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Medellín Metro News 138

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by August 04 2018 0

Medellin-based utilities giant EPM announced July 3 that it signed a biodiversity project alliance deal with University of Antioquia (U-A) to study and protect birds and other wildlife affected by EPM’s hydroelectric dams – including the under-construction “Hidroituango” dam in Antioquia.

According to EPM, the agreement with U-A “adds scientific, technical and administrative efforts for the integral management of biodiversity, through research and conservation actions in the areas of interest of power generation in Antioquia.

“With this alliance, initially planned to continue until 2020, five programs of integrated management of biodiversity in the zones of influence of different reservoirs in Antioquia are developed. The five research and training programs include terrestrial flora and fauna; ictiofauna, habitat and ecosystems; cyanobacteria monitoring and management of melanoides tuberculata; public health surveillance; and environmental education."

According to EPM, the new alliance with U-A is a continuation of earlier joint research projects with EPM, “based on the information needs related to monitoring the environmental impacts of the Porce II and Porce III hydroelectric projects and the efficiency of the management measures implemented.”

One just-completed project investigated the impact of the Hidroituango dam (and habitats flooded by the lake behind it) on various locally endangered or threatened birds, including Military Macaw (Ara militaris), Channel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos citreolaemus) and Antioquia Wren (Thryophilus sernai), according to EPM.

Commenting on the U-A deal, EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta added: “In recent years we have witnessed a positive evolution of social and environmental performance standards for our energy generation operations, leveraged by an increase in the level of technical requirements of environmental regulatory authorities at the national and regional levels.

“Now we highlight a management scheme with the University of Antioquia, as it means that compliance with environmental obligations associated with our operations is being evaluated and followed by an entity with academic and scientific rigor.”

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by August 01 2018 0

Private-sector developers are stepping-up their push for the proposed “doble calzado oriente” (DCO) four-lane, divided highway between the Sancho Paisa roundabout on the Las Palmas highway (east of Medellin) and the international-airport highway adjacent to Hospital San Vicente Fundacion.

In an August 1 public hearing near Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (JMC) international airport at Rionegro, DCO proponents revealed details of their currently underway environmental impact assessment (EIA) -- and answered some testy questions from a crowd of more than 200 citizens here.

Citing enormous traffic growth in the Oriente region and huge housing-development plans around the Llanogrande district and other neighborhoods near the Rionegro international airport, DCO general manager German Perez explained the rationale for the proposed COP$400 billion (US$138 million), 13.8-kilometers-long DCO.

If the privately funded project wins crucial permits from local environmental agency Cornare, and if required capital is raised, and if the proponents successfully purchase private lands along the route, then DCO could start building this highway as early as mid-2020, Perez told Medellin Herald  following his presentation at the public hearing here.

The proposed highway – which would include a toll booth midway (charging at least COP$14,300/US$4.95 per car) -- would run roughly parallel to the existing, two-lane “Variante al Aeropuerto” highway between Sancho Paisa and the soon-to-be-opened “Tunel de Oriente” highway connecting Medellin directly to the JMC airport.

The DCO highway would cut through some of suburban-Medellin’s poshest gated-community districts, including the “El Tablazo” neighborhood near the city of Rionegro.

Some of the residents in these areas told DCO proponents here that they’re worried about potential damage to spring-waters, flora and fauna, as well as excessive traffic noise, air pollution and negative impacts upon the tranquility and relative lack-of crime currently enjoyed in the area.

One resident here pointed out that the route would pass through the “Espirito Santo” forest reserve, which has a stream that feeds the “La Fe” water reservoir in El Retiro.

Medellin utility EPM is now building a vast network of pipes to carry that water from “La Fe” to new, burgeoning residential and commercial developments in Llanogrande. So the utility ought to take note of potentially  “tragic” damage to water resources as well as the precious “biological corridor” of Espirito Santo, according to one resident here.

Other residents here also complained that the project would unfairly benefit Antioquia Governor Luis Perez, who owns a “finca” (farm) alongside the proposed route.

But the DCO proponents – among which are three board members of Medellin-based highway construction/operating giant Devimed – argue that new highways (including DCO) are critical to avoid a total collapse of traffic in the Oriente region over the next five-to-10 years.

In his presentation, DCO’s Perez dismissed two other proposed alternatives: widening the existing “Variante al Aeropuerto” highway to four lanes, or else widening the two-lane highway between Sancho Paisa and El Retiro to four lanes.

Both of those options would be excessively costly for property acquisitions and would involve steeper grades, slowing traffic, he said. What’s more, some 800 families living and operating small businesses alongside the El Retiro road would confront forced removals, likely triggering a social crisis, he added.

In addition, the main traffic growth in Oriente isn’t around El Retiro, but rather in the suburbs adjacent to Rionegro and La Ceja -- and the ever-more-crowded highways connecting those cities to Medellin, he explained.

While some residents may be upset about the proposed DCO highway, they should better direct their complaints to local mayors that continue to issue massive numbers of building permits, bringing ever-worsening traffic jams, DCO’s Perez added.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 31 2018 0

EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta announced in a July 31 press conference that the company will sell its 10% stake in power transmitter ISA and minority stakes in several other non-strategic companies -- as well as its wholly-owned Chilean water and wind-power utilities -- over the next six to 12 months.

The sales likely would net EPM between COP$3.5 trillion (US$1.2 billion) to COP$4 trillion (US$1.38 billion), Londoño revealed.

The proposed asset sales still must be approved by Medellin’s City Council, as the city of Medellin is the 100% owner of EPM, Londoño explained.

The asset sales are needed to cover required, continuing investments in utility expansions and upgrades in Colombia, as well as costs for repairing damages and delayed electricity sales at the US$5 billion, 2.5-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric dam in Antioquia.

The first electricity sales from the dam are now estimated to start in 2021, rather than the initial plan to start-up the first of eight Hidroituango turbine generators (each 300-megawatts) in December 2018.

A geological fault that led to a diversion-tunnel collapse and machine-room flooding at Hidroituango three months ago has forced EPM to take drastic measures to save the project as well as to ensure continuing payments to the city of Medellin, which gets about 25% of its annual revenues from EPM.

Besides the asset sales, EPM is also contemplating a delay of about 20% of its planned investments (about COP$2 trillion/US$692 million) over the next three to four years, including likely cancellation of an earlier-planned investment in a water desalination plant in Chile.

In addition, EPM has drawn-up plans to slash up-to-COP$1 trillion (US$346 million) in overhead costs over the next four years, or about COP$250 billion (US$86 million) per year.

However, the company won’t slash its estimated COP$10 trillion (US$3.46 billion) budget for planned investments in Colombia (mainly in Medellin and Antioquia) for continuing expansion and upgrade of its water, sewer and electric-power utilities here over the next few years.

Nor will it sell more bonds to raise cash, as EPM aims to maintain its current 3.5-times debt-to-EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) ratio for its investment-grade rating, he said.

As for continuing work at the Hidroituango dam and related infrastructure, EPM will have completed a rock-reinforcement project to the current dam height of 418 meters above sea-level by end-August, and will have completed the planned interior concrete wall by end-October 2018, he said.

As for problematic diversion tunnels, a first-phase closing of the collapsed tunnel will be completed by mid-to-late October, while the second and third phases of closure (using cement) will take about another six months, he said.

In addition, two other mainly unused (and mainly undamaged) diversion tunnels will be permanently cemented and shuttered over the next nine months.

As for the machine room – temporarily used to evacuate Cauca River water flows because of the diversion tunnel collapse – workers hope to shut-off river flows to that room by as early as late September, enabling work crews to enter and evaluate damages.

A new diversion-tunnel boring -- which would enable draining much of the lake behind the dam, as required to complete certain other dam-construction tasks next year – could be completed by as early as end-2018, he added. This tunnel could evacuate from 400 to 500 meters per second of Cauca River water, he estimated.

On another front, EPM just hired Chilean consultant “Skava” to investigate and provide a definitive report on exactly what caused the diversion tunnel collapse. That investigation starts in August and should be complete in three or four months, he said.

As for insurance coverages, EPM can’t count on payments to cover damage possibly caused by civil-works contractor errors until the Skava report is completed.

Similarly, insurance payments to cover damage to the machine room can’t be estimated until the workers can enter and inspect damages.

As for loss-of-electricity sales – caused by the three-year delay in power-generation start-up – EPM still hasn’t been able to calculate the net financial loss because of remaining uncertainties about when full-scale production of power from Hidroituango will commence, he added.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 27 2018 0

Colombia’s Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional (FDN, a national development bank) announced July 25 that its board of directors approved a 17-year term loan of up-to-COP$500 billion (US$173 million) for the “Mar 2” highway project linking Medellin to current and future Atlantic ports.

“The credit granted by the FDN represents 25% of the total financing of the project,” according to FDN. The Mar 2 project “also will have financing from the Chinese Development Bank, which will represent 37% of its total financing.”

FDN added that it’s “co-structuring” the loan package with Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and is leading a “search for additional resources in pesos and mobilization of sources for the project.”

“Mar 2” will connect with the under-construction “Mar 1” project west of Medellin, which includes a new, twin tunnel adjacent to the existing “West Tunnel” connecting Medellin to Santa Fe de Antioquia.

The Mar 2 project also links to the under-construction “Toyo” tunnel, which eventually will become the longest highway tunnel in Colombia.

Not only will “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” drastically improve freight transport between Medellin and Atlantic ports, but the projects also will improve connections to the “Transversal de las Américas” highway project along the Caribbean coast.

The “Mar 2” contract covers a total length of 277.7 kilometers, of which 17.7 kilometers involve new construction, 51.6 kilometers involve highway upgrades, 71.4 kilometers involve rehabilitation of existing roadway, and 137 kilometers involve highway operation and maintenance.

Thanks to the project, vehicles will cut about two hours of travel time between Medellin and Atlantic ports, with improvements in average speeds ranging from 60 to 80 kilometers per hour, up from 40 to 60 kilometers/hour currently, according to FDN.

Sponsors of the project include China Harbor Communication Construction (CHEC), with a 60% share, plus SP Ingenieros (20% share), Unica (15% share) and Termotecnica (5% share), according to FDN.

CHEC’s involvement represents “the first time that a Chinese company participates in a highway concession project in Colombia,” according to FDN.

CHEC is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the fourth-largest engineering and construction company in the world in terms of revenue, and the third largest transport infrastructure company in the world in terms of revenue and market capitalization, according to FDN.

Meanwhile, Medellin-based S.P. Ingenieros S.A.S., founded in 1983, “has been in charge of the construction, improvement and rehabilitation of more than 1,200 kilometers of roads and 14 kilometers of tunnels and bridges,” according to FDN.

Unica and Termotécnica – both subsidiaries of Bogota-based Ethuss Group -- are involved in numerous Colombian infrastructure projects, including the “Conexión Norte” highway in Antioquia as well as other projects including oil pipelines and airport construction.

On a related front, FDN also announced that it granted a bank guarantee to Termotécnica for up to COP$57 billion (US$17 million) “to support the equity contributions of both [Termotecnica] and Unica to the Mar 2 project,” according to FDN.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 17 2018 0

Colombia’s science-investigation unit Colciencias announced July 16 that it’s teaming-up with government officials for a first-ever “BioExpedition” this month near Anorí, northeast Antioquia – an area forbidden to nature-lovers because of decades of FARC guerrilla violence.

According to the announcement (see: http://www.colciencias.gov.co/sites/default/files/upload/noticias/prototipo_ficha_municipal_anori_-_julio_12.pdf), the BioExpedition will involve 22 researchers from the Eafit, Antioquia and CES universities; three United Nations officials, five community leaders, five professionals from Colciencias and 10 former FARC guerrillas who will help guide the group.

The expedition opens an opportunity to “discover the natural richness of a territory that was unexplored by institutions and scientists as a consequence of the armed conflict,” according to Colciencias.

Anorí hosts 52,000 hectares of continuous tropical humid forest, with animal, plant and insect species that may even be unknown to science, according to the organization. The explorers aim to find and categorize amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, orchids and butterflies, as well as produce a television documentary.

“The starting point of the BioExpedition will be the village of La Tirana, and a camp will be established to cover an area of investigation including the Anorí River, the Hiracales stream and the Nechí River,” according to Colciencias.

The Colombian Army will establish a unified command post to monitor daily the safety and health of the explorers, and “checkpoints will be placed in strategic locations,” according to the organization.

“This initiative [also] constitutes a key process for the design of strategies of [former guerrilla fighters] reincorporation and rural development around biodiversity,” according to Colciencias.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 12 2018 0

EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta revealed in a July 11 press conference that engineers are making more progress in recovering the US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric dam project in Antioquia in the wake of a temporary emergency caused by a geological fault and a diversion-tunnel failure last May.

Thanks to falling water levels in the Cauca river – the result of the typical Colombia summer-dry-season starting in July – waters behind the dam have dropped to 380 meters above sea level, down nearly 14 meters from a peak in June. This will help accelerate engineering work and recovery efforts.

“According to hydrological forecasts, it is estimated that the reservoir will stabilize between elevations 370 meters above sea level and 375 meters above sea level” during the summer season, according to EPM.

Meanwhile, some relatively minor landslides above the intake gates for the tunnels leading to the machine room (where the generator turbines eventually will be located) prompted EPM to begin building a metallic-roof structure that will protect workers, machinery and equipment at the site, Londoño explained.

In that area, workers soon will install closure gates for the tunnels -- hence enabling EPM to enter and repair whatever damage might be found in the machine room powerhouse, which has been used temporarily to evacuate Cauca river water because of the diversion-tunnel failure last May.

“Once we complete the civil works and install the gates of [machine-room entry tunnels] 1 and 2, in about a month, we will be able to to close the flow of water through the powerhouse,” according to EPM.

Meanwhile, last Friday (July 6), EPM radar monitors detected a rock fall in a road tunnel leading to the machine house, “which caused a slight decrease in the flow of water through the discharge tunnels,” although subsequent flows are now stable, according to the company.

“For the closure of the powerhouse, the company is working on a plan that includes closing a [Cauca River water] catchment gate and leaving a second gate open to allow [a required minimum] ecological flow to the Cauca River [downstream of the dam]. When the level of the reservoir [behind the dam] is very close to reaching the height of the engineered spillway at 401 meters above sea level, this second gate will be closed and the water flow through the machine house will be interrupted,” thus enabling EPM workers to enter and begin repairs -- hopefully before year-end 2018, Londoño added.

With both the diversion tunnel and the machine-house tunnels closed, that means that Cauca River waters will instead flow safely over the engineered spillway, avoiding water-flooding in tunnels.

Meanwhile, EPM continues works to raise the dam to 418 meters above sea level over the next few weeks, after which a specialist contractor -- Soletanche Bachy Cimas -- will begin injecting a special type of concrete (bentonite and cement) inside the dam, further reinforcing the works, he explained.

This reinforcement work is likely to be completed by year-end 2018 or the first few weeks of 2019, hence ensuring that the dam can withstand any floods that theoretically might happen once every 500 years, Londoño explained. Dam construction nevertheless will continue to 435 meters above sea level -- virtually eliminating any possible dam-overtopping by some theoretical, Biblical-style flood.

“For the definitive plugging of the right diversion tunnel and the auxiliary diversion system, EPM and the CCC Ituango construction consortium are advancing in technical and economic negotiations with [Houston-based] Halliburton, specialized in drilling for the oil industry," EPM added. "This company will finalize in the next weeks the engineering design to proceed with the contracting and execution phases,” according to EPM.

Final closure of that diversion tunnel is estimated to be completed around October, Londoño added.

As for EPM’s concurrent social work to help downstream populations in Puerto Valdivia -- temporarily moved to shelters far-above the river's edge during the emergency -- “of the 1,640 families that can receive financial support from EPM to temporarily rent a home and pay their monthly maintenance, 929 families already obtained this support and another 711 families are in the process of being processed. EPM has provided all the resources so that the evacuees have comprehensive attention in the current circumstances,” the company added.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 11 2018 0

Investment promotion agency Agencia de Cooperacion e Inversion de Medellin y el Area Metropolitana (ACI) announced July 10 that besides the under-construction, 220-room Hilton luxury hotel on Las Palmas and the recently completed, US$50 million Marriott hotel in El Poblado in Medellin, Antioquia soon will host another 34 new hotel projects in 2019.

Citing statistics from Colombian hotel trade association Cotelco, ACI explained that “Medellín went from having 176 hotels with 7,370 rooms in 2016, to 197 hotels and 8,628 rooms in 2018. By 2019, 34 new projects will be undertaken in the territory of Antioquia.”

“We are the department [Antioquia] with the most investment -- COP$674 billion [US$235 million] --in the construction of hotels in Colombia, directly generating more employment, as 56,640 workers in Medellín are employed by hotels,” added Johana Martínez, executive director of Cotelco’s Antioquia-Chocó chapter.

Among the new and under-construction hotels in Medellín: Decameron, Hilton, Travelers, Wyndham, Atton (US$30 million), Viaggio, La Quinta Inn, Marriott, Metro Hotel, City Express (US$42 million), Click Clack and Blue Doors, according to ACI.

Citing Colombian SITUR tourism-agency figures, ACI added that “the accelerated growth in hotels responds mainly to the demand for the sustained increase in the arrival of travelers to the city, with 735,570 visitors in 2017, of which 274,693 were foreigners, an increase of 4.8% over 2016.”

“Tourist growth and the great attraction for foreign investment offered by Medellín -- part of a city-region strategy -- are key elements for the September 24-25, 2018, realization of SAHIC [South American Hotel and Tourism Investment conference] here, one of the most important international events in the sector,” the agency added.

Besides business and convention tourism growth here, eco-tourism is also growing in Antioquia, according to Federico Guerra Hoyos, Secretary of Productivity and Competitiveness for the departmental government of Antioquia.

Antioquia “is one of the places with the greatest number of bird species in the world. All this natural beauty is very close to villages with hotel infrastructure, which, added to the host talent of the residents, make our territory an unforgettable place and a unique sensation,” Guerra added.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by July 10 2018 0

Medellin’s “Metro” public transit agency announced July 9 that Wall Street bond rater Fitch just upgraded Metro’s long-term debt rating to “AAA (col)” from “AA + (col)” while the short-term rating remains at a relatively strong “F1 + (col).”

“In both cases, these are the highest ratings that [Fitch] gives to Colombian companies,” according to Metro, which operates a mainly electric-powered railcar, aerial-tram and surface-tram system, as well as a natural-gas-fueled bus rapid transit (BRT) system in the Medellin metropolitan area.

The ratings indicate that “Medellín Metro has been characterized by solid management and administration,” supported by “income legitimacy, operational risk, financial profile and asymmetric added risk,” according to the agency.

“In the case of the long-term rating, Fitch Ratings raised the rating to 'AAA (col)' from 'AA + (col)' with a stable outlook, which is assigned to issuers or obligations with the lowest expectation of default risk in relation to all other issuers or obligations in the same country. The outlook indicates that it is unlikely that the rating will change in a period of between one and two years.

“In the case of the short-term rating, Fitch affirmed the 'F1 + (col)' rating it had given in its previous review, also with a stable outlook, which is assigned to the lowest default risk in relation to others in the same country. When a + sign is added, as in the case of the Medellín Metro, this indicates that the liquidity profile is particularly strong.

“The legitimacy of revenues refers to the capacity to increase them and the competitive position in the sector, a factor that was considered strong due to the existence of a strategic objective that establishes that by 2020, 10% of revenues must come from different sources to the rate.

“Operational risk is considered as a factor in the medium range because Metro adequately identifies its costs, which allows it to have a certain degree of flexibility for [containing] them.

“Regarding the financial profile, this is considered as a strong range since the EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] generation is robust and its margins, although they show the start-up of greater services, remain relatively stable. Likewise, the liquidity position is good due to the existence of adequate levels of cash and liquid investments of free destination. Finally, Fitch highlights the conservative management of investment portfolios, which have a low risk profile,” Metro added.

Published in Medellín Metro News Written by June 28 2018 0

Colombia’s national development agency (Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional, FDN) announced June 27 that it approved another COP$600 billion (US$204 million) in debt finance for the crucial “Mar 1” highway project linking Medellin to current and future Atlantic ports in Antioquia and indirectly to the Pacific port of Buenaventura.

The latest debt approval means that definitive financial close on the project is expected around September 2018, according to FDN. The new senior debt credit carries a term of up to 18 years, the agency added.

“The financing of the project comprises a structure with three tranches, two tranches in pesos -- one in pesos and one in UVR [inflation-adjusted pesos] -- and one tranche in U.S. dollars,” according to FDN.

“Thus, the total debt of the project amounts to COP2.04 trillion [US$693 million], of which COP1.48 trillion [US$502 million] is structured in pesos and COP$560 billion [US$190 million] are denominated in dollars. With this loan, the total participation of the FDN represents 29.5% of the total debt of the project,” according to the agency

The project consists of upgrading and operating the existing highway between Santa Fe de Antioquia and Bolombolo (71 kilometers), constructing and operating a new divided highway between Medellin and Santa Fe de Antioquia (43 kilometers), construction and operation of a parallel tunnel to the existing “Tunel al Occidente” west of Medellin (4.6 kilometers) and the construction of 39 bridges, according to FDN.

The project also will connect with three other “fourth generation” (4G) highway projects including “Mar 2” and “Conexión Pacífico 2,” the latter of which would drastically improve freight traffic between Medellin and the Pacific port of Buenaventura.

Partners in the “Mar 1” project including Austrian construction company Strabag (Strabag AG Switzerland (37%), Strabag SAS (0.5%) and Strabag AG Austria; Sacyr (Sacyr Concesiones Colombia (37.5%) and Sacyr Concesiones Participadas SL; and the Colombian company Concay, SA (25%).

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Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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