Costa Rica-based Constructora Meco, S.A. submitted a $36.7-million bid, the lowest of six offerings submitted for the third of four dry excavation contracts as part of the Panama Canal Third-Lane Expansion Project. Barring a successful protest or reversal based on technicalities, the firm is the apparent winner.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) will now review the submissions to determine the lowest-priced bid that meets all of the requirements stated in the request for proposals. The winning bid is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

Constructora Meco’s bid is 4% below a $38.2-million bid by Constructora Urbana, S.A. or CUSA of Panama. CUSA  previously won a bid to remove 7.3 million cubic meters of material in July of last year – the first of the dry excavation contracts.

The effort is a key portion of the canal’s $5.2-billion third-lane expansion project, which is expected to be completed in 2014. Dry excavation will create 6.7 km link between the existing navigational channel at the entrance to the Gaillard Cut and the new set of locks yet to be constructed.

The entire Pacific Locks Access Channel will require the removal of 46.8 million cubic meters of material at an estimated cost of $400 million.

The current contract includes the excavation, removal and disposal of 8 million cubic meters of material roughly adjacent to Miraflores Lake on the Pacific side of the canal. The job also specifies removal of a bridge and clearing 190 hectares of unexploded ordinance on the former site of a U.S. Army training facility.

The other bids include: $45.2 million by Corporación M&S Int., $46 million by Constructora Santa Fe, Ltd., $61.3 million by Conalvias-Retraneq and $74.6 million by Cilsa Minera María.

Initially, the dry excavation for the Pacific Locks Access Channel was divided into five contracts, but the ACP chose to integrate the third and fourth contracts into a single one to compress the schedule.

The canal authority expects to release the request for proposals for the fourth dry excavation during the second quarter of 2009, officials said.