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Port Open, Schools Renovated as Iraq Reconstruction Continues

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2003 – The work of Bechtel International Systems Inc., under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development in support of the Coalition Provisional Authority's reconstruction effort in Iraq, is well under way.

The Port of Umm Qasr can receive large grain-bearing ships. More than 1,200 schools were renovated in time for the new school year. The water and wastewater facilities at Baghdad and Basrah international airports have been updated. Three bridges Khazir, Al Mat and Tikrit are under re-construction. The installation of an international satellite gateway in Baghdad will make international phone calls possible.

Awarded a $680 million contract April 17, Bechtel employees arrived in Iraq a week later. By May 8, the dredging of Umm Qasr Port began, and by June 16 the port opened to commercial traffic.

The company has camps in Baghdad, Al Mosul, Al Hillah, Al Basarah and Umm Qasr, and is working in eight areas: Port of Umm Qasr, airports, water and wastewater, power, rail, roads and bridges, building and facilities, and telecommunications.

CPA and USAID determine the priority for work, officials said. A contract modification adding $350 million will focus on reconstruction of water and power. The contract ends Dec. 31, 2004.

The first step was to send teams out to access the infrastructure, Gregory F. Huger, USAID Iraq Infrastructure, Reconstruction Program manager for institutional strengthening, said here Oct. 30.

Huger said the damage found in Iraq was not caused by the war, but rather from years of neglect, looters and sabotage.

"The infrastructure was in much worse shape than anyone thought," he said "It's like an old 1952 Chevy that wasn't maintained. The owner kept it going because if he didn't, he'd be in big trouble. That's what the Iraqis did fixed things any way they could."

The manager said 109 of 147 subcontracts are with Iraqi companies. "It makes a whole lot of sense to work with Iraqis in Iraq," he added. "It's working real well. They're very competent. They work hard and have a great work ethic."

One of the first projects was to rehabilitate schools before the new school year started. Work included plastering walls, repairing and restoring electric power, replacing windows and doors, removing garbage, removing unexploded ordnance, repairing septic systems, and providing running water.

"Before, when children went to school, they would bring a bucket of water so they could use the bathroom," said Cynthia Hugger, deputy manager, public relations, USAID Iraq Infrastructure, Reconstruction Program.

Restoring the water treatment plant in Safwan was another early project.

"None of the water/wastewater treatment plants in Baghdad and central north Iraq had worked for years," said Gregory. "All the sewage flowed into the Tigris River, so the water to all the cities in the south was very polluted."

The strategy is to repair or upgrade 20 water and sanitation facilities.

The Sweet Water Canal brings fresh water to southern Iraq, but it's 60 percent silted up, said Cynthia. "It snakes back and forth, and the vegetation has grown up so the water doesn't flow as it should," she explained. "We're dredging the canal and working on the pumping stations."

A challenge in restoring water service is keeping Iraqis from "shooting the mains" to get water, she said. Often Iraqis will shoot the pipe to get water, creating leaks that reduce water pressure and dirty the water.

"We're working on having legal taps so people can come in, get a tap they can screw into the pipeline and get the water they want," she added. "And this will allow us to control the water flow."

As for power, Gregory said the objective is to have electricity working for 18 hours per day by next summer. Before the war, Baghdad had most of the power, he added. Currently, said Cynthia, there's a three-hour-on/three-hour-off schedule for power.

The duo agreed that their company takes pride in the work it's accomplishing in Iraq.

"We're there because we want to be," said Gregory. "It's all about winning the peace."

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