Can measuring the impact of economic development come down to centimeters?

Haiti’s hydroelectric plant, built in Péligre forty years ago, has reached the end of its life cycle.  With a generating capacity of 54 MW, Péligre is the largest power plant in the country and the biggest civil engineering work that the country has known, save the construction of the Citadelle Laferrière.  The driving force behind the plant is a barrage in the Artibonite River built in the early 1950s.  Currently, the plant is experiencing a long-overdue rehabilitation funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, the German Development Bank and OPEC Funds for International development.  Thus far, $74 million have been committed but given the scope of work, project management is seeking an additional 50% in financing.

The plant is dependent on three Francis water turbines, each with a capacity of 18 MW, and each needing to be retrofitted with new parts.  The French company, Alstom, was chosen to construct the three new stators, a major and much needed component for the turbines.  The first stator was shipped to Haiti for installation in the spring of 2013.  After months of negotiating with Haitian authorities, we finally received a green light to transport the stator from the port to the plant.  The stator would begin the six-hour journey on August 27.

Packaged in a 6.5m X 6.5m box and weighing 70 tons, a 5-axle trailer was employed to carry the stator, in order to meet the Ministry of Transportations’ security requirements.  A special logistics plan was put in place to transport the huge parcel to Péligre.  We were going to travel over the RN3 highway, which has a width of 7.5 m. leaving a .5 m clearance on either side of the trailer, but first needed to obtain an expert report to verify that the road and bridges could support the weight.  Because it would be impossible to allow for two-way traffic as the stator moved along the highway, the exercise was scheduled for late evening, and several government agencies were mobilized in support, including EDH (the public utility company) technicians, the National Center for Equipment (CNE) and MINUSTAH.  Indeed, without the support of each of these agencies the operation could not have taken place.

After months of negotiating the details, the day had finally arrived.  On Wednesday, August 27, I went to the National Port (NP) at 9pm and saw a display of more than 50 individuals and about thirty vehicles.  I quickly realized that this spectacular rendezvous was intended to produce results.  Alstom was choreographing the move.

At 9: 50 pm, the start signal was given and normal vehicles proceeded through the main entrance of the NP; the trailer with the stator was sent to the heavyweight exit.  I made my way to the heavyweight exit a few minutes early to witness the trailer’s exit.  But to everyone’s bewilderment, the trailer came to a halt short of the exit.  We were dumbfounded!  A measurement error was preventing the trailer from exiting.  The gate was two narrow to allow the stator to pass; it was eight inches short.  Months of work, long nights negotiating, and a tremendous level of frustration took over.  As an EDH technician passed by, I asked him, “By any chance do you happen to have a hammer?”  He said yes, and handed me a sledge hammer, and without much thought, I walked over to the gates and began to chip away.  Seeing this, someone else began to help me and after more than a hundred hammer blows, the right side of the gate was opened up to give us 10 cm.  We still had another 10cm to go.  We turned to the other side, and again, we worked in unison to get the final 10 cm we needed.  By the way, let me send my apologies now to the National Port for damaging the gate area, but there was no other option available at that point.  We finally exited the Port at around 11: 00 p.m., stopped at the bottom of Morne Cabri for refreshments and continued our journey around midnight.  With the help of the PNH (Police), MINUSTAH, CNE and EDH, the convoy was able to arrive at Péligre at 5 AM.  The Péligre team demonstrated once again that anything is possible when there is a will to make things happen, but I must admit that when I got to the office the next day, my hands were full of blisters.  Moreover, I am certain delivering the next stator won’t be accompanied with as much drama.  Most importantly, we are well on our way to rehabilitating the power plant, extending its lifetime, and ensuring the integrity of a very importance source of energy for the Haitian people.

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