The $40 billion to $50 billion project will begin Dec. 23, with a planned completion date within five years.
In the style of the now 100-year-old Panama Canal, the idea is to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by constructing a canal 173 miles long, between 754 and 1,706 feet wide, 90 feet deep and using fresh-water Lake Nicaragua as its middle section, making it deeper, broader and more amenable to the world's wide and long cargo and oil ships than the Panama Canal. It will split the country in two, with only one bridge uniting northern and southern Nicaragua.
Proponents argue it is necessary for the country's economy, ranked by a U.S. government report as the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere, behind that of Haiti. Francisco Telemaco Talavera of Nicaragua's prestigious National Agrarian University, predicts the project will create 50,000 construction jobs and 200,000 permanent jobs after the canal is functional. He is also head of the Gran Canal Commission, and has noted the project is difficult but feasible.
Although the first ceremonial shovels will be in the ground within two weeks, no environmental studies have been made public since Chinese entrepreneur and billionaire Wang Jing, 41, whose Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Investment Company won a no-bid, 50-year renewable contract to secure the rights for the effort.
Ideas about building a canal through Nicaragua have existed since the area was called the Kingdom of New Spain. Napoleon III of France wrote an essay on it in the early 19th century, and the United States considered the project from 1826 until the early 20th century, when it decided the local volcanoes made a canal through Panama more practicable.
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