On November 5, the government of Nicaragua issued an environmental permit to Chinese conglomerate HKND for the construction of its proposed trans-Nicaraguan canal. The approval comes after an official review of HKND's Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), including public meetings with total attendance of about 3,000.
HKND was granted the exclusive right to build the canal in 2013, subject to meeting certain criteria for the ESIA. Prior to the assessment, an economic study was carried out by McKinsey & Co. along with an engineering survey by China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design.
HKND estimates that construction will be under way by the end of this year. Lock construction and bulk excavation will commence by the end of 2016, and it is expected that the Canal will be completed towards 2021. It is designed to accommodate container vessels up to 25,000 TEU, super tankers of 320,000 dwt and bulk carriers of 400,000 dwt.
Environmental scientists have questioned whether its construction would disrupt sensitive land and water ecosystems in Nicaragua. Their concerns center around the waters of Lake Nicaragua, which will be partly filled in as reclaimed land using silt from excavation.
HKND has designed retaining systems intended to prevent this silt from creating excess turbidity in the lake's waters. HKND Chief Project Advisor Bill Wild has said that total reclamation from excavation spoils could result in the creation of 30,000 hectares of land – over a hundred square miles.
Social activists have expressed concern that the canal would disrupt the lives of those in its path. A resident of Brito, a coastal area that will become the seaport for delivery of canal construction materials and equipment, told a reporter that locals had already been informed by Chinese surveyors that they will have to leave. HKND estimates that a total of nearly 30,000 people will be displaced by construction.
HKND said in a statement that it is “committed to carrying out resettlement of the displaced people completely in compliance with International Best Practice, and has committed that all the relocated people will see improvements in their living standards.”
Originally published on the Maritime Executive website here.