The recent collapse of a section of the Compact Road on Babeldaob in Palau is an embarrassment to the United States.
The young republic funded the 53-mile road with $150 million of funds provided by the U.S. under the Compact of Free Association. The Compact money is provided to Palau as part of the post-World War II obligation that the United States took on to assist Palau in its entry into the modern post-colonial world. The money was to be used to build up and modernize the country’s infrastructure so that eventually it might become economically self-sufficient.
Of course there have been problems but for the most part the Palauans have done their part. Babeldaob the second largest land mass in Micronesia after Guam represents 80% of the land mass of Palau and except for its southernmost region was accessible only by boat until the road was completed and turned over to the Palauan government in 2007. It was reasonably surmised that the road and access by vehicular traffic along with the nation’s new capitol would serve as a catalyst for development throughout Babeldaob.
Development on Babeldaob has been slow but the road has only been completed for a couple of years.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for the design of the road and contract management of the project. It was the organization that turned it over to the government of Palau as a completed project.
It was hardly news to anyone involved in the project that Palau gets 150 inches of rain every year. The rain and the effect it would have on the road was a concern throughout the process and there was much discussion about the best way to stabilize the road. Apparently they didn’t find it.
This is one more stain on the Corps of Engineers’ reputation which has suffered in recent years particularly in New Orleans. And it is the people of Palau who are losing out.
Financial resources in Micronesia are scarce and too much of Uncle Sam’s largesse in the region has been squandered. It seems particularly unfair that as the government of Palau made a bold decision and for the most part played by the rules it was let down by what at best can be surmised to be incompetence.
The people of Palau have been friends to the United States and they deserve better than what they got.