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By Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (January 6, 2002 – Pacific Daily News)---Palauan officials will open the new Koror-Babeldaob Bridge with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, more than five years after the old bridge collapsed.

"It will be a very big ceremony and a very important day for the Republic of Palau," said the president's chief of staff Billy Kuartei.

The new bridge will ease travel, but also hasten an infrastructure expansion project, Kuartei said, that includes finishing a $100 million road development plan and a new airport terminal on the island of Babeldaob.

The old K-B Bridge was said to be the most important structure in the Republic of Palau. The bridge connected the island of Koror, the nation's center of government and tourism, with Babeldaob, the nation's largest island and the home of the majority of Palau's natural resources.

But on Sept. 26, 1996, the 257-yard bridge collapsed, killing two people as it plummeted into the channel below.

During the latter part of 1996 and into 1997, the government set up boat and ferry services to move goods and people between the islands. Then in August of 1997, a $3.5 million floating bridge was opened to connect the islands until a new bridge was built.

About two-and-a-half years ago, Kajina Corporation began the construction of the new bridge after Palau spent $1.5 million demolishing the remains of the old bridge. The funding for the new bridge -- all $25 million -- is coming from the Japanese government, a strong supporter of Palau.

"The Japanese government has been very gracious and very generous," Kuartei said, adding that Japanese officials are expected to attend the ribbon cutting.

Regional leaders also were invited to the ceremony. Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez's spokesman John Ryan said Gutierrez was invited and hopes to attend.

Kozo Bando, deputy project manager for Kajina, said the company worked hard to build a bridge that is both sturdy and aesthetically worthy, and is excited about the opening.

"This was a good project and it is a beautiful bridge," said Bando. "We are kind of proud of our job."

And the residents can't wait to drive over it.

In July, Palauans stood for hours in eager anticipation on the floating bridge just to watch workers install a 500-ton steel center section and complete the bridge's framework. That was long before the project was near completion.

"This is a very big event," Kuartei said. "We are very excited."

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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