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Financing Hernando County dredging overruns not resolved

BROOKSVILLE — County officials walked away from a 3 ½-hour meeting with their dredge consultant Friday with a resolution to some of the issues holding up the project, but not on the issue of who might pay additional costs.

The meeting was called to determine how to move forward with the multimillion-dollar dredge of the Hernando Beach channel, stalled in the wake of a multitude of problems, including environmental concerns, possible permit violations, questions about supervision, cost overruns and the departure of the two top county engineers responsible for the project.

Late Friday, County Administrator David Hamilton released a letter written to the consultant, Halcrow Inc., outlining the results of the meeting.

The county and Halcrow agreed that the firm would stay on the job, work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to find an alternate method to control sediment in the dredge spoils and get the stalled dredge back on track.

The county faces the possibility of losing state matching money if it can't finish the work on the $7.7 million project by June 1.

The process of sucking the spoils out of the channel and dewatering it at the county's wastewater treatment plant has come under scrutiny because the water returned to the canal has had more sediment than allowed by the permit. And, despite Halcrow's requirement in the contract to monitor the dredge contractor's compliance with the permit, county officials were caught off guard by a recent warning letter from the DEP about not informing the agency of the turbidity problem.

"That will not happen again,'' Hamilton said.

The second issue settled at the meeting was that Halcrow can keep its current personnel on the scene to monitor the work. But the company assured Hamilton that it will redouble its oversight and work with interim public works director Susan Goebel and her staff to make sure there are no more issues with the project.

Goebel was appointed to that job last week after Hamilton fired Charles Mixson, the county's public works director and chief engineer. The problems with the dredging project were among the reasons for the firing. Then, this week, Mixson's assistant, Gregg Sutton, resigned. Sutton had been project manager for the dredge.

The one outstanding issue concerns the mitigation the county is required to do for destroying sea grass in the process of widening, lengthening and straightening the 3-mile Hernando Beach channel. The county is required by the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers to replant sea grasses.

In May, when Mixson asked the county commissioners to double Halcrow's contract amount, adding about $1 million, he told them he thought that would be the last increase. But recently, Sutton told the Port Authority that additional money is needed to complete the sea grass mitigation.

Mixson said in a memo to Hamilton last week that changes in the requirements for the mitigation would cost the county another $600,000. Hamilton responded that the county has known for a long time what would be required for the mitigation, and therefore more money was not justified.

Halcrow agreed Friday to review the contract documents and the conditions for complying with the permit regulations and to notify the county of what changes have occurred since the May meeting that might require the county to pay more.

"The bottom line is that once this project is back on track and the full extent of the costs are considered and discussed, then we will continue to proceed and with no further delays,'' Hamilton said.

Goebel agreed.

"I'm confident we can get this project back on track,'' she said.

Hamilton said that Halcrow has been asked to respond with a letter of its own outlining what was decided at the meeting and what the new dewatering plans might look like. That information and an update on the dredge and the operations of the Department of Public Works are slated for discussion at Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

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

Financing Hernando County dredging overruns not resolved 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 8:45pm]
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