Completion of the Afsluitdijk renovation is not yet in sight

‘Here the dike was closed’, it says with graceful capitals on a memorial stone halfway with Afsluitdijk. ’28. May 1932 ‘is written below. It was here that the last hole in Afsluitdijk was closed – exactly ninety years ago last Saturday.

The 90th birthday had been a good moment to complete the renovation of Afsluitdijk. Since 2018, an occasional combination of the construction group BAM, the dredging company Van Oord and the consulting firm Rebel has built the dike on behalf of the Rijkswaterstaat.

But the builders and the empire did not reach the anniversary. The reinforcement and renewal of the 32-kilometer-long dike between Noord-Holland and Friesland, which started in 2018, can now be completed by the end of 2025. Or maybe even later.

When Afsluitdijk is ready depends on the new supply of the so-called locks. The two lock complexes on both sides of the dike, at Den Oever and Kornwerderzand, form a million-dollar headache file. For the Rijkswaterstaat and for the construction consortium.

The discharge locks are an important part of the dike. Among other things, they will drain the water from the IJsselmeer to the Wadden Sea. The original design of the renovation did not take into account a number of extreme weather conditions. When the Rijkswaterstaat wanted this included in the renovation, it turned out that there was so much extra work that the builders demanded compensation.

Also read this article: The renovation of Afsluitdijk is severely delayed due to problems with discharge locks

Hikers and cyclists

On Friday night, Minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management, VVD) announced that the Rijkswaterstaat had provided 238 million euros with the building combination. It has also been agreed to remove the work on the discharge locks from the contract with the three companies. This work is now being re-tendered and will be completed later than planned.

Well, says Harbers, more emphasis will be placed on walking and cycling along the dike. To the frustration of many cycling clubs, Afsluitdijk was closed to bicycle traffic during the renovation.

The delay at the outlet locks is due to the need for further design work to ensure that the renovated locks could also withstand the combination of relatively low water and high waves from the IJsselmeer. For this purpose, the ‘hydraulic conditions’ for the project had to be adjusted. The designers needed more water levels, more wave heights and more technical data to calculate their work.

The work with the discharge locks is offered again and will be completed later

The renewed Afsluitdijk must be able to withstand an extreme storm that would occur once every ten thousand years. For example, the dike must help to better protect the Netherlands against the consequences of climate change and sea level rise.

The Rijkswaterstaat knew from the start of the project that the ‘design principles’ were incomplete, Harbers writes in the letter to parliament. According to the minister, the reinforcement and renewal of Afsluitdijk will now cost more than 2 billion euros. How much more depends on the new supply of discharge locks. The counter has so far stood at more than 1.7 billion euros.

The settlement applies only to part of the disputes between the Rijkswaterstaat and the construction consortium. In 2023, a committee will look at the ongoing disagreements between the two parties. It has been agreed that a maximum of DKK 87 million will be granted.

Harbers also writes that the Rijkswaterstaat and its ministry have learned from the mistakes of the Afsluitdijk project. The working method used by the Rijkswaterstaat in tenders has therefore been adjusted.

The large scale renovation of the dike between North Holland and Friesland takes several years.
Photo Robin van Lonkhuijsen / ANP

Significant costs, often quarreled

Until a few years ago, large construction projects were put out to tender under so-called DBFM contracts (Design, build, finance, maintain† With this contract form, the construction consortia are responsible for all aspects of major infrastructure projects. From design to construction, maintenance and financing: everything was taken care of in one integrated order.

Because the whole process is carried out by one consortium, the costs can be kept down – that was the idea. Practice showed the opposite. Construction companies whose margins have been under pressure for a long time ran too great a risk if something went wrong in the construction process. A change in design, delays due to unauthorized permits or new demands from the developer (often the government) meant a significant cost item – and often also disputes between construction companies and the Rijkswaterstaat.

After long-running conflicts over cost overruns at Zuidasdok, the IJmuiden sea lock and Afsluitdijk, Minister Harbers no longer wants to work on DBFM contracts. Instead, ‘staged’ tenders are now being tried, which means that the preparation and execution of the workers are divided and tendered separately. In his letter to the Cabinet, Harbers wrote on Friday that the supply of the new discharge locks will also be offered in stages.

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