CUZCO, Peru – Construction of the new international airport at Cuzco, the chief gateway to the Inca fortress of Machu Picchu, began on Friday amid controversy over the government’s decision to pay most of the costs, and with criticism for the location of the runway on a plateau at an altitude of 3,728 meters (12,223 feet).
Laying the first stone took place at a crowded ceremony on the site of the future airport, on land belonging to the municipality of Chinchero, located some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the city of Cuzco, capital of the like-named region in the Peruvian Andes.
Present at the event were Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Vice President and Transport and Communications Minister Martin Vizcarra, along with the regional governor of Cuzco, Edwin Lincona, a group of mayors and other authorities from the region.
The ceremony took place four days later than planned, since the government had announced it for Tuesday, Jan. 31, but postponed it the day before due to criticism received about the addendum to the concession contract that had been recently negotiated.
In that document, the administration agreed to pay the cost of the first phase of the work so it could be started immediately, since the concessionary consortium Kuntur Wasi, made up of Argentina’s Corporacion America and Peru’s Andino Investment Holding, had come up empty-handed in its search for financing.
The suspension of the signing of the addendum and the postponement of laying the first stone irritated the Cuzco authorities, and on Wednesday, February 1, thousands of people demonstrated to demand the beginning of the works, which led the government to announce the start of construction for this Friday.
At the ceremony, Kuczynski called “crazies” those who said that the airport’s location was not ideal for air traffic, and told those criticizing the addendum to keep quiet.
“To all those fault-finders we say: shut your mouths and let us work. We’re going against the tide, against the winds and against influence. And we persist,” Kuczynski said.
Critics of the project included the Peruvian Pilots Association, which warned that construction will be on a damp plateau in the high Andes, where fog, rain and strong winds prevail during certain times of the year.
The country in general has had a certain lack of trust in public bidding following the scandal surrounding the bribes paid by the Brazil’s Odebrecht company between 2004-2005.
Vizcarra said his ministry will keep watch to guarantee the airport is finished in five years and that there are no cost overruns.
The project was awarded in 2014 by the government of President Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) to Kuntur Wasi as a mixed public-private enterprise, with a 40-year concession.
With the addendum, the airport will cost $520 million, of which $410 million will be covered by the Peruvian government and $110 million by the concessionaire.