Rebuilding of Bauerfield runway - a logistical nightmare

THE supply and movement of vital aggregate to construct a new Vila airport runway is a logistical nightmare that has not been given adequate attention, said engineers.

Aggregate, which is basically crushed rock, is the main base material needed for the new Bauerfield runway and getting sufficient quantities on site is likely to take several months, the Independent has been told by experts.

Engineers in Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu have told an Independent Investigation that the tenders for the new international runway ranged from as low as an aggregate total of 70,000 tonnes to a more popular figure of around 120,000 tonnes required for the new runway base.

Business leaders have welcomed the announcement of the Chinese construction company CCECC as the preferred tenderer for the USD$47 million operation.

“It is a positive and major step forward, although it should have happened late last year except for the World Bank continually changing the rules, but at this stage we welcome it,” said one major business leader.

“But we still have to have a contract drawn up by the World Bank and then signed and thus far they have not shown any haste in the proceedings at the airport.’’

Insiders told The Independent that the contract will be prepared by the Pacific Aviation Investment Program in Tonga, which is a World Bank subsidiary, currently being paid $35,000 (VT 3.9 million) per month by the Vanuatu Government in relation to this complex issue.

Some business leaders feel it may be signed as soon as May while others feel it could be as late as July/August before any actual work commences at Bauerfield.

“But at that monthly rate, you can see why the World Bank people are not in any rush,” said one prominent Port Vila business figure.

Engineers explained that for the reconstruction work to begin, aggregate must be on site.

“It doesn’t all have to be there to begin with and it can came in as the work progresses but of course the job cannot be completed without it,’’ said an experienced NZ airport construction engineer.

For the examples used in this report, the engineers consulted by The Independent agreed to use100,000 tonnes of aggregate as the figure for basing their calculations, although some felt it was a conservative one.

“To put it into perspective, NZ construction company Downers used about 45,000 tonnes of aggregate to build the Efate ring road which was completed in 2010,’’ said another NZ engineer.

The experts explained that there are three sources of aggregate available to CCECC for the project – North Efate, New Caledonia and Fiji.

They said moving 100,000 tonnes from North Efate to a stockpile at the airport in 20 tonne trucks would take 250 trips using 20 trucks.

“At the speed they could travel fully laden it is unlikely they could make more than three trips a days; then it would take about 83 days and the road would be pretty much destroyed,” they said.

“So a barge would be needed and you would still have to get the rock from the quarry area to the barge, plus finding a suitable landing site for the barge.

“Then there is the issue of a crusher and these are very expensive items, but one would be a necessity. And it seems unlikely it is built into the tender price.

“Although it would be good to keep a higher percentage of the money remaining in Vanuatu, the North Efate plan seems improbable.’’

They said that the preferred location for aggregate for CCECC, which was in their tender, is New Caledonia, which would obviously require a barge or barges to ship the already crushed rock to Efate.

“The largest barge in the region is 5000 tonnes, so if it is only the one barge operating that would mean 20 trips,” the engineers said.

“Each trip would take12 days turn-around including loading and unloading, which equates to about eight months and that does not allow for bad weather, mechanical breakdowns with the tugs that tow them or other unforeseen problems.

“Realistically you are looking at about nine months or, say, four to five months if there was a second 5000 tonne dumb barge available. (A dumb barge has no engines and must be towed).

“But these size barges do not grow on trees and obviously they are expensive.

“Once the tug is beached at Efate, then maybe a conveyor belt and front end loaders will be needed to move the aggregate from the barge to the trucks.

“Some form of road would need to be built across the beach area where the barge lands or the trucks would be bogged every few metres.

“Then there is still the issue of the damage these heavily laden trucks will do to the section of roads they have to travel on to the airport site which is unavoidable.”

The engineers said the same scenarios would apply to getting the aggregate from Fiji except that it is further away than New Caledonia, so the time frame would increase.

“Even if this whole complex exercise began as early as June it is going to run into the next cyclone season, which naturally could delay everything even further,” they said.

Business leaders in Vila said the whole technical scenario has not been taken seriously enough by the government.

“If people read this report thoroughly, they must realise that this is a logistic nightmare that has not been fully considered properly at any stage and it needs urgent attention and planning,’’ said a bevy of concerned engineers and business operators..


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