week.
“You cannot be serious,” said Pierre, when he accidentally met with media personnel at the office of his deputy engineer. “You all haven’t seen the kind of weather we have been having?”
Just days earlier he had boasted about the success of Jazz in rain-soaked muddy Marchand.
“In any case,” he asked, “what’s the story here? Is there any inconvenience to the public, are there cost over-runs?” Then he left us with his engineer.
In September of 2012, the contract for the construction of the new Bonne Terre bridge was awarded to Integrated Development Contractors that, according to a GIS statement, “would engage one hundred percent Saint Lucian workers and supervisors.” The contracts were signed during a press conference on Tuesday, 4 September this year. The project, estimated at EC$5.5 million, was to be completed in six months.
The project was described as a single span, reinforced concrete bridge, designed to be 11.2 meters long, capable of accommodating 4- lane traffic, with pedestrian sidewalks on either side.
“We have managed to make substantial savings in engineering and consultancy fees for this project using the Competitive Selector Tender process,” Pierre said at the time. All players involved, including the 20 employees, were “all local and supervision will be undertaken by staff of the Ministry of Infrastructure.” Funds for the project would be “sourced from an EC$13 million allocation, provided in the 2012/2013 budget,”
At the time of signing Pierre said: “These are the facts, there are no secrets and no refusal to disclose the cost of the project before construction. We are being open and transparent with the use of the taxpayer’s money.”
Ahead of the construction of the new bridge a bypass road was constructed parallel to the existing culvert, allowing works on the new bridge to progress uninterrupted. Then in March, Pierre’s predecessor former Guy Joseph expressed concerns about the unexplained delay in the project.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure Allison Jean explained that “unforeseen circumstances” had resulted in the delay and the construction was “now scheduled to be completed by May 5.” During the previously mentioned media tour she said the cost of the bridge was “quite justified.”
This week the STAR spoke with the deputy chief engineer Len Robertson Leon. “As far as I am concerned and aware of,” he said, “although we have not had an updated report, approximately three weeks ago we had an interview which took place on the Bonne Terre bridge site where we reported that all being well the bridge should open approximately the first week of May. But obviously since then there has been some serious inclement weather. At least two major spells and I don’t think I need to tell you what the results of that have been.”
He said the recent rains had resulted in flooding and slides across the country. “Fortunately this has not affected so much the Bonne Terre bridge. However it is obviously very much saturated in terms of the on-going road works and the building up of the carriageway. Obviously this material needs to desaturate and hopefully, with some good weather, a lot of the water which had settled inside the construction would have been removed and this will obviously cause some delay.”
Leon would not be drawn into offering a new completion date. “We must wait for the water to dissipate,” he said, “test the material again, re-compact, make sure all is solid and meets all quality assurance.”
The deputy engineer in the Ministry could not speak to whether the project was still within budget or what new road and bridge projects would be next undertaken. These, he said, would be guided by what is put in this year’s budget for his ministry to match their road program.
Recently the prime minister announced cuts in the ministry’s allocations.