Born in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, engineer José Bonifácio Pinto Júnior has set up camp in various parts of the country and now leads the army of more than 10,000 workers building the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant in Porto Velho, Rondônia
written by: Luiz Carlos Ramos
photo by: Roberto Rosa
Odebrecht Informa – What’s it like to be a dam builder?
José Bonifácio Pinto Júnior – It’s a nomadic life, but very gratifying, because I can see the results of the work of a terrific team from the beginning to end of every hydro we build. I’d taken part in numerous projects in several states before I went back to Rondônia to build the Santo Antônio plant, which is the biggest I’ve ever worked on. In the 1980s, I helped build the Samuel hydroelectric plant on the Jamari River, a tributary of the Madeira, near Porto Velho. My wife, Luce, is from Guajará-Mirim, Rondônia. I have two daughters, Alessandra and Rebeca. The eldest, Alessandra, has a degree in business administration and was born in Porto Velho. Rebeca was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, when I was working on the Chagón Cerecita irrigation project.
OI – What’s your relationship with Porto Velho like today?
Bonifácio – It involves constant presence and attention. I spend all my time shuttling between three cities: I keep an eye on the works in Santo Antônio, I have an office in Rio de Janeiro, and spend the weekends with my family in Belo Horizonte. And, no, I haven’t forgotten my hometown, Recife: I’m a fan of the Náutico soccer club, which was unfortunately demoted to Series B of the Brazilian Leagues, but we’re sure that it’s just a temporary setback.
OI – When did you begin dedicating your attention to the Santo Antônio project?
Bonifácio – It all started back in 2001, long before we broke ground. Back then, Brazil was facing an energy crisis, but a lot of people didn’t think it was worthwhile to harness the potential of rivers in the Amazon to produce energy. The initial studies indicated that four plants should be built, and two were approved. The environmental license was issued in July 2007, and on December 10, Consórcio Madeira Energia, the consortium led by Odebrecht and Furnas, tendered the lowest average rate for energy generated and won the auction for the Santo Antônio Plant concession. The Santo Antônio Energia company was formed to operate the plant for 30 years. The Santo Antônio joint-venture contractor led by Odebrecht, and also including the Consórcio Santo Antônio Civil (Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez), is building it, along with Gicom – Grupo Industrial do Complexo do Rio Madeira (Alstom, Bardella, Voith Siemens, Andritz and Areva), which supplies the equipment, and Odebrecht Engineering & Construction, which is responsible for the electromechanical installation. We broke ground in September 2008, and the work has been going incredibly fast.
OI – Is it going as quickly as originally expected?
Bonifácio – Absolutely. As planned, the 44 bulb turbines should be ready by 2015. But by December 2011, it will already be possible to use the first turbine to generate energy, according to our advance delivery schedule.
OI – How is the project going?
Bonifácio – We are working on both banks of the river, prioritizing the powerhouse on the right bank, where the first turbines will go online by December 2011, while building the spillway on the left bank, which will ensure that the river is diverted by May 2011. The entire infrastructure of the project has already been built, including the industrial kitchen, which serves 21,000 meals a day, and the Worker Service Center (CAT), which includes 15 hospital beds.
OI – How did you overcome the initial resistance to the project?
Bonifácio – Through dialog and a long process of awareness raising among all the different actors involved in the project. Since 2001, we at Odebrecht have engaged in dialog with officials, the general public and the riverside communities. We’ve demonstrated at public hearings and meetings that the environment will not suffer a major impact. Because we will be using bulb turbines, the dam will be lower, and therefore the area to be flooded will only cover 217 sq.km, of which 164 sq.km include the riverbed. We offer compensation to families that live in areas affected by the works and make sure to preserve the local wildlife, plant life and history.
"Since 2001, we have engaged in dialog with officials, the general public and the riverside communities"
[ José Bonifácio ]
OI – Odebrecht launched the Acreditar Program in Porto Velho in January 2008 to offer job skills to local workers. How is that program going?
Bonifácio – It’s been an exciting success. Of the 10,000 workers currently employed by this project, 83% are from Acreditar. They now have a new profession. And over 10% are women. The program was praised by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and is now being replicated at Odebrecht construction sites throughout Brazil.
OI – And the program even had a “kid,” Acreditar Júnior.
Bonifácio – Acreditar Júnior is designed for adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17, the children of Consórcio Santo Antônio Civil members. More than 400 teenage boys have received uniforms, backpacks and educational materials and are starting to take classes and undergo training, provided that they are at least in the sixth year of primary school and don’t drop out. They receive half a minimum salary per month and take part in an exercise in citizenship.
OI – What is the main lesson you’ve learned from this project and the others you’ve helped build in the last 33 years?
Bonifácio – I’ve learned the lesson of respecting human beings, which Mr. Norberto Odebrecht has taught to every generation in the Group. It is the lesson of trusting people and their desire to serve others and develop. I have fond memories of the time when I joined the company in 1977, through its subsidiary in Recife I started out as a trainee when I was in the fourth year of Civil Engineering School at the Federal University at Pernambuco (UFPE). I learned a lot from my leaders, particularly the late supervisor Claudionor.