Contractors have laid the foundation for Grand Cayman’s digital weather radar station. However, the operating date of the early warning radar has been pushed back again, and its debut is now not likely to occur until after this year’s hurricane season.
In December, officials said the Doppler radar would arrive in July, coinciding with the completion of the tower to house the radar located at the former Wilderness Farm in East End off High Rock Drive. In January, Island Builders was awarded a $1.5 million contract to construct the tower to be capped by a radar dome. In total, the entire structure will rise some 91 feet above the ground, according to tender documents.
On Wednesday, officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking, on a pile of dirt next to the concrete-and-rebar foundation that Island Builders had been working on for the past month. According to information provided by the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Land and Agriculture, the construction phase of the project is now set to be completed by September. Hopefully the radar will be installed by the end of 2012, undergo testing through the first part of 2013 and be ready for operational use by hurricane season in 2013.
Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor said the best kind of groundbreaking is one where construction has already begun.
“In this case, we certainly know that something is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon,” he said.
The radar station was originally supposed to be finished by the end of 2011, according to the early 2009 grant agreement between the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and the European Union, which is funding the majority of the project. However, after initial delays, Cayman was granted a two-year extension for the grant, requiring the project to be completed by the end of 2013.
The European Commission grant amount was 4.16 million euro, with the Cayman Islands government to give 500,000 euro (CI$540,000) in cash and in-kind contributions. The Cayman Islands government has assumed responsibility for paying for all costs beyond the EU grant amount. The airports authority is the grant recipient, but in 2010 meteorological services were transferred from the airports authority to the newly created National Weather Service, which reports to the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Land and Agriculture.
Tyrone Sutherland, coordinating director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization, which is a technical consultant on the radar project, said he was pleased to see construction on the tower progress. At this rate, he said, “This will be the last hurricane season that we are without a weather radar.”
National Weather Service Director General Fred Sambula said real-time information from the radar will be available to the general public via television, radio and the Internet. He said the presence of the radar will benefit many sectors, including aviation, agriculture, marine activity and specialised research.
With a coverage radius of 250 miles, Grand Cayman’s radar is the final link in the early warning system covering the Caribbean. It will overlap with radar stations in Jamaica and Belize. Currently, imagery of weather disturbances, such as thunderstorms and hurricanes, is produced by satellite, which is not as timely or detailed as digital radar.
Mr. Sutherland said they did consider placing the radar station in Little Cayman or Cayman Brac, but the Grand Cayman site was deemed the most feasible.
According to information from the Ministry provided in early January, the government had spent CI$37,735 for a pair of geotechnical reports on identifying the proper site for the radar station. Pending costs included the value of the donated land, road access, site surveying, Department of Environment consultations and auditor general audit services. Further information was to come regarding the cost of water utilities (which is expected to be nominal) and electricity. Caribbean Utilities Company is providing single-phase power for construction for free, and will update to three-phase power for radar operation at a cost still to be determined.
Construction consultants Scott Projects & Associates were paid on an hourly basis from June-December 2011, and on a fixed fee from January 2012 onward. The amount of the ongoing consultancy contract with the Caribbean Meteorological Organization also has not yet been released by government.
From the EU grant, German company Selex Systems Integration was awarded 1.56 million euro (CI$1.69 million) to manufacture, supply and install the actual Doppler radar. The original tender amount was 1.43 million euro (CI$1.54 million). The difference in amount is due to extra parts being ordered for future maintenance. Additionally, German company Icon Institute was awarded 380,000 euro (CI$410,000) to provide technical assistance for 18 months. Wayne Dacosta, senior manager of information and communication service for the airports authority, singled out Icon Institute Technical Assistant Gunter Schieske for praise during Wednesday’s ceremony. He said, “[A]s your departure draws near we feel it most fitting to acknowledge your commitment to this project. Although there have been some challenging moments along the way, you saw us through and today you must be very proud of this accomplishment.”
Factoring in the contract amount for Island Builders (about 1.34 million euro), a rough running total for EU grant amounts allocated is 3.28 million euro out of the total 4.16 million euro.
Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the digital radar station is further evidence of Caymanians’ ability to thrive under any circumstances and conditions: “We have learned to liberise ourselves from the shackles of intellectual freedom.”