Under the current testing scheme agreed to between the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) and the Government, only one of two key quality tests are specified in the contract between the two parties.
Under the contract, the CCECC has been tasked with replacing Rarotonga’s ring mains – the costliest component of the $60 million Te Mato Vai project.
Based on the agreed arrangement, completed work is expected to undergo a pressure test, which checks the system for leaks.
A second test - called a “peel de-cohesion test” - verifies the quality of welding between joints, but is not part of the contract.
Both tests were contractually required to be undertaken by local company Landholdings Ltd, which completed Project City – an upgrade of the water reticulation system in Avarua, late last year.
John Batty, a former Te Mato Vai worker who completed a four-month contract as a supervising engineer, described both tests as “standard international practice” and necessary to “ensure the integrity” of the piping being used in the project.
Latu Kupa of KEW Consult Limited –the company selected by government to manage the entire project – said out of ten kilometres of pipe laid so far by the CCECC, just under four kilometres have been pressure tested.
One of the sections has failed, and Kupa has confirmed the CCECC is looking for a leak and will have it repaired before re-testing the section.
Further testing of the remaining six and a half kilometres has been delayed due to a pump failure, he said.
“I have been advised by CCECC and our team that three new pumps are on order and testing will continue when they arrive targeting next week,” Kupa wrote in an email earlier this week.
Regarding the “peel test”, he confirmed it was not included in the original contract signed between the CCECC and the government in 2012, and was only introduced when the Te Mato Vai master plan was completed in April this year.
Kupa said the contractor has been conducting the tests independently in a laboratory brought to Rarotonga as part of the CCECC’s “quality assurance kit”, adding there are no facilities in the Cook Islands able to carry out the test.
“We are not in a position to enforce this testing which is not in their contract, but CCECC is cooperating with us at this stage,” said Kupa. “... we are encouraging CCECC to carry out these tests in a random voluntary process in conjunction with ourselves.”
It was these tests that created tension between CCECC officials and Batty – who wanted greater access to testing procedures and results, but was hampered in his efforts and forced to asses results through photos and graphs.
He has since issued concerns about the project not meeting international construction standards, possibly shortening the ring mains’ estimated useful life upon completion.
Since Batty’s departure from Te Mato Vai, a replacement has been hired by KEW as a “Quality Assurance Specialist”.
Kupa said the new hire has been able “to gain access to the testing process”, and is also “suggesting ways in which CCECC can improve its testing procedures”.
Regarding the arrangement, he said it is “working well” and KEW and the CCECC are working together on carrying out further testing under both methods.
Referring to Landholding’s work on Project City – company director Bill Doherty said in order to comply with New Zealand and Australian standards, both tests need to be undertaken.
While pressure testing under current practices for ring mains replacement must reach 9bar, Doherty said Project City was tested up to 12bar.
With a requirement less than 12bar, he questioned whether inferior material is being used, preventing the new ring mains from withstanding the pressures handled by Project City.
One undisclosed test undertaken on the ring mains has failed and the CCECC is disputing the result. Despite the challenges, KEW’s Kupa says they are working together with the CCECC on both testing methods.
“...we are happy with the materials that have arrived in the country and are being used for the work – as John Batty was while he was here – we are happy that the work is proceeding well,” he said.
Funding for the $60 million Te Mato Vai project comes from a $23 million loan with a favourable interest rate from China, along with financial support from the governments of New Zealand and the Cook Islands.