BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County officials may have to spend more to protect a much larger amount as the clock ticks down on plans to dredge the Hernando Beach Channel.
County Administrator David Hamilton will explain to the County Commission today why he believes the county needs to spend up to $25,000 to hire Richard Brightman of the legal firm of Hopping, Green & Sams to lead the county through the final stages of making the dredge happen.
County Public Works officials have said that they must be ready to put the project out for bid by March 24 or they risk losing the $6-million in state funds allocated for the $9-million project.
But legal challenges both real and threatened have put that money at risk.
The owner of the property where the dredged sand was to have been placed has told the county that, if a different site is picked, he will have incurred $300,000 in damages and has asked for "some consideration'' in recovering those costs.
As the project deadline looms, Hamilton is worried that lawmakers in Tallahassee this week looking for ways to solve the state's budget deficit might cut the dredging money. If that is lost "it would be unlikely that the county could handle the project alone,'' Hamilton wrote in a memo to commissioners.
For years, the county worked to complete a dredge of the dangerous Hernando Beach Channel. The project on the drawing board would widen the channel to 60 feet, deepen it to 6 feet at mean low water, lengthen and extend the channel to Watts Tower and straighten the blind curve at the head of the channel.
The sticking point has not been the work, but where to dump the sand and silt dredged up.
County officials had been focused on placing the dredged material on the Eagle Nest Drive property of the prominent Manuel family. But when the state Department of Environmental Protection issued its pre-permit, neighbors objected. Hearings on their arguments are set for later this month before an administrative law judge.
Realizing that the legal process could tie up the county for months, county officials began work last year to permit a different site, the county's former wastewater treatment plant site on Shoal Line Boulevard.
The Manuel family's attorney, Jake Varn, has stated that he also represents others in the area of the county site who might want to challenge it if the state plans to grant a permit to dump the dredge spoil there. That could also cause a long enough delay that the state dollars would dry up.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.