BROOKSVILLE — The boss of the company hired Tuesday to finish the beleaguered Hernando Beach Channel dredging project on time offered strong words to assure county commissioners they were making the right decision.
"If this doesn't happen, you'll see me floating in that channel," Bob Carpenter, chief executive of Tampa firm BCPeabody, told the board during a special meeting. "That's how committed we are to this project."
After one last round of on-the-fly negotiations, the commission voted 4-1 to pay the company $8.456 million to lengthen, deepen and widen the 3-mile channel — a project that has been beset by technical, legal and environmental problems over the last 16 years.
The dredging must be complete by Dec. 31, according to the contract approved Tuesday. After that, BCPeabody would pay $5,000 per day in liquidated damages. The deadline is important because $6 million in state funding could be lost if the project isn't done by Jan. 1, 2012.
Carpenter said his firm can get the job done by Dec. 15, working six days a week and pulling out an average of 400 cubic yards of rock and slurry each day.
The board also unanimously agreed to hire Greg Jarque of Gritz Construction & Development in Brooksville to serve as a project manager. That contract is for $152,500.
"We believe it is important and needed to complete this job," County Administrator David Hamilton told commissioners of the hire.
The BCPeabody contract amount is about $5 million more than the county has set aside in the budget for the project. At Hamilton's recommendation, the board unanimously agreed to take those dollars from the $12.5 million in capital improvement funds earmarked for a judicial center.
"Our position is that it's money that's available and that the dredge — of all capital projects — requires the most immediate attention," Hamilton said.
The county could repay the fund from whatever proceeds it receives from legal actions filed against the county's former dredging firm and its bonding company, Hamilton said. The performance bond could be worth about $5 million.
There were other options to help pay the dredge bill.
The county could have tapped its Transportation Trust Fund, but that would drain the reserve account, leaving no money for other capital projects, budget manager George Zoettlein said in a memo.
A five-year loan would likely add a little more than $1 million in interest payments. A 20-year bond issue would tack on about $4.4 million in interest.
Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. urged the board Tuesday not to raid the judicial center fund. He said the commission, which voted last week to examine all possibilities for expanding judicial space and shuffling county offices, should wait for the results of a review of those options and associated costs.
"I'm also here to remind you that the judiciary is a core function of government," Merritt said. "Even in bad economic times, the core functions of government need to be preserved. The dredge is not a core function of government, nor are many of the other programs currently in effect."
Commissioner Dave Russell noted that the county will bring in an estimated $600,000 a year after increasing court costs, and that revenue could be used to secure a bond of as much as $8 million for judicial projects.
Last week, the commission ranked BCPeabody as the top of four bidders for the dredge project. Tuesday, Commissioner Wayne Dukes was alone in voting against the contract.
Dukes had asked Carpenter earlier in the meeting how many dredging projects the company had completed. None, Carpenter replied, but he said he has career experience overseeing large dredging projects.
Dukes also noted a problem that BCPeabody's subcontractor, Piedroba Marine Construction (PMC) of Coral Gables, had on a recent dredging project in Southern Shores, N.C. The company failed to meet water quality requirements, an issue first reported by the St. Petersburg Times in October.
"There's nobody here who wants the dredge more than I do," Dukes said. "But between what-ifs and the unknowns and the past performance, I will vote no."
Carpenter defended PMC, saying the fault for problems in Southern Shores rested with the main contractor for the project.
"Piedroba did what they were supposed to do," he said.
After the meeting, Dukes said he favored the second-ranked firm, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, which had bid $10.5 million. Company officials told commissioners that they would drop the price if the county would agree to haul dirt or could help getting electrical service to the job site.
"I share Commissioner Dukes' concern and I hope for all of our sakes that they don't prove to be issues down the road," Commissioner Jeff Stabins said before the vote. "There are questions, but this project has had questions since day one."
Crews will pump the slurry to the site of the former Hernando Beach wastewater treatment plant. The larger solids will be mechanically removed. The water will then be pumped into a former sprayfield that already has raised berms, creating a lagoon where the finer materials will settle with the help of a chemical coagulant. The cleansed water will be pumped back into a nearby canal and the sludge will be left to dry.
If the material is dry enough and not too contaminated with coagulants, it can be used to fulfill the terms of a settlement agreement the county reached with the Manuel family of Brooksville. The family owns the county's original dewatering site.
The material might also be used to cover the trash in the landfill, but it also has to pass tests for dryness and contamination. Otherwise, it will have to be disposed of in the landfill and the county will have to pay tipping fees to its solid waste enterprise fund. That could add as much as $2 million to the project, officials estimated.
"I have every expectation this stuff is going to pass both tests, and I have high hopes we're going to be able to use it as a daily cover material," environmental services director Joe Stapf said after the meeting.
The commission tabled a discussion on a $1.047 million change order request from its engineer for the project, Halcrow, for work done in recent months to obtain new permits and for ongoing sea grass care and monitoring. Halcrow already has collected $2.1 million.
The dredge project had originally been budgeted for $9 million. The county to date has spent about $4.5 million.
Dredging began in late 2009 but was stopped in January 2010 because Orion Dredging Services was returning filtered water to the canal that carried too much sediment.
The county eventually found Orion in breach of its contract and sought to call Orion's bond. Orion sued in return, and those legal actions are still active.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.