After missing several deadlines, the problem-plagued Melville Hall to Pond Casse Highway will be formally opened on October 30, according to prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he said the opening represents “a giant step forward in the ongoing development of Dominica.”
“A ceremony for the official opening of that highway will be held on Thursday, 30th October,” Skerrit said.
The Melville Hall to Pond Casse Highway, or Phase II of the Canefield to Melville Hall Road Project, has a history of missed deadlines and hiccups.
The contract for the project was signed in May 2010 with Emile Gaddarkan et Fils valued at EC$52-million. The Government of the Republic of France through the Agence Francaise de Developpement provided the financial resources, according to press release from the government.
Phase II consisted of Sections I and II. Section II was from Pond Casse to Pegau Bay (24 km or 15 miles) and Section III was from Pagua Bay – Melville Hall (8 km or 5 miles).
At the contract signing in 2010, duration of the project was estimated to be 20 months.
During a site visit to the project on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Minister for Public Works Rayburn Blackmoore told reporters that the project will be completed “by next year.”
But the project suffered many setbacks and by June 2012, Blackmoore disclosed that the government had taken steps to address severe delays affecting the troubled project.
He said the government had contracted the services of two new sub-contractors: Offshore Civil and Marine Inc and Dipcon Engineering Ltd to assist in completion works.
He indicated that these additional subcontractors will work alongside the original contractor, Emile Gaddarkan et Fils, on the project.
The completion date for the project was set for June 19, 2012.
But that deadline was not met and in October 2012, Blackmoore gave the new date of December 2012 and pointed out all was being done to meet that deadline.
He threatened penalties or ‘the issue of termination’ if the project was not completed as promised.
“We are looking towards the end of December to see the completion of this project,” he affirmed at a press conference on Thursday, October 11 2012.
Also in June 2012, an additional $12.6-million was pumped in the project. On Friday June 22, 2012 an agreement was signed for a loan of that amount from the Agence Francaise de Developement (AFD).
The funds was said to be mainly for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the bridges along the road.
At the signing ceremony prime minister Skerrit said that he hoped the additional funding responds to some of the criticisms that have been directed at the road project.
To make matter worst, in May 2012 trucker employed on the project stopped work complaining that they were owed “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
The matter created a firestorm of controversy over who should be paying the truckers and when.
In June 2012, Blackmoore released a statement saying the truckers ought to know that the Government is not the one paying the contractor for the works on the Project.
He explained that the contractor’s claims for the works executed are paid directly by the funding agency, AFD “and to date all of Emile Gaddarkhan et Fils claims have been settled by the AFD, so there is absolutely no legitimate reason why the Truckers should not have been paid”.
In November, 2012, the trucker threatened protest action again, saying they were not paid since August 2012. The truckers were eventually paid.
The numerous delays and hiccups on the project were of great concern to the public and in March 2014, Blackmoore defended the slow progress, pointing out that funding had to be sought for additional works.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Marigot Village Council he said that historically many sections of the road have been prone to land slippages and much of the work being done was not part of the original contractual arrangement.
“We said, as a government, that it makes no sense to do a job of that magnitude partially,” he stated. “Consequently we had to get additional funding…”
Blackmoore pointed out that a vulnerable area being worked on was next to the Belles School. “In the original contract not enough provision was made for a retaining wall and excavation,” he stated. “That is being done now …that is why you see the work taking a little bit longer.”
He pointed further that work was being done on 14 bridges which “was not part of the original scope of work.”
“That is why we are doing for you a proper job going forward…” he noted.
The final cost of the project is a reported $74-million.
At Thursday’s press conference Skerrit said that October 30th, the day the highyway is to be formally opened, should be a date all Dominicans enter into their dairies as a day of national importance.