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Heritage Wharf: a catalogue of failures

I think most people were shocked by the Auditor-General's report about the mismanagement of Bermuda's finances during the last years before the One Bermuda Alliance took the reins of government.

Now, we've been given another shock by the publication of a Special Report from the Auditor-General on the building of Heritage Wharf.

The Auditor General reached the conclusion that “the blatant disregard for the policies, rules and procedures designed to protect the public purse is unacceptable and violates principles of good governance, accountability and responsibility. Those guilty of such violations and neglect must be held to account and the appropriate sanctions should be applied including appearance before the Public Accounts Committee”.

In addition, there has very recently been publication of an engineering examination of the structural failure of Heritage Wharf, delivered to the Department of Works and Engineering in 2011 but not released until a Pati request was filed by The Royal Gazette this year.

What a catalogue of failures!

The elaborate facility was necessary to accommodate the new generation of very large cruise ships visiting the West End.

The original contract called for $38.9 million to be spent on it, to use the Auditor-General's figures.

The staggering cost of design changes and overruns pushed Bermuda's bill up to a total of $60 million by the time the wharf was opened in 2009.

Hurricane Igor paid us a visit a few months later, in 2010. It was not a particularly strong hurricane as it passed Bermuda — maximum sustained winds were 91mph. According to one website, damage to the Island was said to amount to somewhat less than $500,000.

But that ignores the cost of fixing the serious damage the hurricane did to the brand-new Heritage Wharf's thruster walls.

It cost Bermuda nearly $30 million more to put Heritage Wharf back into workable shape, for a total cost of $90 million, almost three times what it was meant to cost.

Until the engineer's report was released, few people understood why an ordinary hurricane caused so much damage that the wharf was deemed unsafe for cruise ships to use, and necessitating a very expensive rebuilding.

According to The Royal Gazette, the engineering reports said Heritage Wharf's two thruster walls were both in “poor structural condition overall” and added: “Wale support system at top has failed completely and walls are now unsupported at the top and free to move back and forth.”

Steel used in the thrusters was “freely corroding” and segments of steel sheeting along the walls had “settled significantly”.

The Royal Gazette reported: “The tops of many support piles were damaged or broken, and while the thruster walls were not considered an immediate danger to ships in the berth, ‘a severe storm would cause the piles to fail'.

“The report noted that pile pipes were to be filled with concrete in the specifications, but it found that only the top 6ft 6in of vertical and batter piles was concrete filled, adding: ‘remainder is sand'.

“No steel reinforcement was shown inside the pile concrete. Drawing details were inconsistent with the BCE site inspection: the drawing showed 13 pipes on the southernmost section of the thruster, while the inspection only found 12 installed.”

Those were just a few of the very troubling conclusions of the reports. What Bermudians will also find shocking are the circumstances of the cost overruns.

It's no secret that design changes can dramatically run up the bid cost of any project, and that it is good practice to develop a plan that keeps them to an absolute minimum. Dennis Correia, whose firm Correia Construction did the Heritage Wharf work, claimed that there had been hundreds of changes and additions to the plans for the new cruise ship pier, something corroborated by the Auditor-General's findings.

The add-ons ranged from a fast ferry dock to measures necessary to comply with post-9/11 port security standards, a terminal building that grew in size and intricacy, and ornate, custom-made lampposts.

Mr Correia says his firm constructed the thruster walls as the engineers designed them. He says the final designs submitted by Entech Ltd called for the use of sand-filling in the thruster's supporting piles.

Mr Correia's involvement in the project in the first place was the subject of charges at the time that cronyism was at work. He was said to have been a good friend of then-Premier Dr Ewart Brown. His wife, Jane, ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the ruling PLP in the 2007 General Election. Correia Construction had been awarded a number of lucrative Government contracts while the Progressive Labour Party was in power. And Dr Brown himself was the subject of charges that he ran roughshod over the system. In 2008, the Mid-Ocean News quoted disaffected civil servants as saying that Premier Brown and “a cabal of civil servants ride roughshod through planning department regulations …”

One source claimed that office personnel were powerless to question directives because senior civil servants — including Permanent Secretaries — lacked “the backbone” to challenge their political counterparts.

Bermudians, the behaviour surrounding the building of Heritage Wharf was typical of the financial Wild West atmosphere that prevailed in the days of the PLP government, an atmosphere whose damage to our economy is still a major challenge to undo. It is critical to Bermuda's wellbeing that we stamp out this kind of behaviour and take seriously the Auditor General's recommendation that those responsible be held to account.

Senator Lynne Woolridge is chairwoman of the One Bermuda Alliance and the OBA's Public Works spokesman in the Senate.

Falling apart: in this file photograph, damaged sections of the thruster wall are seen at Heritage Wharf

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Published December 30, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 30, 2015 at 2:28 am)

Heritage Wharf: a catalogue of failures

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