Saturday, October 20, 2018

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Roberto Peckham

More than 1,540 in-person attendees this month at the 5th annual Medellin Bird Festival (Festival de las Aves Medellin 2018) October 3-6 got a bird’s-eye view of how companies, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here are trying to find creative ways to balance environmental and economic conflicts.

The growing, annual Medellin Bird Festivals – increasingly covered by local, national and international media -- are organized by Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitologia (SAO) and co-sponsored by the city of Medellin, the Antioquia departmental government and more than 20 private companies and organizations, including the environmentally responsible miner Continental Gold, national electric-grid operator ISA, EAFIT University, Parque Explora, Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra and Medellin Herald.

Perhaps no better example of efforts to reconcile environmental and economic conflicts was revealed in a lecture here on a just-concluded, three-year project to study, document, save and relocate threatened birds (and other wildlife) displaced by the gigantic “Hidroituango” hydroelectric dam project in Antioquia.

That hydroelectric dam -- when finally completed around 2021 -- is expected to supply more than 17% of the entire electricity demand in Colombia, providing zero-emissions power to millions of people, homes, buildings -- and a future surge of environmentally friendly electric vehicles.

Hidroituango also is seen crucial to economic futures, as the city of Medellin taps locally based, multinational power giant EPM for an astonishing 25% of its entire annual budget funding.

The Hidroituango environmental studies also ultimately led to the publication of a new book, “Aves del Cañón del Río Cauca” (Birds of the Cauca River Canyon), unveiled here by University of Antioquia and sponsored by EPM, the company building the gigantic Hidroituango power dam.

Among the threatened bird species in the canyon – upstream of the hydroelectric dam -- is the spectacular (and rare) Military Macaw (Ara Militaris), individuals of which have been nesting in cliffside rock cavities soon to be inundated by the rising Cauca River.

As EPM and University of Antioquia researchers explained here, wildlife-rescue experts in recent months have helped to remove and relocate some 40 macaw chicks from various nests – along with capturing and relocating some 2,000 other threatened birds in the area.

EPM meanwhile bought an 800-hectare property in nearby Buritica dedicated for wild-bird relocations, and also built a specialized tree-nursery project in the town of Ituango, which will provide crucial plants to help restore lost habitats.

As EPM noted in a post-Festival press release, “the Cauca River canyon in Antioquia is a marvelous place that hosts a variety of environments including tropical dry forest and humid, pre-montane forests, which provide homes to many species, including more than 300 bird species.

“This [Aves del Cañón del Río Cauca] book, in addition to other environmental studies and projects undertaken in conjunction with the Hidroituango project, shows the responsibility that EPM assumes in social and environmental management,” the company added.

Medellin’s ‘Green Corridors’ Project

On a related front, Medellin’s Infrastructure Planning Secretary Silvia Gómez García explained here how the city has just transformed more than 30 heavily trafficked and building-congested areas into “green corridors” in recent months, in a COP$45 billion (US$14 million) project involving the planting of hundreds of trees, bushes and flowers.

Probably the most dramatic example of this is the conversion of the cement “pyramids” formerly bisecting the downtown Avenida Oriental corridor into a spectacular array of tropical flowers, trees and bushes, attracting butterflies and other wildlife, she noted.

Such projects not only improve wildlife habitat but also help to provide a heat sink to cement deserts that unfortunately have over-run Medellin – the “City of Eternal Spring” --over the past 50 years.

Assuming that future Mayors continue this “green corridor” initiative launched by current Mayor Federico Gutierrez, then it’s possible to envision future “green” connections between Medellin’s main green parks (Cerro Nutibara, Cerro El Volador, Parques del Rio, Parque Arvi) to the green mountains east and west of Medellin and adjacent cities in Valle de Aburra, Gomez noted.

Likewise, Medellin metro council of governments (Area Metropolitano del Valle de Aburra, AMVA) subdirector Maria del Pilar Restrepo noted in a presentation here that adjacent municipalities are taking similar steps to improve green spaces for birds and wildlife, including a regional project that is part-way toward the goal of planting and maintaining more than 1 million new trees.

Other outstanding presentations here included workshops on the “Merlin” cell-phone bird-identification application by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology researchers Drew Weber and Karen Purcell; a progress update on Medellin’s outstanding “Alto de San Miguel” nature reserve in neighboring Caldas municipality; and an update on the just-launched, second-edition “Guia Fotografica de Las Aves del Valle de Aburra” (Photographic Guide to the Birds of the Aburra Valley) published by AMVA and Parque Arvi, in cooperation with Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitologia.


Medellin-based multinational retail giant Exito announced October 5 the long-awaited opening of Colombia’s biggest shopping mall: the “Viva” center in the Medellin suburb of Envigado.

“With an investment of approximately COP$660 billion [US$217 million] and a commercial area of 137,000 square meters, Viva Envigado -- the largest commercial and business complex in the country -- opened its doors to the public,” according to Exito.

One-third of the commercially leased area is dedicated to entertainment and gastronomy, while 6,000 new jobs are created at the center, according to Exito.

“Global trends show us that shopping centers must evolve from a commercial building to a ‘human place’ where customers have experiences,” according to Exito’s Juan Lucas Vega, vice president of real estate.

Via a free internet connection, the mall also delivers a “digital layer that transmits segmented content and commercial ‘scoops’ directly on customers' smart-phones, complemented by digital, interactive screens that allow customers to know locations and marketing activities,” according to Exito.

The shopping center includes four anchors:

1. Cine Colombia, with 16 movie theaters, including the first IMAX theater in Antioquia;
2. A renewed ‘Homecenter’ hardware super-store;
3. Exito’s ‘Wow’ hypermart, including office co-working spaces; and
4. Decathlon, “one of the largest sports stores in the world,” making a first-ever appearance in metro Medellin.

In addition, for the first time, Grupo Éxito’s private-label clothing lines “Arkitect” and “Bronzini” will have an exclusive store, while Exito’s “Finlandek” line of kitchen and home accessories – together with “Electrodigital” appliances – likewise will have a dedicated retail outlet.

“These two [clothing and home-appliance] stores, totaling more than 300 square meters, are the start of an innovation laboratory with which we want to reach our customers in a different way and provide a more personalized, superior experience,” added Jacky Yanovich, Exito’s vice president of sales and operations.

The new shopping center also includes “Viva Park,” described as “the largest amusement park located within a shopping center, with 6,000 square meters outdoors that will become a place of entertainment for the whole family,” according to Exito.

A “Bistró Street” section includes 21 open-air restaurants, in addition to a food court with 18 brands.

A “Viva Sports’ section includes a “Smartfit” gym, five synthetic soccer fields, a jogging track, a multifunctional play-court, a beach volleyball court and a climbing wall.

The building complex also incorporates a photovoltaic array covering 1,700 square meters, generating approximately 451 kilowatt-hours of power or around 20% of common-area power requirements during peak solar-radiation hours.

Besides having a direct connection to the zero-emissions “Metro” rail-line station, “the construction of Viva Envigado is environmentally responsible thanks to saving 35% of water in the bathrooms;130 bicycle parking lot spaces; 140 exclusive parking spaces for low-emission electric vehicles; and 70 carpooling parking spaces,” according to Exito.


Canada-based gold miner Continental Gold this month organized memorial masses for four of its employees murdered by FARC “dissident” groups in Antioquia -- and then announced the hiring of a top-flight security agency that aims to prevent future such incidents.

Three of the four victims – geologists Camilo Andrés Tirado (31), Laura Alejandra Flóres (27) and Henry Mauricio Martínez (27) -- were murdered September 19 near Yarumal, Antioquia, by “dissidents” belonging to the “36th Front” of the narco-terrorist FARC group -- several leaders of which have been given seats in the Colombian Congress via a “peace” deal negotiated by former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

The fourth Continental Gold employee victim -- Oscar Alarcón Gallo – was murdered in another terrorist attack a week earlier in Buritica, Antioquia.

“Special masses were recently held in both Medellín and Buriticá to honor the lives of Laura, Henry, Camilo and Oscar and were attended by our employees, members of the military and police, and members of the local communities,” according to the company.

“Additionally, on Wednesday, October 3, a memorial ceremony was held at our Buriticá [mining] project site in which trees were planted to commemorate the lives of each of the victims. These trees will continue to grow in honor of their legacy.

“With the goal of strengthening and reshaping our security team and protocols, the company has engaged Control Risks, the world’s foremost security and risk consultancy, to lead efforts in restructuring our security department and reassessing our security risk matrix.

“The company is also pleased to announce our new security manager, Juan Carlos Chacón, who joins us from Control Risks and has an impressive military and private sector background with a strong understanding of international standard best practices.

“In addition, the security manager reporting line has now been elevated directly to our country manager, Luis Germán Meneses, former executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Cerrejón, Colombia’s largest private coal producer and exporter and one of the largest integrated mining companies in the world.

“Together, with our community partners, we will persevere in helping to build a bright future at Buriticá,” the company added.


The “Corvipacifico” construction consortium announced in late September that it is cranking-up construction works on the long-delayed “Pacifico 1” highway between Medellin and Bolombolo.

That highway will connect (via a new bridge across the Cauca River) with the under-construction “Pacifico 2” highway linking Bolombolo to La Pintada  -- both straddling the Cauca River -- and then onward via “Pacifico 3” highway all the way to Colombia's main Pacific freight port at Buenaventura.

To facilitate construction on “Pacifico 1,” Corvipacifico is closing the existing highway between Puerto Escondido and Bolombolo from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays for the next six months, according to the group.

“This closure is a priority need from the point of view of road safety, and is carried out in order to advance the construction and stabilization of slopes that will be part of the four-lane divided highway, the upper portion of which is located at about 45 meters above the existing road,” according to Corvipacifico.

According to Corfipacifico, construction also has begun on the two big tunnels for Pacifico 1 project, at Amagá (3.6-kilometers length) and Sinifaná (1.3-kilometers).

“These two tunnels that will cross the imposing and rugged geography of Antioquia will be added to the new generation of tunnels throughout Colombia,” according to the group.

The Sinifana tunnel is three kilometers from the town center of Bolombolo, and the Amagá tunnel is located in the municipality of Amagá, a long-time center of artisanal coal extraction.

“The tunnels respectively will be equipped with all the technological equipment for their operation and control with the best safety specifications [including] a ventilation system, lighting, communications, variable signaling and fire protection,” according to the group..

“Following the excavation activities that began recently, we foresee completion in September 2019 in the case of the Sinifaná tunnel, and in September 2021 we foresee completion of the Amagá tunnel,” according to the group.

The COP$3.58 trillion (US$1.2 billion) “Pacifico 1” project reached financial close two years ago (see Medellin Herald June 10, 2016), but construction work has been slow and sporadic.

“Pacifico 1” will total 50.2 kilometers in length, including the two tunnels, 54 new bridges and three new intersections.


In an October 2 press conference, EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta contradicted new claims made by Antioquia Governor Luis Perez over supposed contractor errors or negligence surrounding the troubled “Hidroituango” hydroelectric power project in Antioquia.

Gov. Perez claims that construction contractor Consorcio TIFS didn’t comply with the original schedule for building and then later shuttering the first two of three water-diversion tunnels -- and that such delays (and subsequent tunnel closings) eventually led to compensatory speed-up decisions that unfortunately triggered an estimated COP$7 trillion (US$2.33 billion) in cost over-runs.

What’s more, the third diversion tunnel (“GAD” in Spanish initials) built by EPM – which collapsed in April 2018, causing downstream flooding and then emergency measures to avoid a dam collapse – wasn’t built to proper technical standards or capable of handling relatively high water flows, Perez claimed, citing an unpublished study by Universidad Nacional (UNAL).

In addition, Gov. Perez claimed that the explosives subsequently used in a failed attempt to unblock the first two diversion tunnels following the collapse of the “GAD” tunnel” caused dangerous landslides and weakened the rock massif adjacent to the dam, potentially threatening the entire Hidroituango project.

Furthermore, Gov. Perez separately claimed late last month that EPM had used polygraph tests to “blacklist” certain employees under suspicion for leaking potentially damaging financial information -- possibly linked to Hidroituango issues -- to the governor and certain Medellin City Council members.

That latter claim – flatly denied by EPM’s general manager -- provoked the utility to file legal complaints against Gov. Perez and City Councilwoman Luz María Múnera Medina for “calumny and injury” to EPM’s reputation.

As for supposed errors, miscalculations or negligence in the Hidroituango project, Londoño de la Cuesta pointed-out that an independent advisory board had approved the GAD project, contradicting Gov. Perez.

As for the claims about the supposed incapacity of the GAD tunnel to handle high water flows, “Integral S.A.” engineering manager Luis Fernando Restrepo pointed out at the press conference that international technical studies and experience indicated that the tunnel would indeed be capable of handling such flows.

EPM’s Londoño de la Cuesta added that the company is now awaiting results of a technical study by Skava (due in November) to determine whether the GAD tunnel collapse was the result of an undetected geological fault, an engineering design error or a construction error.

Until that study has been completed, it’s “irresponsible” for third parties (such as Gov. Perez) to make “unsubstantiated” claims about the cause of the tunnel collapse and the subsequent economic damage to the Hidroituango project, he said.

Asked whether Gov. Perez is making sensational, conspiratorial claims for political reasons -- with 2019 being an election year -- Londoño stated that “Hidroituango is a project of national interest and we must work together to move ahead, without promoting particular interests.”

“We invite our partner in this project, the Government of Antioquia, to discuss differences through the appropriate channels available in the partnership, of which both of us are part,” Londoño added. “We are 100% willing to investigate what caused the problem in the Hidroituango project, but we do not admit insults being made against the good name of our company.”

As for whether explosives used in the failed attempt to unblock the first two diversion tunnels might have weakened the rock massif adjacent to the dam, Consorcio CCC commercial director Santiago Garcia pointed out that “in the massif where the project is built, we excavated 2,372,000 cubic meters of rock underground, and there was never any evidence of any damage or instability generated associated with blasting.”

What’s more, engineering studies indicated that the GAD diversion tunnel – had it not collapsed last April -- would have been sufficient to handle the water flows that earlier had been handled by the two previous diversion tunnels, he said.


More than 500 attendees from 11 nations attending the “Second International Conference on Electric Mobility” in Medellin September 25-26 heard from dozens of international and national experts on the need to speed-up the nascent adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) here.

Such an acceleration of EV adoption would slash air pollution, improve public health, reduce energy-import dependence and cut "global warming" emissions, according to expert speakers here.

Meanwhile, “range fear” – a crucial consumer issue that heretofore has hobbled EV adoption -- is declining, as Colombia now has two EVs offering 300-kilometers autonomy between recharges – the Renault "Zoe" five-passenger sedan, sold at COP$99 million/US$33,000, and the BMW “i” sedan, at COP$150 million/US$50,000.

What’s more, China-based BYD is now offering a 400-kilometers autonomy “E5” five-passenger sedan in Colombia, at COP$107 million/US$35,600. Having first launched sales in Bogota, BYD is now debuting a new-car showroom and maintenance shop in Medellin, due in October.

Nissan also has its prior-generation, 200-kilometer-autonomy “Leaf” available here at COP$117 million (US$39,000). But the company hasn’t yet decided whether to launch a longer-autonomy version for Latin America next year.

In addition, Medellin-based national motorcycle assembly and marketing giant Auteco is offering several varieties of “Starker” electric motorcycles and bicycles, at prices that would seem to be affordable even for low-income individuals and families.

However, “e-motorcyles” and “e-bikes” would be even more attractive to lower-income families if Colombia eliminated import taxes and value-added taxes on such vehicles -- and if governments incentivized wider construction and deployment of public "e-motorycle" recharge stations, according to the company.

Auteco sold more than 4,000 EV motorcycles in Colombia last year – a drop in the bucket compared to the 8 million gasoline-fueled motorcycles in Colombia, however. What’s more, the Medellin metro area is now hosting more than 700,000 motorcycles, accounting for the single biggest chunk of air pollution among all types of vehicles.

Gasoline-engined motorcycles of less-than-125-cubic-centimeters displacement account for more than 95% of Colombian motorcycle sales, as these enjoy tax exemptions. Problem: Such motorcycles are not only cheap, but also relatively "dirty" in tailpipe emissions.

The annual Electric Mobility conference, this year in Medellin -- organized by the United Nations-accredited World Energy Council (WEC) -- aims to help nations and municipalities overcome environmental, economic, energy and social problems caused by pollution from internal combustion engines (ICEs).

In a keynote presentation here, WEC-Colombia chapter president Jose Antonio Vargas -- who's also the president of Italy-based power giant Enel’s “Codensa” power subsidiary in Colombia -- cited enormous public-health costs of air pollution, especially cardiopulmonary diseases triggered by ozone and particulate matter (PM) emissions mainly from vehicles in cities.

But there’s hope on the horizon, as zero-emissions EV costs are falling in concert with the plunging cost of the most expensive component: batteries. This would make EV cars and motorcycles attractive to vast numbers of middle-class and lower-income Colombian families, he showed.

In 2018, EV battery costs were 43% of the total cost of electric cars, at around US$240 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), Vargas showed.

However, that’s down from US$400/kWh only four years ago – and battery costs are seen falling to around US$100/kWh sometime between 2025 and 2030, making EVs cost about the same as ICE cars, he showed.

Meanwhile, big cities including Medellin are facing ever-worsening air-pollution crises mainly caused by ICE vehicle pollution, with a new alert just issued for the month of October.

As a result, the Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the Medellin metro council of governments) just expanded “pico y placa” orders banning circulation of ICE vehicles during certain hours, with vehicle rotations based on odd/even license plate numbers.

The “pico y placa” restriction exempts zero-emissions EVs. But that exemption is only one of a very few Colombian local or national government incentives for EV purchases. As a result, today’s EV incentives aren’t nearly big enough to encourage faster turnover of ICE fleets to EVs, Vargas argued.

While China is leading the world in massive EV production, development, deployment and government incentives, in Latin America, Chile is taking the regional lead toward EV adoption, as a law first adopted in 2014 imposes a US$1,000 extra charge on gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles -- while electric power tariffs are cut 30% for EV owners recharging at night, he noted.

While home- or office-based charging accounts for the vast majority of EV recharges everywhere in the world, Chile has rapidly expanded public-access charging as well. What’s more, the Chilean government offers subsidies of up-to-US$8,000 for purchase of EV taxis, and the city of Santiago is moving to replace old, “dirty” diesel buses with 2,000 electric buses by 2025, he showed.

Neighboring Ecuador also offers relatively hefty incentives for EVs including restrictions on ICEs for inner-city travel, exemptions from value-added tax and import duties, and elimination of the former limit of 1,000 EV imports per year. As a result, Ecuador now expects that at least 22% of all new cars bought there by 2032 will be EVs.

As for Colombia, the only incentives for EV purchases are a reduction in value-added tax (to 5% instead of 19%) on new EV cars. However, the government is only allowing the duty-free import of 1,500 EVs per year, greatly restricting market access.

Ironically, the national electric-power planning agency (UPME) has set a goal to require at least 400,000 EVs in Colombia during the next decade. Yet at the same time, other government agencies are severely restricting EV imports or delaying imports via cumbersome reporting regulations, experts pointed-out here.

Meanwhile, Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez announced September 13 that the city aims to have "streets free of ICE vehicles by 2030," and newly elected Colombia President Ivan Duque is promising to promote “massive” deployment and use of EVs in Colombia.

However, only 754 EVs were bought in Colombia last year, out of a total passenger vehicle fleet of 5.8 million cars and 8 million motorcycles, WEC’s Vargas noted.

Today’s EV passenger sedans in Colombia can cost two-to-three times as much as comparable ICE cars, although future EVs are likely to be much cheaper within about five to seven years, he said.

However, Colombia’s cities can’t wait to crank-up the battle against choking air pollution, he said.

Which is why government agencies should move to eliminate value-added tax on EVs through 2030, eliminate limits on tariff-free imports, impose higher taxes on dirty fossil fuels and vehicles, speed-up adoption of electric transit buses, public-fleet vehicles and taxis, move to impose much-tougher “Euro-6” tailpipe emissions limits, allow companies and individuals to deduct the cost of EV recharge stations against taxable income, require public EV recharge stations to be included in new buildings, require builders of the new “4G” inter-departmental highways to install public EV recharge stations, and allow EV owners to enjoy a discounted annual vehicle-circulation-tax, he said.

Medellin ‘E-Taxi’ Plan Hits Snag

On a related front, Medellin’s plan to have 1,500 EV taxis by 2020 has hit a snag as project participant EPM pulled-back on earlier promises to subsidize the scheme – due to financial problems arising from the troubled “Hidroituango” hydroelectric plant in Antioquia.

In a post-presentation interview here, EPM commercial director Juan Rafael Lopez confirmed to Medellin Herald that the “Hidroituango” problem forced the electric utility to cut funding for the proposed E-taxi project -- with the result that multi-party “structuring” discussions are now trying to unblock the project with alternative schemes.

In a separate interview following his presentation here, Medellin Mobility Secretary Humberto Iglesias told Medellin Herald that the multi-party discussions are considering a new, two-tiered tariff structure that would allow “green” EV taxis to charge higher fares than the “yellow” gasoline-powered taxis.

While many taxi customers are seen likely to choose the cheaper (and higher-polluting) “yellow” taxis, there will be portions of the Medellin population that would prefer “green” taxis -- just as some Medellin residents already choose to pay higher fares for “Uber” taxis, he explained to us.

Meanwhile, the explosive growth in relatively high-polluting gasoline motorcycles in Medellin over the last 10 years can be explained in part by the low cost of such transport, he said. A Medellin resident earning Colombia’s minimum monthly salary today would pay about 30% of that salary for local public transport -- but only 22% of that salary for motorcycle transport, he said.

One remedial measure being considered is a possible scheme to ban access to the city center by polluting gasoline motorcycles. This would encourage such motorcyclers to migrate to zero-emissions public transport or else zero-emissions EV motorcycles, he added.

Another proposed scheme (since discarded) was expansion of the current 19,000 limit on taxi licenses in Medellin to include paired, “green” EV taxis. That proposal would have allowed individual license owners to add an EV to their existing operating permit -- and then scrap the “paired” gasoline taxi after three years, leaving the "green" E-taxi to take its place.

Problem: Taxi owners complained that this proposed scheme would have expanded supply for taxi services in Medellin without increasing demand, hence lowering daily revenues. In addition, the city doesn’t want to expand the vehicle fleet in street-congested Medellin by lifting the current 19,000 limit on taxis to include more "green" taxis, Iglesias added.


The Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitologia (SAO, the Medellin ornithological society) announced September 19 that the fifth annual “Festival de las Aves de Medellin” will take flight October 3 to October 8.

All local Festival programs -- including lectures by national and international experts, special learning workshops and guided, local bird walks -- are free. But the post-festival birding trips to Manantiales or Napoles, Antioquia -- which require special advance registrations -- carry separate charges.

Complete Festival program details -- including instructions on how to sign-up for the workshops and the local bird walks -- are available here: https://www.festivaldelasavesmedellin.com.

Registrations for the post-festival birding trips (Manantiales or Napoles)-- departing October 6 and returning October 8 -- can be made here: https://www.festivaldelasavesmedellin.com/pajareadaspostfestival .  However, as of this writing, the Napoles birding trip was already fully booked.

The option for joining the (still-available at this writing) Manantiales birding trip is nothing short of spectacular (see: http://www.medellinherald.com/ecot/item/239-paradise-restored-manantiales-nature-reserve-symbolizes-colombia’s-hopeful-future, titled "Paradise Restored: Manantiales Nature Reserve Symbolizes Colombia’s Hopeful Future," Medellin Herald, January 04, 2016).

According to the SAO, the annual Medellin Bird Festivals “seek to position Medellin as the 'Bird Capital of the World,' as recognized nationally and internationally, and also so that local citizens learn to appreciate their natural heritage.

“It’s clear that people only love and appreciate what they know -- which is why it is vital to integrate scientific [bird] knowledge with educational-cultural events in our city spaces. Thus, this Festival seeks to offer the public a place for recreation and learning which generates knowledge, ownership and awareness of the great diversity of birds that are hosted in this territory.”

Lecture, workshop and birding highlights this year include:

8 am-12 noon Wednesday, October 3: Workshop for children on how to use the “Merlin” bird-identification cell-phone application, at EAFIT university in Medellin (Las Vegas campus).

2 pm Wednesday, October 3: Workshop on how to prevent collisions of birds against buildings and other structures, at Corantioquia headwaters in Medellin.

2-3 pm Wednesday, October 3: Workshop for adults on how to use the “Merlin” bird-identification cell-phone application, EAFIT university (Las Vegas).

3-4 pm Wednesday, October 4: Official debut of new illustrated book, “Birds of Ituango,” by EPM and University of Antioquia, and a bird-photography exhibition, both at EAFIT university (Las Vegas).

5:30 am to 11 am Thursday, October 5: Choice of bird walks either to Parque Arvi, Parque Presidenta, or San Sebastian de la Castellana.

2 pm Thursday, October 5: Lecture on Medellin’s new “green corridors” (Planetarium auditorium, next to Parque Explora).

2:50 pm Thursday, October 5: Lecture featuring professors and children from Restrepo, Meta department, on their novel “Alas de Saber” ornithology-teaching curriculum for children, at Planetarium.

3:45 pm Thursday, October 5: Expert lecture on how to prevent bird collisions with power lines in Colombia, at Planetarium.

6 pm Thursday, October 5: “Science on Bicycles” event featuring hummingbird observations. Departs from Planetarium.

5:30 a.m.-11 am Friday, October 6: Optional bird-walks to Parque Arvi, Parque Presidenta, San Sebastian de la Castellana, EAFIT Llanogrande or EAFIT Medellin (Las Vegas campus).

2 pm Friday, October 6: Lecture on the birds of the Alto de San Miguel nature reserve (Caldas, Antioquia), EAFIT university (Las Vegas campus).

4 pm Friday, October 6: Lecture on the “Merlin” birding application by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (USA) bird expert Drew Weber, EAFIT university (Las Vegas campus).

6 pm Friday, October 6: Lecture on urban birds by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology bird expert Karen Purcell, EAFIT university (Las Vegas campus).


The Antioquia departmental government (Gobernacion de Antioquia) and the Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the association of Medellin regional governments) announced September 13 that financing has been secured for a major debottlenecking project of the “Regional Norte” highway between Medellin, Bello and Copacabana.

The current highway suffers huge traffic jams at the intersection of the main Bello highway with the roundabout connecting the “Regional Norte” highway and the Niquia metro station. Extending the congested "Regional Norte" highway north of Medellin alongside the eastern bank of Rio Medellin has been frustrated for some 50 years, proponents noted.

According to the AMVA-Gobernacion joint press release, COP$179 billion (US$59 million) has just been approved for “phases 2, 3 and 4” of the “Avenida Regional Oriental Norte” project.

This scheme partly involves building elevated highways on the eastern side of the Rio Medellin, opposite the existing Regional Norte highway on the western bank.

The project will be undertaken by the existing "Hatovial" highway concessionaire in three new phases, according to the government agencies:

• Phase 2, Northern Oriental Regional Route (Bello): This involves extending the Regional Norte highway on the eastern side of Rio Medellin between Universidad Minuto de Dios (at the Acevedo interchange) and the La Seca interchange (Fontidueño sector) in the municipality of Bello.

The project includes construction of a 3.6-kilometers-long highway with three vehicular lanes and a bicycle corridor, including a 350-meters-long bridge system connecting to the La Seca interchange.
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• Phase 3, La Seca Interchange: The La Seca Interchange on the western side of the Rio Medellín river will connect to the eastern side of the river in the vicinity of EPM’s new "North" wastewater-treatment plant in Bello.

This project will include two vehicular lanes of 1.9 kilometers in length, including 0.8 kilometers of bridges -- along with sub-surface intersections -- enabling future expansion of the Metro rail system northward of Niquia and including the highway route to Fontidueño.

“The La Seca Interchange will allow the circulation of some of the 30,000 vehicles that travel daily through the Bello-Hatillo highway and the main route for those heading to the north of the department of Antioquia and the Colombian Caribbean coast,” according to the agencies.

• Phase 4, Copacabana: This project includes a vehicular and bicycling corridor 600-meters long, from 50th street to 48th street, bordering the Piedras Blancas stream and the west bank of Rio Medellín, passing through the Quebrada Las Catas and finally connecting with the main entrance bridge to Copacabana’s central park, according to the agencies.


Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (“MinCit”) announced September 5 that the “Colombia Travel Expo 2018” at the Hotel Intercontinental in Medellin this week is seen generating at least COP$15 billion (US$4.8 million) in immediate business deals.

Meanwhile, the recently concluded “Expocamacol” building-construction trade show at Medellin’s Plaza Mayor convention center – attended by more than 18,000 registrants -- generated another US$22 million in immediate business deals (double that of the 2016 show), with likely tens of millions of dollars more in future construction business deals for Medellin, Antioquia and Colombia generally, according to trade-promotion agency ProColombia.

What’s more, Medellin’s hotels, restaurants and taxis netted more than US$12 million from the surge in tourism during “Expocamacol,” according to the agency.

“Expocamacol 2018 has an international reputation as the most specialized trade-fair [for the -building-construction sector] in Latin America,” added Camacol Antioquia general manager Educardo Loaiza Posada.

In total, the Expocamacol show occupied 11 pavilions at Plaza Mayor, with 410 exhibitors from 20 countries taking 24,000 square meters of show-floor space, attending 239 international buyers from 26 countries as well as hundreds of Colombian buyers.

Panamá, Ecuador, Peru and the USA were the four countries making the largest business deals, according to Camacol.

Meanwhile, for the “Colombia Travel Expo,” MinCit cited Fontur statistics indicating that 224 travel-related agencies and 150 sellers of “destination packages” had already set-up some 2,040 business appointments.

Some 10,000 registered attendees will visit with some 430 exhibitors at “Colombia Travel 2018,” which is mainly focused upon cultural- and nature-oriented tourism, according to MinCit.


Medellin-based multinational electric-power giant EPM on September 9 revealed in a presentation to the Medellin City Council key financial assumptions about its proposed sale of assets and other measures to cover losses arising from the Hidroituango hydroelectric project diversion-tunnel collapse.

“Among other issues, we highlight that in the case of the Hidroituango hydroelectric project, we assume that the equipment currently in the mechanical room could have suffered some damage [resulting from diversion of Cauca River water through that room], although to date we lack exact information on possible damage,” according to EPM.

To recoup losses, EPM proposes to raise about COP$7 trillion (US$2.27 billion) from asset sales, internal cost reductions and postponement of some capital projects over the next three years.

Among key assumptions to this financial-recuperation plan:

1. Hidroituango would produce its first 300 megawatts (MW) of power in December 2021, with the remaining 2.1-gigawatts of the total 2.4-gigawatts of capacity entering into service at some yet-to-be-determined dates.

2. EPM possibly would net COP$1.2 trillion (US$389 million) in insurance payoffs for infrastructure damage plus another possible COP$1.3 trillion (US$422 million) for loss-of-power sales that had been expected between 2018 and 2021 – all resulting from the diversion-tunnel collapse and subsequent postponement of power sales.

3. Total Hidroituango project costs are now estimated at COP$14 trillion (US$4.5 billion), of which COP$2.5 trillion (US$811 million) corresponds to financial costs.

4. Costs to compensate populations affected by the temporary emergency (following the diversion-tunnel collapse and subsequent measures to relocate threatened downstream populations) are estimated at COP$600 billion (US$195 million), including costs likely to be incurred in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

5. Costs for installing transmission power lines are estimated at COP$120 billion (US$39 million).

6. Equipment down-time costs are estimated at COP$338 billion (US$109 million) in 2019.

7. Colombian national power prices are seen declining from 2021 to 2026, after Hidroituango comes back on-line.

8. Thermal power generators in Colombia are assumed to burn imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) rather than fuel-oil or domestic gas during the three-year delay in power output from Hidroituango.

9. EPM investments in drinking-water infrastructure in Colombia would continue as normal from 2015 to 2025, with current tariff structures unchanged until 2026.

10. Another 370,000 water customers would be added to EPM’s Colombia network through 2025.

11. The “Emvarias” trash-collection transfer station near Medellin would begin operations in 2021.

12. EPM would sell its Chilean water and power utilities and its 10% stake in Colombian power transmission giant ISA during 2019.

13. EPM wouldn’t lose access to financial markets to cover its debt needs.

14. EPM’s gross income would dip to COP$16.5 trillion (US$5.3 billion) in 2019, down from the COP$18.2 trillion (US$5.9 billion) initially foreseen (prior to the diversion-tunnel collapse and subsequent delay in power sales from Hidroituango). Through 2030, that initial loss of power sales (which would have started in December 2018) continues to penalize total expected revenues each year, hitting COP$27.8 trillion (US$9 billion) in 2030 – down from an expected COP$31.9 trillion (US$10 billion) in 2030, the difference explained by the tunnel-collapse financial impacts.

15. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) also take hits in most years from 2019 through 2030, although EBITDA should spike to around COP$8.8 trillion (US$2.8 billion) in 2021, EPM estimates.

16. EPM’s annual payments to the city of Medellin (its 100% shareholder) from power sales will fall in 2019, 2020 and 2021 -- compared to 2018 -- but payments then rebound and rise from 2022 onward, hitting COP$2.1 trillion (US$681 million) in 2030.

Asset-Sales Details

In an earlier, September 3 press conference, EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta revealed that the Medellin City Council could decide whether to approve the sale of EPM's 10% stake in power transmitter ISA and Chilean utility assets by early October.

“The sooner the better,” Londoño added, as a quick sale would overcome current market anxieties about EPM’s financial position as a result of losing an estimated COP$6 trillion (US$1.97 billion) to COP$7 trillion (US$2.3 billion) from the Hidroituango hydroelectric-dam project problems.

“We’re confident and optimistic that [the Council] will approve this in the next few weeks,” he added.

Most of the estimated revenue losses from Hidroituango problems come from an estimated three-year delay in electric power sales (COP$4 billion/US$1.3 billion), Londoño said.

The remaining losses include an estimated COP$1.5 trillion (US$492 million) to COP$2 trillion (US$656 million) in related dam-infrastructure repair costs, plus an estimated COP$500 billion (US$164 million) to COP$1 trillion (US$328 million) for compensating temporarily affected populations around the hydroelectric dam.

EPM’s proposed sale of its 10% stake in electric power transmitter ISA is likely to net about COP$1.5 trillion (US$492 million) while the sale of its Chilean water and power utilities likely will generate more than COP$2 trillion (US$656 million), he estimated.

Hence it’s possible that the entire COP$4 billion (US$1.3 billion) in lost electricity sales can be recouped by just those two asset sales, without affecting any core EPM businesses, he estimated.

In addition, EPM aims to delay about COP$2 trillion (US$656 million) of the total COP$14 trillion (US$4.6 billion) in planned infrastructure investments over the next few years. Those delays won’t significantly hurt EPM’s future power, water and sewer services, nor have any impact on current EPM customers. What’s more, these postponements won’t impede achievement of regulatory service standards, he emphasized.

In addition, to generate more savings, EPM expects to trim about COP$500 billion (US$164 million) to COP$1 trillion (US$328 million) in internal costs including cutbacks in various sponsorships and short-term contract labor over the next three years, he said.

As a result, the roughly COP$4 trillion (US$1.3 billion) gained from asset sales, plus the COP$2 trillion (US$656 million) n infrastructure investment delays, plus the up-to-COP$1 trillion (US$328 million) in internal-cost cutbacks would deliver about COP$7 trillion (US$2.3 billion ) in additional revenues – enough to cover all the expected Hidroituango losses and simultaneously ensure that the City of Medellin continues to receive its hefty annual share of EPM profits, he said.

EPM’s payments to the city (EPM’s 100% owner) currently run at about COP$4 trillion (US$1.3 billion), or about 25% of Medellin’s total annual city budget.

While EPM’s full-year 2018 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) won’t be hurt by Hidroituango costs this year, future EBITDA likely would be trimmed somewhat, although Londoño didn’t offer any estimate of the total impact.

As for when EPM will shutter the tunnel that currently diverts Cauca River water through the machine room (necessitated by the diversion-tunnel collapse last April), this decision depends on relative rainfall over the next months. Higher rainfall around the Cauca River basin means greater Cauca River flow, while lower relative rainfall cuts river flow, he explained.

EPM aims to reduce the time it takes between shuttering the machine-room tunnel -- with a consequent rise of water-level behind the dam – and the subsequent, eventual flow of water over the engineered spillway at the top of the dam. Cutting this time-gap to a minimum number of days will mean less impact on downstream populations that depend upon some constant minimal water flow of the river, he added.


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About Medellin Herald

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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