THE opening of the Nenagh-Castletown stretch of the M7 motorway is facing a further delay due to a dispute over payments to contractors. Relations between all parties involved in the multi-million euro
project have deteriorated to the extent that Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey has been asked to intervene in a bid to break the impasse. The Castletown-Nenagh stretch of the M7 links Borris-in-Ossory with the end of the Nenagh by-pass at Toomevara and, when opened, will be the final stretch of a road which began with the opening of the Naas by-pass in 1983.
The row centres around a claim for additional payments from contractor Bowen Somague Joint Venture. An award, believed to be in the region of E20 million, was made to the contractor following conciliation hearings, but this had been contested by Laois County Council, the lead county council on the project. The council want the claim to go to full arbitration, but in advance of any arbitration hearing the council would be required to hand over the full conciliation award to the contractor.
Laois County Council has said it is prepared to pay, but director of services for roads Gerry Gibson said the process provided for a bond from the contractor to ensure the money was not dissipated, should the council ultimately win. "The bond is a requirement and we have a duty to protect the public purse," Mr Gibson said. He added that the process of taking responsibility for the road also involved health and safety audits, among other formalities. These had not been completed and he said the speed with which these requirements were met was a matter for the contractor.
A statement on behalf of Bowen Somague said: "As far as the contractor is concerned, it will be physically possible to open the road by the end of the year. However, only Laois County Council can determine the actual opening date."
Meanwhile, up to 25 subcontractors say they are awaiting payment for work on the €337 million 36km motorway.