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Panama Canal Expansion Breaks Ground

At the groundbreaking ceremony were, from left, Alberto Alemán Zubieta (ACP administrator/CEO), José Manuel Zelaya (president of Honduras), Elías Antonio Saca (president of El Salvador), Alvaro Uribe Vélez (president of Colombia), Vivian de Torrijos (first lady of Panama), Martín Torrijos Espino (president of Panama), Jimmy Carter (former U.S. president), José Miguel Insulza (secretary general, OAS), Daniel Ortega (president of Nicaragua), Rosario Murillo (first lady of Costa Rica), Rodrigo Arias (minister of the Presidency of Costa Rica), Dani Kuzniecky (ACP chairman of the Board of Directors and minister of Canal Affairs).  (Photo courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority)

At the groundbreaking ceremony were, from left, Alberto Alemán Zubieta (ACP administrator/CEO), José Manuel Zelaya (president of Honduras), Elías Antonio Saca (president of El Salvador), Alvaro Uribe Vélez (president of Colombia), Vivian de Torrijos (first lady of Panama), Martín Torrijos Espino (president of Panama), Jimmy Carter (former U.S. president), José Miguel Insulza (secretary general, OAS), Daniel Ortega (president of Nicaragua), Rosario Murillo (first lady of Costa Rica), Rodrigo Arias (minister of the Presidency of Costa Rica), Dani Kuzniecky (ACP chairman of the Board of Directors and minister of Canal Affairs). (Photo courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority)

A curtain of water rises from the Panama Canal after detonation of strategically-placed sub-aquatic charges while the dredge Rialto M. Christiansen, far right, waits to dig the first bucket of mud in the Panama Canal expansion project on September 3.

A curtain of water rises from the Panama Canal after detonation of strategically-placed sub-aquatic charges while the dredge Rialto M. Christiansen, far right, waits to dig the first bucket of mud in the Panama Canal expansion project on September 3.

A ceremony and symbolic blast marked the beginning of the Panama Canal expansion on September 3. An estimated 30,000 visitors from every province of Panama and from around the world joined presidents of Panama, the U.S. (former President Jimmy Carter), Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and employees of the Panamanian government and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) for the ceremony.

Following a hillside blast and an underwater blast, Captain Peter M. Marotta moved the dipper dredge Rialto M. Christiansen into position to dig the first bucket of wet material for the expansion project. At the same time, Cerro Cartagena, a private Panamanian contractor, removed the first rock of the dry excavation. That project, on Paraiso Hill, is associated with the channel that will connect the new locks with the Gaillard Cut.

The ceremony, blast and “dredge ground breaking” took place at the south end of the Gaillard or Culebra Cut, approximately 550 yards (500 meters) north of the Pedro Miguel Locks.

Ing. Carlos A. Reyes R., manager of Drilling and Blasting for the Panama Canal, explained that the blast was performed in three different levels, with a combination of a regular bench blast, pyrotechnic fire works, and a sequence of sub-aquatic charges placed at regular spacing and proper depth to create a curtain of water rising from the canal.

“The main goal was to offer a spectacular and safe show for the crowd of about 30,000 people that attended the event,” said Reyes. “The bench blast was set off from the hill’s sides towards the center immediately after the fireworks were launched to the sky creating red, blue and white lighting sparks. Five seconds later, ‘surprisingly’ the sub-aquatic charges blasted harmoniously, opening a stage curtain from the Panama Canal waters, symbolizing the kickoff of the excavation works for the Panama Canal Expansion,” he explained.

(Ing. Reyes’s paper “Underwater Rock Blasting for Dredging” appears in the Western Dredging Association technical journal Journal of Dredging Engineering.)

Approximately 60 million pounds of explosives will be used in the expansion project, and the material will be removed by dredges and land-based excavation equipment.

This is the first expansion of the 100-year-old waterway, which will provide a new lane of traffic through the construction of a new set of locks on the Pacific side of the canal, doubling capacity and allowing longer, wider ships.

“It’s a historic day,” said Dani Ariel Kuzniecky, ACP board of directors chairman and minister for Canal Affairs. “Expansion will have a significant role in world trade and the maritime industry. This project brings a true sense of pride and a real sense of responsibility. We are ready to meet the demands ahead and, truly, the best is yet to come. We are grateful for the tremendous support of this project and we are honored by the presence of government officials from around the world, particularly former U.S. President Jimmy Carter,” he said.

“In a national referendum on October 22, 2006, Panamanians voted to expand the canal, a step that will secure their future and that of world trade. Expansion will double Canal capacity to more than 600 million Panama Canal tons, tighten the global supply chain and help get goods to market faster. After scores of analyses, studies and planning, expansion begins today.

“We have researched and planned this project for years; we have the approval of the Panamanian people. As we stand here today, our vision and perseverance have paid off. Now, it is time to execute. Now it is time to begin the expansion of the Panama Canal,” said Alberto Alemán Zubieta, ACP administrator and CEO. “It is truly an honor to lead this great organization. We all know about those who risked so much and tried so hard to build the Canal more than 100 years ago. As we dig, as we build, as we expand the Canal, we will be thinking of those pioneers while also looking to the future. A future that is bright for the Canal and world trade. A future that is bright for Panama – a country that is becoming the transportation and logistics hub of the Americas,” he said.

After a thorough evaluation of the received proposals, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) awarded the Expansion Program Manager contract to CH2M Hill on August 15. The contract includes assisting the ACP in the management of numerous contracts, including those for design and construction of the two post-Panamax lock structures.

The procurement process began on June 1, when the ACP released its request for proposals seeking a top-tier company with a strong reputation in program management, and with experience working on a variety of major international construction projects.

On July 17, the ACP began reviewing the three bid submissions from CH2M Hill, Parsons Brinkerhoff and URS Holdings, Inc. The winning proposal was selected based on the best value and not the lowest price. Each company was also required to give an oral presentation.

Over the course of a month, the ACP conducted careful evaluation and review to ensure that the contractor would best meet the project’s needs.

“We look forward to having CH2M Hill as a partner during this historic journey. We are certain that its proven experience in the international program management arena will substantially strengthen and add tremendous value to our expansion program to deliver the projects on time, quality and budget,” said Jorge L. Quijano, ACP Engineering and Programs Management executive vice president.

The ACP Board of Directors approved the use of an integrated program management model, wherein the authority will designate tasks between its own staff and CH2M Hill. The company will interface with both design and construction teams, focusing on the new locks contracts while interfacing with other contracts.

U.S.-based CH2M Hill has more than 19,000 employees in offices around the world. It offers full-service engineering, consulting, construction and operations expertise.

The Panama Canal services more than 144 different transportation routes from every corner of the globe, connecting major trading arteries and providing safe, time-saving and secure passage for all vessels.

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