Authority assures that Panama Canal widening will be completed

By Tom Stieghorst
The Panama Canal Authority has reaffirmed its intent to finish its expansion project by mid-2015, despite a payment dispute with contractors.

A consortium led by Spanish construction company Sacyr threatened last week to suspend work on Jan. 20 if the Panama Canal Authority did not pay for $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

In a statement, the authority said its contract includes guarantees that will allow the completion of the new locks, even if it needs to step in to assume control of the project.

The authority stressed that the dispute relates only to the expansion and is not affecting current operations.

The $5.25 billion widening project will allow for longer, deeper ships to pass through the canal, which was built in 1914. The project is 72% done, the authority said.

According to Agence France-Presse, the Spanish government has begun mediating the dispute, and the Spanish minister of public works flew to Panama on Monday to talk to both sides.

Grupo Unidos por el Canal blames the cost overrun on faulty geological studies done by the authority.

In its statement, the authority said the arguments raised by Grupo "lack legal basis, are not clear and do not give any reasons for the contractor to suspend the work."

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