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Blame game

Environmentalist Stuart Hayward was right to criticise Premier Dr. Ewart Brown for trying to lay blame for cost overruns at the Heritage Wharf at Dockyard at the feet of the Department of Planning.

Extensive and detailed reporting by this newspaper last September showed that Planning was not to blame.

At the outset, the cost of the wharf was estimated at $35 million. It ended up costing $60 million.

By the time the contract was awarded to Correia Construction in 2007, its part of the contract was valued at $39 million. The company ended up being paid $55.8 million. Architectural fees and other ancillary fees cost a further $4 million.

Correia itself said last year that the main reasons for the cost escalation was due to design changes. These included the conversion of a simple cruise ship reception building to something resembling the "Taj Mahal", a fast ferry dock, changes to the ground transportation area, toilets for Customs staff and ornate lampposts that had to be custom built in Texas and shipped to Bermuda.

In fairness, some of the other changes were unavoidable, including increased security.

But nowhere last year did Correia or the Ministry of Tourism and Transport blame the Planning Department for adding to the costs.

Even the direct cost of dolphin mitigation was put at $675,060 earlier in 2009.

And yet, on Monday night, Premier Brown said: "The Planning Department, I hate to say, was the cause of much of the overrun expenditure at Dockyard. There's no question we stand in our own way and we stumble over ourselves when we do projects."

But the reality was different. In fact, much of the work at the dock was done without planning permission at all.

Government received in principle planning permission in 2007 and final approval for the first phase of the project at the same time.

Then in January 2009, Government applied for retroactive approval for the second phase – work that was largely done already. That approval was given in March, but the Development Applications Board criticised Government for its "blatant disregard" of the Planning process and said it had been forced to "make a judgment on the likely environmental impact of the project without the benefit of objective scientific data".

So, far from the DAB and the Planning Department holding up the project, it was in fact ignored – and was apparently powerless to do anything about it.

When it gave retroactive approval, the DAB did require air and water quality and marine ecology monitoring "in accordance with the requirements and specifications of the director of the Department of Environmental Protection". Given the nature of the project, that seems reasonable and in line with the Ministry of the Environment's statutory obligations.

Dr. Brown's memory also seemed to fail him in another area. Having voluntarily raised the issue of claims that his administration had awarded the bulk of building contracts to Correia and to Minister Zane DeSilva's Island Construction, Dr. Brown said this: "Dennis Correia does a kind of construction that nobody else in Bermuda does, at least does as well as he does, his competitors agree. And that's how he got those contracts."

At least one of Mr. Correia's competitors did not agree. Rightly or wrongly, Lawrence Marine believed it was equally qualified to build the Dockyard pier. But it was refused the opportunity to bid.

Dr. Brown then added: "You don't get contracts through my office anyway. Those contracts go through Works and Engineering but these happen to be two companies that have received contracts and there are hundreds and hundreds of young black entrepreneurs who've received contracts."

In the case of Heritage Wharf, that was not true either. Works and Engineering handed off responsibility for the project to Dr. Brown's Ministry of Tourism and Transport, which awarded the contract to Correia. At least that's what Correia Construction said in an advertisement in this newspaper last September: "A Letter of Intent notifying Correia of its successful bid was given to them on March 7, 2007 by the Ministry of Tourism and Transport although the official contract was not signed until April 13, 2007."

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Published October 15, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 10:12 am)

Blame game

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