BROOKSVILLE — Eager to see some action on the stalled Hernando Beach channel dredging project, county commissioners on Tuesday agreed unanimously to look at a new site to dump the dredged sand.
The old site has caused so many delays that county officials are worried Hernando could lose the $6-million in state funds allocated for the $9-million project.
"If that $6-million disappears, so does the dredge project,'' said Commissioner Rose Rocco,
The site now being considered is 5 acres on a 50-acre county tract on the east side of Shoal Line Boulevard that used to be the Hernando Beach wastewater treatment plant. The plant shut down two years ago.
But the owner of the original site urged commissioners not to drop interest in that plan.
Cliff Manuel of Manuel LLC said he had been working with the county for several years and has an agreement with the county to place the dredged materials on his family's property on Eagle Nest Drive. The company wants to build a residential development called Eagle Point there and the county has already granted a conditional plat for the homes.
Manuel said he wanted to help the county by providing a site for the county to dump the sand. He noted he would benefit because the sand would raise the site a bit above sea level.
The state and county have had permitting problems with Manuel's site. County officials have gone multiple rounds with the state Department of Environmental Protection, first proposing filling wetlands on the site, then temporary wetlands filling and then no wetlands filling at all.
As the DEP prepared to issue a permit, two groups from the Eagle Nest community filed petitions seeking an administrative hearing on largely environmental grounds.
One group has been granted a hearing in October on a petition that Manuel has sought to dismiss.
The other group is expecting to get a hearing as well.
County officials are concerned that the hearings and appeals could tie the county up for months, delaying the project, first proposed in 1993, and jeopardizing the state funds.
Manuel told the commission Tuesday that the cooperation with the county ended earlier this month when the county decided to pursue the alternate site.
He told officials that moving the spoils site would only move their problems, not alleviate them.
He warned that the Army Corps of Engineers would likely have issues with the plan and that putting the sand on top of land where contaminated sewage sludge has been dumped would be a problem.
Like problems his site posed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Manuel said that the county's site will pose similar complications because it is in the 100-year flood zone.
He also warned that there could be continued concerns from another set of neighbors. He urged the county to work with neighbors to settle concerns about his site.
Manuel also predicted that costs could soar to half a million dollars plus the additional $146,400 to the consultant to study and prepare permits for the new site.
County Administrator David Hamilton said that the issues raised would all be outlined as that consultant explores the new site and goes through the permitting process with it.
"It's time to get the sand out of the sea and get people back to boating," he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.