Construction on the USD50 billion Nicaragua Canal will not begin until the first quarter of 2016 due to new environmental mitigation measures, according to a high-ranking government official.
Paul Oquist, executive director of the Nicaragua Grand Canal Commission, said that UK-based Environmental Resources Management, one of the canal’s environmental assessment contractors, has recommended four additional studies to identify new mitigation requirements.
“We and (Nicaragua president Daniel Ortega) have made the decision that all studies recommended by the environmental groups have to be undertaken,” Oquist said on 22 September in Washington, DC, at a forum sponsored by the Council of the Americas. “No stone will be left unturned in terms of the environmental elements.”
Work on the canal had originally been scheduled to begin in early 2014. That was pushed forward to the start of 2015, due in part to delays in identifying the waterway’s path.
The new 2016 start period will include solicitation of bidding briefs for dredging, excavation, the locks, and two new ports to be built as part of the project. The canal will take five years to build.
Critics have focused on the project’s high cost and potential environmental damage.
Project concessionaire HKND Group, led by Beijing-born billionaire Wang Jing, has yet to name investors.
In addition, the financial and economic feasibility studies undertaken for the project by US-based consulting firm McKinsey & Co had been scheduled to be circulated among the world’s investment banks in late 2014. However, those studies are still ongoing, Oquist said.
Oquist refuted claims by environmental groups that 100,000 indigenous people living along Lake Nicaragua would be displaced by the project. A government census study put that number at only about 28,000 people, Oquist asserted, “and we will accommodate them”.