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general news 216

Published in general news Written by September 16 2020 0

Colombia Transport Minister Ángela María Orozco and Health Minister Fernando Ruiz jointly announced last night (September 15) that regular international passenger flights will start to resume on September 21 from Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (MDE) international airport.

Two days prior to the restart at JMC, Spirit Airlines on September 19 will debut its first regular international passenger flight to Colombia in six months – from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Cartagena. On the same day (September 19), Viva Air will debut the first regular international passenger flight from Colombia, from Cartagena to Miami.

Viva had earlier announced that it would include passengers from JMC on a connecting September 19 flight to Cartagena, then continuing onward to Miami.

“The initial international flights to be reestablished are to the United States, Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala,” according to the Transport Ministry.

“The international air passenger reactivation is carried out after the favorable opinion of the Ministry of Health for the suspension of the restriction of entry of international travelers to Colombia, based on the current state of the [Covid-19] pandemic,” Minister Orozco added.

“The entire sector is committed to complying with the defined biosafety protocols so that this operation is carried out safely,” she added.

As with the operation of domestic passenger flights in Colombia, “a strict biosecurity protocol will be applied for the operation of international flights. Among these measures, it has been defined that for the entry of international passengers, the presentation of the negative result of the PCR test for Covid-19 will be requested,” according to the Ministry.

For travelers entering or leaving Colombia, “passengers must compulsorily fill-out, prior to entering the immigration control posts, the 'Check-Mig' pre-registration, which can be found on the website https://apps.migracioncolombia.gov.co/pre-registro/public/preregistro.jsf,” the Health Ministry stated.

That registration process “can be done 24 hours in advance and up to one hour before the flight.”

To enter Colombia, “each traveler must present a negative result of a PCR test no more than 96 hours before the stipulated time of travel” while “to leave Colombia, the [health protocol] requirements agreed by the destination country must be met,” the Ministry added.

“Passenger access to the airport will be up to three hours before the scheduled departure of the [international] flight.”

Airports must “maximize the use of available baggage carousels as much as possible to avoid [health-endangering] crowds. They must also assign specific carousels for flights from high-risk areas,” according to the Ministry.

“For short flights it is recommended that passengers not to use the aircraft toilets. In addition, if the flight is less than two hours, the cabin crew will not be able to perform [drinks and meals] service on board.”

What’s more, “the use of a mask is mandatory from the entrance to the airport, during the trip and at the port of arrival, regardless of the duration of the entire journey,” Health Minister Ruiz added.

“In the case of medium and long-duration flights (more than two hours) it is recommended to wear multiple masks and to replace them during the journey. For short flights, a single mask” is sufficient.

Passengers also must “stay in their assigned seat throughout the flight,” the Ministry added.

Published in general news Written by September 08 2020 0

Former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez, Former EPM General Manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta and all eight former EPM Board members who resigned in protest last month for being ignored on a Hidroituango “conciliation” lawsuit decision issued a joint bulletin this morning (September 8) denouncing Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero for falsely claiming that they had “hidden” an insurance-adjuster’s report on the Hidroituango tunnel collapse.

According to the joint letter, “the affirmations by [Mayor] Daniel Quintero and [current EPM general manager] Alvaro Guillermo Rendon are absolutely false” in suggesting that the former EPM Board, the former EPM general manager and former Mayor Gutierrez “hid” the Advanta report on the tunnel collapse -- supposedly to protect Hidroituango contractors (see Medellin Herald September 7, 2020).

In fact, neither the former Board, nor the former Mayor nor the former General Manager had ever seen or ever received that Advanta report, according to their joint bulletin.

The supposedly “hidden” Advanta report “was undertaken by the insurer at its own initiative, at its own cost and for its exclusive use, seeking to obtain its own analysis of the root cause of the [tunnel collapse] problem, for which EPM [last year] facilitated access to all the technical information that they required,” according to the joint bulletin from the former EPM officials.

“The final [Advanta] report, with the results of that analysis, was NOT [their emphasis] provided to EPM, NEVER [their emphasis] was handed-over nor known by [former EPM] managers nor its Board of Directors, simply because they had no right” to obtain such report, according to the joint bulletin.

Signing the bulletin were former EPM board members Claudia Jimenez, Gabriel Richard Maya, Andres Bernal, Manuel Santiago Mejia, Elena Rico, Alberto Arroyave, Carlos Raul Yepes, Javier Genaro Gutierrez, former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez and former EPM General Manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta.

“The decisions and the behavior of the Mayor [Quintero] and the General Manager [Rendon] are creating an environment of distress and uncertainty with unknown purposes or with veiled intentions, which is generating unimaginable damage, hopefully not irreparable, not only for EPM but also for our city and its future,” according to the bulletin.

“It’s important to mention that the only technical report contracted by EPM to establish the root cause of the [Hidroituango tunnel collapse] problem was by the Skava [engineering consultancy], whose conclusions provided the basis to present [recovery claims] arguments to the insurer [Mapfre].

“After the conclusion of the Skava report, the reinsurers, as well as Mapfre, told EPM that the damages were covered given the terms of the policy, including issues of design, construction and materials, even with the existence of possible errors. Mapfre, under these conditions and finding no evidence of grave error, made an initial payment [to EPM] of US$150 million.

“We vehemently call upon the citizenry, news media and authorities to act with prudence, with reflection, to be careful with information they receive and not be deceived, reiterating that we acted with rigor, respect for norms and in the best interest of citizens and clients of EPM,” the joint bulletin concludes.

Published in general news Written by September 07 2020 0

A just-released Hidroituango tunnel-collapse report for Mapfre Insurance’s UK-based reinsurance loss adjuster Advanta Global Services – publicly revealed today (September 7) via Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero’s Twitter account – sparks renewed “corruption” and “cover-up” accusations brought by Mayor Quintero against former EPM directors and former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez.

Ironically, the Advanta report –dated August 2, 2019, but only released now – arrives at mainly the same conclusions earlier found in Skava Consulting’s February 28, 2019 report to EPM (see Medellin Herald March 1, 2019, “EPM: Design Flaw Caused Hidroituango Tunnel Collapse”).

EPM publicly released the Skava report with similar findings to Advanta. So it's unclear how Mayor Quintero can now claim that Mayor Gutierrez was "covering-up" some supposedly shocking Advanta report that supposedly was "suppressed" to avoid any lawsuit against Hidroituango contractors.

Both reports essentially conclude that collapse of the auxiliary diversion tunnel (ADT, or “GAD” in Spanish) was the combined result of extraordinary water-level changes in the Cauca River during April 2018, combined with insufficient sealing of the floor of the GAD tunnel, ultimately causing an estimated US$2.6 billion in losses -- mainly resulting from nearly four years of lost power sales, plus hundreds of millions of dollars of physical damages.

Yet despite the relatively unsurprising conclusions in the Advanta report, Mayor Quintero is now claiming that former EPM directors and former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez actually “hid” the Advanta report from Quintero and the new EPM management (all taking office in January 2020) because it supposedly justifies the new “conciliation” lawsuit brought by Quintero and new EPM general manager Alvaro Rendon against Hidroituango contractors and insurers.

Quintero claims that the prior EPM board – which resigned en-mass last month following Quintero’s failure consult with them on the risky “conciliation” lawsuit – either had "corrupt" ties to Hidroituango-involved companies or else to companies that have historically done business with EPM. Hence EPM’s former Board and management – along with former Mayor Gutierrez -- supposedly put the financial interest of Hidroituango contractors and insurors over the interest of EPM in recovering losses resulting from the tunnel collapse.

One big problem with this argument: Neither the Advanta report nor the Skava report found that the supposedly defective design or construction of the GAD tunnel inevitably led to the tunnel collapse. Instead, both reports cite unusual Cauca River-flow fluctuations prior to the collapse -- coincident with what's now described (in hindsight) as GAD tunnel design and/or construction flaws.

This uncertainty factor – the lack of an inevitability finding -- might help explain why Mapfre – having read both the Advanta and Skava reports earlier last year – nevertheless ultimately decided to pay EPM US$150 million for Hidroituango damages in December 2019, in what would be the first installment for a policy that covers up-to-US$2.55 billion in physical damages and up-to-US$628 million for lost power sales.

Below are all 10 conclusions of the “new” Advanta report that Mayor Quintero now claims was “hidden” from him and new EPM management -- but which inexplicably hadn’t been publicly released by Quintero until now, eight months after he took office last January:

Advanta Report’s 10 Conclusions

“1. The various parties involved in the project had defined responsibilities as stated in contracts. The 'Asesoria' was responsible for the design process for the tunnels, the classification of the rock mass [adjacent to the dam] and the selection of the support [systems in the tunnels]. The 'Interventoria' was responsible for ensuring the project was built according to the contract.

“2. The project operated a risk management program at a high level but it did not comply with the Tunnel Code of Practice because it did not have lower level construction stage risk management and did not control events using a risk mitigation program.

“3. The design of the diversion tunnels was generally in accordance with the nominated codes, standards and normal industry practice. The observational method was a significant component of the design and construction process. Construction of the LDT [left diversion tunnel] and RDT [right diversion tunnel] followed the OM [Observational Method], for example the design was verified during construction using the convergence data. However, the OM was not correctly applied to the ADT [Auxiliary Diversion Tunnel], for example, the convergence was not measured soon enough to be used to verify the design and adjust the [tunnel integrity] support.

“4. The LDT and RDT were claimed to have functioned successfully during four years of operation, so the Asesoria used the experience and data from this and other tunnels to optimize the ADT support design. The ADT support was, however, lightened in comparison with the LDT and RDT such that it [the ADT] was vulnerable to a highly irregular shape, erosion and water pressure changes. Furthermore, the Aesoria’s analysis showed that the support had to be fully installed and working before the [tunnel excavation face] was advanced.

“5. The rock mass in the ADT was weaker around the shear zones than the design assumptions for Type-III ground and it was allowed to relax more than expected by the design because the [excavation] face was advanced before the grout was cured. Consequently, the excavated rock was not controlled by the support installed and the support was not enhanced to compensate for over-relaxation of the rock, such as use of active support to eliminate these weaknesses, as would have been done if the OM [Observational Method] had been implemented correctly as was done in the LDT and RDT. Furthermore, the steel mesh required for shear zones was not installed at the location of the collapse.

“6. Also, the tunnel was not built in accordance with the design, nor the technical specification because the thickness of the shot-crete was not measured by depth pins, the blast lengths were excessive at times and a concrete floor was not installed to protect weak rock and shear zones from erosion by flowing water.

“7. The tunnel showed clear signs of distress during construction because the Contractor made frequent use of additional support to advance the face (spiles), [despite] persistent overbreak, fallouts of rock and support from the crown and sidewalls, fissures and cracks in shot-crete. These signs of distress of the tunnel were not addressed by the Project as is required by the OM.

“8. The parties advising EPM (Asesoria and Inventoria) and together with the Contractor were aware of where the work did not follow the design, where the construction did not produce the tunnel with the expected shape and support and where the tunnel collapsed during construction. Many of these issues were not remedied because those parties did not agree on the cause or whose responsibility it was to resolve them.

“9. The support installed in the ADT was degraded by turbulent [Cauca River water] flow because it had a highly irregular shape and the floor was eroded because it did not have a concrete cover, which undermined the support from the start of the [water-diversion] operation. The parties had a critical divergence on cause of damage of the rock mass beyond the design assumptions in that the Asesoria considered the damage was ‘poor blasting’ and the Contractor considered it to be ‘pre-existing poor rock.’ This and other matters were not resolved and the ADT was put into service with these vulnerabilities.

“10. A flood event from April 1 to April 16 [2018] increased the pressure of the [Cauca River] water in the rock mass of the shear zone at about kilometer 0+540 by about 50 meters equivalent head over invert level. On or about April 13, 2019, was the peak river level and these vulnerabilities manifested when the groundwater pressurized leading to an imbalance with the water pressure in the tunnel. The river level then dropped faster than the water could drain from the ground [around the tunnel] such that the pressure on the outside of the tunnel was greater than inside the tunnel, overloading the existing support, causing it to fail, leading to fallout of key blocks of rock. This process of fallout of blocks and overloading of remaining support continued until there was a major collapse of the tunnel on April 28, 2018, that caused temporary blockage of the tunnel at around chainage kilometer 0+540, that was breached on April 29, 2019, followed by a final major collapse that completely blocked the tunnel at kilometer 0+520 and progressed to the surface on April 30, 2018” -- which ultimately forced EPM to decide to divert the Cauca River through the machine room to avoid catastrophic dam collapse.

Published in general news Written by September 05 2020 0

EPM’s professional employees union Sinpro on September 4 unveiled a disturbing analysis warning that residents downstream of the Hidroituango hydropower project who earlier sued EPM could seek to grab at least some of the COP$9.9 trillion/US$2.6 billion damages award being sought by EPM in a “conciliation” lawsuit against Hidroituango contractors and insurers.

Sinpro adds that the EPM “conciliation” lawsuit also could result in forfeit or lengthy delay -- 10 years or more in Colombia’s plodding courts -- to recover significant portions of the COP$5.3 trillion (US$1.4 billion) Hidroituango damages policy that EPM has with Hidroituango project insurer Mapfre.

What’s more, if EPM cancels or fails to renew its existing Hidroituango construction deals with its now-sued construction contractors (those contracts are currently set to expire at year-end), then getting a replacement contractor (or contractors) up-to-speed could result in even more costly delays to complete the Hidroituango project, Sinpro warns.

Even an extra one-year delay would cost EPM some COP$2.6 trillion (US$700 million) in lost power sales, on top of millions more dollars in grid-reliability-charges that would be imposed by Colombia’s electric power regulator (CREG), the group warns.

In addition, the calculation doesn't include the possibility that EPM eventually could lose its contentious US$2.6 billion damages claim in the courts, now having apparently dismissed the option of a possibly friendlier -- even if smaller -- settlement deal.

What's more, EPM management’s bypassing of its own Board of Directors in the abrupt “conciliation” lawsuit decision – a move that prompted a mass EPM Board resignation -- triggered a Wall Street downgrading of EPM’s debt rating and stoked fears among major lenders, Sinpro noted. Further ratings-downgrades, prepayment demands and higher interest charges potentially could cripple EPM’s finances.

According to Sinpro, just adding-up the potential losses in a possibly successful counter-suit by Hidroituango downstream residents, plus the possible loss or delays in Mapfre insurance coverage, plus the huge costs of additional construction delays and future CREG fines, could produce an up-to-US$2.1 billion net loss to EPM, rather than a presumed US$2.6 billion gain.

This all triggered by a risky “conciliation” legal maneuver pushed by a new EPM general manager (a lawyer) and a young, inexperienced, populist Mayor who raised “conflict-of-interest” assertions against the former EPM board, some former EPM managers, former Mayors and Medellin’s empresarial class (Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño, GEA).

Prior to the January 2020 election of Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero -- and Quintero’s appointment of EPM’s new General Manager Alvaro Rendon – EPM had argued that the Hidroituango diversion-tunnel collapse that caused severe damage to the machine room and enormously costly delays in power sales essentially was the result of unforeseeable Cauca River flooding that led to unforeseeable tunnel damage. Insurer Mapfre was already starting to pay damage claims under EPM’s policy, which covers “unforeseeable” events.

However, a technical study by engineering consultant Skava last year found that insufficient sealing of the floor of the diversion tunnel – arguably an engineering error -- contributed to the collapse (see Medellin Herald July 11, 2019, “Design Flaw Caused Hidroituango Tunnel Collapse.”)

But as EPM’s management and Mayor Quintero seem to be discarding the prior “unforeseeable events” argument and instead switching to “contractor error” arguments, then at least part of the COP$5.3 trillion (US$1.4 billion) Mapfre insurance claim could be at risk -- along with potentially huge downstream-resident counter-suit claims that could cite “error” arguments rather than “unforeseen event” arguments, Sinpro warns.

By the time lawsuit claims get a court ruling, Mayor Quintero likely will have long exited the Mayor’s office, as his term ends in 2023. As Sinpro warns, the “conciliation” lawsuit battle could stretch to 2030 and even beyond -- unless Quintero agrees to a rapid settlement that possibly could produce less-than EPM's asked-for US$2.6 billion claim.

What’s more, quickly settling for less than US$2.6 billion – even though this might prove to be a wise financial solution for cash-strapped EPM -- potentially could force EPM to charge higher electricity rates for several years, to recover part of its Hidroituango losses.

Higher electricity rates would be an immediate political problem for Quintero, who campaigned on a populist EPM “rate freeze” promise.

On the other hand, a lengthy court battle -- though financially damaging to EPM in the short-term and possibly even in the long-term -- could be safer politically for Quintero, since he wouldn’t be around in 2030 to take the blame for any court judgment giving EPM less-than-it’s-asking-for. Or (even more so) if the court eventually hands EPM a catastrophic denial of its claims. 

Published in general news Written by September 03 2020 0

Following a new regulation issued by Colombia’s Health Ministry allowing a boost in public-transport passenger capacity, Metro de Medellin announced September 3 it’s switching to a 50% limit on capacity – up from 35% previously.

Both limits are designed to help thwart Covid-19 cross infections by reducing crowding, according to Metro and the Health Ministry. The new, higher-capacity limits likely won’t boost infections, they say, citing a new joint study by Colombia’s Universidad Nacional and the Transport Ministry.

This study found that even at 50% capacity, “public transport systems do not constitute sources of spread of Covid-19 if practices such as the correct and permanent use of masks covering the nose and mouth, keeping quiet and not speaking on cell phones, adequate ventilation and disinfection of transport systems both at the beginning, during and after the trip, among other practices,” according to Metro.

“To increase the occupation of trains, trams, cable cars and buses to 50%, the Medellín Metro will continue its operation with all of its available fleet and will maintain all the prevention measures that have been applied since arrival of the Covid-19 to the country, and will intensify the disinfection and cleaning routines,” according to Metro.

At bus stations and boarding platforms, Metro will enforce social distancing and provide “educational guides that will support the operation of the stations and guide users in their movements,” according to the agency.

“All biosafety regulations and prevention measures such as controls at the entrance from the station by the Police and Metro personnel will be preserved,” according to Metro.

“Given the possibility of the arrival of more users, it is recommended to schedule trips with more time in advance, arrive with the ‘Cívica’ [boarding pass] recharged.

“As of September 1, the northern access to the Alpujarra station has been enabled between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for the entry and exit of passengers. Likewise, from Tuesday, September 8, service will be enabled on the Arví cable. That day the Arví Park will also open.”

“Metro reiterates that the use of a mask is mandatory and permanent for all passengers. It is important to keep in mind that its correct use completely seals the air intake through the upper part of the nose, through the sides of the cheeks and under the chin, which guarantees better protection against the virus.

“Passengers are also asked to remain silent during the journeys to avoid the emission of aerosols and droplets of saliva that can carry the virus and generate potential infections.

“When entering the system, it is recommended to make use of the portable hand washing points and gel dispensers located in the stations. Likewise, practice physical distancing in lines, while waiting for vehicles and inside them,” the agency added.

Published in general news Written by September 01 2020 0

Airplan – operator of Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (JMC) international aiport – announced September 1 the resumption of flights by four air carriers to seven Colombian cities today.

VivaAir was first out of the gate for its new service from JMC to Cali, as well as to Santa Marta, San Andres and Bogota.  Avianca likewise launched the first of its four daily flights from JMC to Bogota.

LatAm meanwhile debuted its first once-a-day flights from JMC to Bogota, while Easyfly debuted service to Cali.

In parallel, at Airplan’s downtown-Medellin Olaya Herrera airport (EOH), Satena continued once-a-day flights to Cali and three-a-day flights to Bogota.

Easyfly likewise now has daily flights from EOH to Perira, Monteria, Armenia, Bucaramanga and Cucuta, according to Airplan.

Published in general news Written by August 28 2020 0

Colombia’s biggest national airline Avianca announced August 27 that it will restart national flights from Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (JMC) airport to-and-from Bogota starting September 1, then on September 7 relaunch flights at JMC to-and-from Cali and Cartagena.

Following five months grounded because of Covid-19 quarantines, Avianca restarts with 14 national routes, having now passed biosafety protocols “endorsed by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, ProColombia and Icontec with the ‘Certified Biosafety Check-in’ seal,” according to the company.

“Although initially the national operation will be only 12% of that existing before Covid-19 [quarantines], the company expects that demand and the need for connectivity will be activated quickly,” so Avianca will expand its itineraries, routes and frequencies “to the extent that the activation scheme designed by Aerocivil [Civil Aeronautics Authority] allows it,” according to the company.

“The initial fleet for said operation includes 20 aircraft, the Airbus 320 serving the trunk routes and the ATR72 for the regional operation.

“The company hopes that the favorable concept on the viability of international flights, recently issued by the Ministry of Health, will allow the rapid opening of the market to other countries that are high-impact destinations,” the company added.

Also starting September 1, Avianca flights to-and-from Bogotá include Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Montería, Pereira and San Andrés, with Pasto, Santa Marta and Villavicencio added on September 7.

Published in general news Written by August 25 2020 0

Colombia’s Aerocivil aviation authority announced August 24 that Medellin’s downtown Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) just won rights to restart flights to-and-from 10 cities in Colombia.

Simultaneously, flights to and from Cali and Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova (JMC) international airport at Rionegro also are now allowed, after five months of Covid-19 quarantine shutdowns.

Flights from Medellin’s EOH airport are now authorized to and from Armenia, Cúcuta, Montería, Pereira, San Andrés island, El Bagre, Tolú, Urrao and Caucasia, according to Aerocivil.

“The operation of these routes, which will benefit hundreds of citizens who need to move between the different cities, must be carried out under strict compliance with the biosafety protocols for all authorized airports,” according to Aerocivil

“It should be remembered that, under the current regulations issued by the national government, it is the mayors, who under their considerations and in accordance with the evolution of contagion in their cities, can autonomously request the inclusion of their airports in the plan of gradual reactivation of the air operation for essential connectivity,” the agency added.

Published in general news Written by August 24 2020 0

Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero and representatives of the 10 municipalities in Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA) announced August 24 that they’ve approved a broader economic-reopening schedule that starts now with inter-city bus transport and next week with restaurants and some national flights.

According to AMVA, “the following sectors are being reopened: Ground transportation terminals, airports, gymnasiums, open-air theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, nature areas, sporting areas, motels, discos and mass event centers.”

However, residents must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing at these locations, while all economic sectors must follow strict Health Ministry protocols designed to prevent Covid-19 infections.

Starting August 31, restaurants will reopen. Then, during the first week of September, gymnasiums will open (if the Health Ministry confirms this measure).

The Plaza Mayor convention center will reopen the second week of September, along with all churches, synagogues and temples, as well as Parque Arvi, Cerro Nutibara and El Volador parks.

For the third week of September cinemas, theaters and casinos will reopen, while coliseums will open the first week of October and the Aeroparque Juan Pablo II sports center opens the third week of October.

Bars and discoteques will open the third week of November and the La Macarena concert/event center will reopen in December.

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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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