Gov't Failure to Build Bridges Over New Dam Questioned Top story


In short
The three power generating facilities significantly differ from Owen falls dam, the oldest hydro power generating plant in the country.

Two government headline power projects - Bujagali (2012) and Isimba power dams are now connected to the national grid. The third, and biggest, Karuma dam will be launched later this year. 

Their combined cost runs in billions of dollars (Bujagali $862M, Isimba $567M, Karuma dam $2.2Bbn.) 

The three power generating facilities significantly differ from Owen falls dam, the oldest hydro power generating plant in the country.    

The three new dams don't have a public roadway on top of them.   World over, hydropower dams have roadways on their crest and here too.    

Government technocrats say there was nothing special stopping Uganda from constructing a bridge over the new dams.  

Eng. Sharp Tumwine, a bridge specialist in Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), said "there is nothing wrong with having a bridge over the dam like we did with Nalubaale [Owen falls dam].      

Government says the original plan was to have a bridge on top of Isimba dam like it was for Nalubaale but the plan changed to constructing an independent bridge away from the dam.    

The change in plan, according to Robert Kasande, the Energy and Mineral Development Ministry Permanent Secretary, was informed by various factors but the major one being security.   

He says it was risky for vehicles to drive over the power dam. Kasande however, maintains that the bridge for Isimba dam will be built downstream by the same company that constructed the dam at no extra cost and would ready by 2021 for public use.    

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According to Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited, the public agency in charge of running the power dams, the decision not to build roadways on top of the dams was informed by the need for uninterrupted operations and maintenance works.         


Simon Kasyate, the UEGCL Corporate Affairs Manager, said at times it would require the maintenance and operations teams to close off the road to carry out the works, which would interfere with traffic flow. He explained that this is reason, why the bridge on Bujagali dam is only used for operations and maintenance works.     

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He maintained that the public bridge was to be separated from power dam in Isimba.

"There will be a public road/bridge built downstream the Isimba power house, before the Mbulamuti ferry crossing point. The bridge, part of the Isimba project, shall be supervised by UNRA but constructed by China Water Engineering-the Isimba contractor," Kasyate said. "It will span the Kayunga side of the river, drop at Koova Island and dock at the Kamuli side."

In Karuma, government plans to construct a new bridge away from the power dam as much of the operations are 100 meters under, said Allan Ssempebwa, the UNRA deputy spokesperson.  

Cost Implications    

But some engineering experts think that it is costly and ill advised not to build roadways on top of the power dams. Eng. Francis Karuhanga Aryatuzoora, a specialist and the Chief Executive Officer Armpass Technical Services, says the problem was far from security concerns but more of the fact that each government agency or ministry works independently.  

"Ministry of Energy is focused on power generation while ministry of Works and UNRA are focused on roads and bridges. They have not come together to say let us use this place since we are building a power dam, we can have a roadway on the top of dams," said Aryatuzoora who doubles as the president Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (Unabcec).  

"Owen falls dam we had a dam with a bridge because the colonial government agencies were working together [in a coordinated manner]. It is entirely that," he stressed.   Adding that, "It would have been extremely cost effective." This, he said, not just in terms of money but also in terms of marine life that would be disturbed or killed in the process of building a fresh bridge on the part of Isimba.   

Part of the oxygen we breathe comes from marine photo-synthesizers, like phytoplankton and seaweed. Having a dam and bridge at different locations means the digging interferes with their lives or kills them.

Another cost would be in the wait that people have to endure before the bridge is delivered. In Kayunga, the locals have to wait for two more years - until 2021 - to connect easily with Kamuli people. This affects commerce between the two communities. 

But also even though government says there is no monetary cost in choosing to build bridges from power dams, industry watchers say this is not true. On Bujagali dam, one specialist told URN, after launching the dam in 2012, government had to sit afresh with experts to plan and build the new Jinja bridge - opened in October last year.   

On the environment, the cost can be seen in various National Environment Management Authority reports, indicating that the country has to pay a price on the distorted scenery in some areas to accommodate the dams.   

In other areas in Isimba and Bujagali, siltation of downstream water courses and drainage systems is due to increased water runoff and erosion from various work sites. Also, water pollution due to oil and fuel spillages and leakages from transport, storage and disposal of petroleum products.