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All sides vow to work together on stalled Hernando dredge project

BROOKSVILLE — For more than 21/2 hours Tuesday, accusations flew between the county's consultant and the contractor hired to dredge the Hernando Beach Channel.

Finally, county commissioners hammered out a deal. The legal and fiscal bickering over who was supposed to design a fix to the environmental problems that have stalled the project will continue. But all sides will work on a solution they can propose to state environmental regulators by the April 30 deadline.

The principals in Orion Dredging Services LLC and Halcrow Inc., the consultant, will work with the county to design settling ponds and to decide how to use a coagulant to clear the water and meet state requirements.

Work stopped on the long-awaited project in January after it was found that water returned to the canal system was too heavy with solids. A de-watering device known as a Del Tank suggested by Halcrow's design had not filtered enough of the sediment to meet state standards.

Tuesday was supposed to be Halcrow's chance to answer Orion's accusations that Halcrow was supposed to design the de-watering system. But Halcrow senior vice president Todd Stockberger argued instead that Orion had cut corners.

Instead of closely looking at the project before they bid, the contractor bid nearly $3 million below the next bidder. Now, the company was claiming design flaws to extract change orders and more money from the county.

Orion's claims and arguments against Halcrow were "misleading disingenuous statements," and Stockberger questioned why the company would struggle so. "These guys are experienced dredgers. They work all over the state of Florida,'' he said.

Peter Buchler, general council for Orion, called Halcrow's presentation "smoke and mirrors. It's garbage.''

After listening to both sides argue over interpretations of contract language and definitions of equipment and processes, Commission Chairman John Druzbick finally just shut down the debate.

"We can go back and forth on it all afternoon,'' he said. Instead, he suggested, why couldn't all parties just work through the fix. "I don't care what it takes to get it done,'' he said.

Commissioner Dave Russell questioned the officials on points on the project time line to see where communications broke down.

Interim Public Works Director Susan Goebel listed tasks that must get done to submit a permit modification request to the DEP and what tasks Halcrow, Orion and the county had previously agreed to take on.

She also listed additional chores that the parties would have to take on and tackle even though no one had signed up to do them yet.

County Administrator David Hamilton then suggested that all parties meet, agree to what they needed to do and strive to get permit modification information to DEP by April 23.

At the same time, the parties can be discussing their conflicts and preparing any change orders requesting more payment from the county for future consideration, Hamilton said.

When Orion officials said the company would "robustly" pursue legal action if forced into it, Hamilton replied the county would respond just as robustly.

Hamilton also bristled at Orion officials when they said they would not be responsible for the design of the fix. He countered that their comments were out of place. "You work for us,'' Hamilton reminded them.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

All sides vow to work together on stalled Hernando dredge project 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:54pm]
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