Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Controversial Nicaragua canal project delayed

China's HKND Co. said it is delaying the start of construction until late 2016, saying the design needed fine-tuning

A Chinese company said Wednesday it is delaying the start of construction on a controversial $50 billion inter-ocean canal across Nicaragua until late 2016.

China's Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) Co. obtained approval for environmental studies of the canal earlier this month. But on Wednesday, a company statement said, "The construction of locks and the big excavations will start toward the end of 2016."

The company gave no reason for the delay, but said, "The canal's design is currently being fine-tuned."

Nicaraguan authorities have already approved the proposed 172-mile route for the canal a mega-project — widely reported as the world’s largest civil engineering enterprise — that has outraged indigenous communities and citizens around the country. The plan has drawn protests from farmers who fear their land will be seized for the project.

Crews broke ground on access roads for the project last December, but have yet to start digging the waterway itself.

At one point, the canal was scheduled for completion in December 2019. It will cut across the middle of the country and bisect Lake Nicaragua, known locally as Lake Colcibolca — the second-largest lake in Latin America and the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region. The canal will also cut through the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve.

Environmentalists fear the project has not been adequately studied and worry about the possible effects on Lake Nicaragua and fresh water supplies.

The project, which critics claim marks a new era of colonialism in Nicaragua, has so far raised eyebrows as much for its secrecy as for its ambitions. Very little is known about Wang Jing, the Chinese telecom magnate who has been granted a 50-year concession to build and operate the canal, with the option to extend the concession for 50 years.

Some experts doubt the canal will ultimately be built due to financial, environmental and social concerns.

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press

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