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(English) Panama Canal NYT Article Disappointingly Omits the Real Story

By Alan Krause

Denver, Colorado

Op-Ed

June 27, 2016


On Sunday, June 26, Panama celebrated the opening of their new canal, capable of passing the new breed of Neopanamax vessels carrying three times the container capacity of the existing locks built more than 100 years ago.  Panama should be incredibly proud of this achievement and even more proud of the journey their country has taken to arrive at this historic day.

The New York Times article published about the Panama Canal on June 22 attempted to paint a different picture of this journey.  It was an unbalanced critique of Panamanian politics with comments on the new canal design, construction, workmanship and environmental impacts.  As the CEO of the lead engineering firm for this monumental project, I cannot remain silent when the real facts have been conveniently overlooked.

First, the process used to select a design-build team and program manager for this project were the most transparent and ethical of any process I have witnessed on large civil engineering projects anywhere, including the United States.   The insistence on transparency stems from the high level of integrity the current and former Canal Administrators have as professionals. Panama should be grateful for their technical and management skills, their enduring commitment to quality and their unwavering integrity as leaders.  Projects this size and scale do not happen without this kind of leadership.

Second, it is easy to quote the firms that came in second in the bidding process regarding the design and construction quality.  Yet there is no mention in your article that this project involved concrete volumes, lock-gate sizes, and earthquake load requirements never before designed or constructed.   All of these have been successfully integrated into the new canal design and construction.

And third, the environmental impacts of this project were at the forefront of the design and construction. For example, water saving basins were designed and built to reuse 60% of the fresh water, resulting in less water consumption than the original canal, while passing vessels transporting three times the number of containers.  The hydraulic system brilliantly moves water without pumps (or power).

It was a privilege for me to be in Panama to celebrate this historic moment for Panama and the world—a celebration of remarkable vision, innovation and hard work.  In the halls of the Panama Canal Administration building, designed and built by the engineers and contractors of the original canal more than 100 years ago, there is a quote by President Theodore Roosevelt that captures the spirit of the men and women who built the original canal.  This spirit lives on today.

“It is not the critic who counts:  not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions who spends himself for a worthy cause; who at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails with daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

It is unfortunate that the New York Times missed the real story of this remarkable engineering triumph.

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