Things didn’t exactly go as planned with the South Pier. During the turmoil in the past period a lot has been said and done. This is what actually happened according to Public Entity Bonaire’s representative and harbormaster Günther Flanegin.
After the two big hurricane induced storms that passed Bonaire in 2014 the already deteriorating piers were severely damaged and in dire need of repair, especially the underdecks. It was one of the main reasons to take it up in the Multiannual Program 2015-2018 for the Dutch Caribbean Islands. The section about the harbor clearly states that MIE (Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) is expected to invest at least nine million euro in the harbor of Bonaire (Multiannual Program Dutch Caribbean Islands 2015-2018, p. 7). Looking for Dutch partners, the ministry reached out to the Port of Amsterdam and asked if they could assist Bonaire (and Aruba as well) in the development of its harbor. By 2016 the Port of Amsterdam International (PoAI), the Public Entity of Bonaire (PEB) and Rijkswaterstaat (RW), the department of the MIE that is responsible for road, rail and waterway networks signed an agreement to start emergency repairs for the North, Middle, and South Pier.
Insufficient Funding and Urgency
Although nine million is a reasonable amount of money, it was not enough to finance the renovation of all three piers. The MIE, however, was not willing to spend more. Therefore, the parties involved initially settled for emergency repairs that would last for ten years. The plan was to start with the middle pier, then repair the underdeck and top deck of the South Pier, and rehabilitate the North Pier with whatever fund was left. Due to the lack of sufficient financing tough choices had to be made about what was really necessary for the coming ten years, after those ten years a second renovation would be mandatory. RW was to supervise the emergency repair project, PoAI, as the Commissioning Authority, hired engineers from Arcadis (a Dutch consultancy and engineering company), and the PEB had a supporting and facilitating role, issuing the necessary licenses among others things. In October 2017 the plan was presented at a stakeholders meeting. After a year of research the three parties had decided that they would build a steel construction under the sea to support the South Pier, unless contractors would come up with a better and affordable solution. The chosen construction was supposed to have a lifespan of ten years and out of urgency they would start right away. The insufficient funding and the state of the pier forced the parties involved to take immediate action. There was no room for any improvements or additional measures that would benefit the harbor. The South pier’s breaking point was near and they had reached the point that basically everything was better than the current situation. In order to begin fast, the plan was put out to tender. However, to the parties’ surprise the construction market did suggest another solution for the same amount of money. And even better, the new solution had a lifespan of thirty years. By January 2018 a new plan was being presented: instead of building a construction of steel, they would fill up the old structure with composite.
Trouble in Paradise
No matter how ideal the new composite building solution seemed to be, it caused trouble in the newly found paradise. The use of composite meant that they had to cut into the top deck of the pier and because of this the pier would have to be shut down for eight weeks. The tripartite alliance warned the stakeholders in several meetings, giving them the dates they wouldn’t be able to use the pier. They were told that during the sawing the pier would be out of order and after, its usage would gradually increase until all the work was done. Due to some delay in the dredging, the shutdown had to be postponed a little. By May 2018, the contractor was ready and the stakeholders received the final message. In the meanwhile the harbormaster had done his utter best to keep the piers open, even though the contractor couldn’t work as fast as was actually needed because of it. Closing the pier for eight week just wasn’t avoidable. Except for the tiny delay, all went well and on schedule and according to Günther Flanegin in May the South Pier was busier with ships than ever. Thus, none of the contract partners were expecting what was yet to come.
After a sit-down with the parties, the stakeholders united and went to court. But the judge didn’t decide in their favor, and although he determined that the communication about the shutdown could have been better, the contract partners were allowed to continue and close the pier. Apparently enraged by the verdict, the business community was suddenly on its toes and ‘hell’ broke loose. The stakeholders took the quarrel to a whole new level when they turned to the media to have it their way. The PEB and the three months shutdown (instead of the eight weeks) would cause major setbacks, unemployment, and ruin their businesses and the economy completely. They urged the Chamber of Commerce to write a letter in protest against the closure of the South Pier.
PoAI, RW and the PEB in the meanwhile, didn’t really understand why this whole uproar was necessary. They had told the stakeholders already in January what was about to happen later that year, they’d warned them, spoke with them, sent them emails, followed protocol, and now this? Moreover, the Chamber didn’t get its facts straight according to the harbormaster, since there was little correspondence between its version of reality and what actually happened. The letter, therefore, was not appreciated, especially by the Dutch parties involved. Sent at a moment when the goodwill was growing and there was hope they could build in some improvements after all, it did more harm than good. In trying to keep the peace and looking for solutions to bridge the time gap, the PEB, including the harbormaster held yet another meeting with the users of the pier. But it didn’t help. The stakeholders were saying they didn’t have enough sand in stock. When the eight weeks were almost finished, the dispute was finally settled by an agreement that satisfied all parties involved. Every month the building would be halted and the South Pier would be open for one week to dock four to five cargo ships. Although the harbormaster is convinced the rapid and sudden escalation wasn’t necessary because it could have been settled in a different way, the peace has returned and everybody is back on speaking terms. The contract partners learned that whenever something needs to be done, a constant stream of communication is necessary to keep all parties involved satisfied. If the construction stays on schedule, the South Pier will be fully operational on the first of October 2018.