BROOKSVILLE — Seventeen years in the making — and contorted by every form of financial, environmental, legal and procedural hurdle imaginable — the snake-bit Hernando Beach Channel dredge on Tuesday ground to what the contractor says was a successful conclusion.
The work had to be done by the end of January or contractor BCPeabody would have faced $5,000 a day in fines for missing its deadline.
"We're done,'' Robert Carpenter, chief executive officer for the company, said Tuesday afternoon, hours after the last excavator stopped digging in the channel. "I am elated.''
While Carpenter said his company had fulfilled the contract requirements, digging the channel 6 feet deep and 60 feet wide for 3 miles, the official stamp of approval and waiver of any penalties will not come until later this week.
That's when an independent surveyor will use sonar to make sure no high spots were left behind.
Since Dec. 31, when "substantial completion" was declared, the dredging company has been going back over areas where there might have been places that were not yet 6 feet deep. Carpenter called the recent work more "surgical,'' in that only about 300 cubic yards of spoil material were pulled from the channel during the past week, compared to the total of 80,000 cubic yards that were removed over the course of the operation.
"That's a lot of fill,'' he said, noting that the county can now use the material as fill in some types of projects.
The fill is stored in settling ponds that were built at the beginning of the project on the site of the county's old wastewater treatment plant along Shoal Line Boulevard.
Activity in the channel and surrounding canals Tuesday included bringing in barges, cleaning them off, preparing some equipment for transport and other pieces beginning to head into the Gulf of Mexico toward home ports.
"We're delighted to finish a very difficult job, no doubt about it. In the end, we did what we said we were going to do,'' said Carpenter, whose company had never done a dredge before this one. "This was about as hard as it can get.''
Carpenter said his work crews had been dredging around the clock since the end of July, including on Thanksgiving and Christmas, to get the work done by the deadline.
"At a certain point, it becomes a matter of personal pride,'' he said.
Along the way, BCPeabody had to change dredging methods, alter the state permit, deal with equipment failures, face a fine for a permit violation and find a way to catch up after falling well behind schedule.
For a first effort, Carpenter said, "I don't think there is anything more that the dredging world can throw at us that we didn't face on this project.''
Carpenter and top company officials are all ex-military personnel, and they called the dredge their "mission'' throughout the challenges. He said their collective experiences helped them push through the challenges.
"In the military, you don't choose your assignments, and whatever your assignment you almost certainly never did it before,'' Carpenter said. "You just have to persevere and get it done because people are depending on you.''
Some cleanup in the spoils unloading area and restoration of nearby lots is still planned for the next few days, Carpenter said.
He also said that the ongoing disputes over damages caused by dredging equipment at several waterfront properties have been sent to his insurance company. He said he believes some of the homeowners are asking for more than what was actually damaged.
County officials have said that they will not release the remaining dollars on BCPeabody's $8.7 million contract until they are comfortable that all of the outstanding issues are settled.
On Tuesday, calls to Susan Goebel, the county's environmental services director, who has been in charge of the dredge, were not returned. Instead, she sent out a message through the county's community relations office.
"Staff will be assessing the project status tomorrow (Wednesday). Although the deadline for completion is today (Tuesday), there is certain data (surveys) that will need to be reviewed to determine if the dredge work is complete,'' Goebel wrote. "A media release will be issued before the end of the week.''
For Carpenter and his crew, when the last barge is heading home and the last excavator has been packed up, a much-belated holiday party is planned.
"It's going to be a very good party,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.