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Prensa Latina: Nicaragua, a year marked by the approval of the Canal Environmental Assessment 2015-12-8 17:00

By: Francisco G. Navarro (Prensa Latina correspondent in Nicaragua)

Managua, Dec 06 (PL) Nicaragua aims to build the Grand Interoceanic Canal over the next six years and 2015 was marked by the approval of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), which is essential to start the mega-project in the coming year.

With the approval of the document, which was entrusted to the international consultancy firm ERM, on November 5 the Government of Nicaragua paved the way for the implementation of the route with the issuance of the environmental permit for the Project, whose exclusive rights belong to the Chinese concessionaire HKND Group by Law 840 of June 13, 2013.

The new waterway planned to be built in the Central American isthmus, will connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along its 276 kilometers, 105 of which passing through the great Lake Nicaragua.

The economic and social benefits for the people of Nicaragua and meeting the great demand from the international maritime industry, which is in need of a transoceanic route that is able to accommodate the largest ships in the world, will be materialized with the realization of the Canal Project, argued the ESIA.

After reviewing the study with due rigor, the Government of Nicaragua acknowledged that the Canal will have a net positive impact on the environment and society, provided that the concessionaire complies with the previously agreed mitigation and compensation conditions.

In recent years, a deterioration process affecting the ecological environment of the country took place in Nicaragua, particularly in the area of native forests, affected by slash-and-burn agricultural practices.

Experts in environmental area involved in the ESIA agreed that, unless significant action is undertaken, most of the forest of the southern half of the country could disappear in the next fifteen years.

Similar danger was identified regarding the water quality of the Great Lake as a result of human activity and forest loss in its banks.

Among the mitigation measures adopted by the study, it is outstanding the fact that a reforestation project in the Canal basin will be undertaken (by HKND Group), to prevent soil erosion and sediment accumulation on the lake bed.

The concessionaire committed itself to prevent entry of saltwater into the lake and ensure an improvement in the quality of the vital fluid also called Cocibolca.

The route finally chosen for the Canal will affect six thousand eight hundred families (27,000 people), who will be resettled by the investment company.

HKND Group is committed to making the relocation of this population in line with international best practices, and at the same time to raising their life standard with optimal properties and social infrastructure better than that of today.

In addition to highlighting the comprehensive nature of the process, the Chief Project Advisor, Bill Wild assured that they have listened to the opinions received regarding the design and expressed his satisfaction for having written an ESIA in which the people of Nicaragua can place their complete trust.

On May 29, 2015, the British consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM), which is recognized worldwide as a leader in environmental sustainability, finalized the ESIA study contracted by HKND Group in June 2013.

During the five months after completion of the ESIA, the two entities, together with the Government of Nicaragua, worked hand in hand in the perfection of the proposals on the future route in order to minimize environmental and social impacts.

COMPLEMENTARY STUDIES

With the recent approval of ESIA, the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal Project demonstrated its viability from economic, technical and environmental perspectives.

This marked the end of an investigation process started from June of last year by the American McKinsey & Company, a global strategic consulting firm dedicated to solving problems concerning strategic management, who completed the study of commercial viability and business case associated to the Project.

China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group concluded in December of 2014 the technical feasibility study.

The Australian firm CSA Global is currently conducting the investigations at the field level, which include LiDAR survey (measurement of distances through a laser beam), and geomagnetic survey of the Canal route and the shore of Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca.

HKND Group now works on optimizing the design parameters of the Canal and preparing the reference design for the locks and earthmoving of the waterway.

Other logistics and refurbishment works are in place to initiate large construction work.

For the construction of the locks and large-scale excavations, the end of 2016 is set as a temporary target, events that will be marked by the official launch of major works, which shall be completed in a period of five years from that moment.

HIGH LEVEL OF APPROVAL

According to a public opinion poll conducted in mid-October by M&R Consultants (member of The European Society for Opinion and Market Research), more than 77 percent of Nicaraguans support the Canal Project and 70 percent consider it serious.

In the phase prior to the presentation of the EIAS, public consultations were held by the Government and HKND Group, with participants of about three thousand people, including representatives of communities along the route.

Likewise, opinions were incorporated from sectors as business, media, labor unions, scientists, academics, environmentalists, religious groups, and the diplomatic corps, as well as UN agencies, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Along with the creation of a quarter of a million jobs, including direct and indirect during the construction phase, the EIAS highlights other benefits for the economy of Nicaragua, such as increasing production and personal income, improving job skills and transport infrastructure.

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