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Wet weather makes the schedule slip

Belize's jungle is an archaeological and geological treasure trove. At the forefront of a mission to unlock this treasure is the Royal Engineers. It is building the La Sierra jungle research station, deep in the southern Maya Mountains.

The £277,000 Belize government project has been made possible by the free services of the RE and sponsorship from Cleveland State University in the USA.

Construction has been phased over five stages - this year is stage four - to fit in with the RE's schedule and, vitally, Belize's climate. Crucially, work also involves upgrading an 8km logging track leading to the site from the town of Medina Bank.

The logging track is only passable in the dry season. In deference to this, the RE arrived at the expected start of the dry season in late January.

The season they walked into, however, was anything but.

A late end to the wet season meant that an advance party sent to bring the track up to Western standards found itself fighting a losing battle, with its graders and heavy plant doing more damage than good.

The battle was finally lost shortly after the arrival of the full 30 man project team. Six days of torrential rain turned the track into an impassable quagmire, leaving the 30 men and their equipment stranded along the length of the route.

The team endured a hellish two weeks, including a daily 4km six-hour round trip for supplies and water, before the decision was made to pull out.

Four further weeks passed before the track dried out enough to allow work on the road to start and the team to get back on site. In all 42 days out of the 90 day window were lost, making a review of the programme inevitable.

The team decided that it might be possible to achieve 75% of the initial scope of the works if it shifted key tradesmen and drafted more personnel onto the site.

The team is now fighting hard to achieve this, and may yet better it. Out of the original scope of works, which included installing water supply and power generation systems, commissioning the toilet block, and fitting-out the laboratory block, only the power generation is likely to remain unfinished.

'Priority 1 tasks are now set to be 90% completed, ' explains Urch, 'giving the client a habitable and functional - albeit not complete - research station.'

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