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Former dredge contractor sues Hernando County

BROOKSVILLE — County officials were served on Wednesday with a lawsuit filed against them by Orion Dredging Services LLC, the contractor the County Commission fired for failing to accomplish the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.

The six-page complaint blames the "defective project design'' for Orion's problems. That design by consultant Halcrow Inc. "contributed to significant difficulties for Orion in prosecution of its work including but not limited to failure of the mechanical dewatering equipment,'' the lawsuit states.

"The defective design caused Orion to be delayed on the project resulting in damages, including but not limited to, significant time impacts and cost increases,'' the complaint states.

The suit claims that Orion tried to complete the project and that the county's decision to terminate the contract with Orion was wrongful and damaged the firm. Orion is seeking unspecified damages.

"They have their position, and we have ours,'' county Commissioner Dave Russell said. "They're wrong, and we're right.''

He said he anticipated that the county would follow through with a counterclaim against Orion's bonding company.

"It's clear that they did not execute their contract,'' Russell said. "The courts will sort it out.''

"The county is confident in its position, but I cannot comment on pending litigation,'' assistant county attorney Jon Jouben said.

Orion began the long-awaited dredging late last year but the work was halted in January when it was discovered that the dewatering process was not pulling enough sand and sediment from the water as the permit required.

Eventually the county, Orion and Halcrow worked together to find a new solution, and a new permit, one requiring settling ponds and the use of a coagulant, was obtained from the state.

Then the project stalled because the increase in the contract amount Orion sought more than doubled the cost of what had started as a $5 million contract.

After the county declared Orion had breached the contract, the commission talked briefly about hiring Tampa-based BCPeabody to take on the project. But controversy about the firm and its subcontractors and an approval by the state to extend the county's funding deadline by six months to Jan. 1, 2012, stopped that process.

Instead, the county decided to bid the project again and the advertisement was posted this week. Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel told commissioners Tuesday that there is already considerable interest from contractors. Bids will be set for opening in early January with a late January award.

Russell said he is confident that the process the county has put in place can get the project done in time but "my concern is funding at this point.''

The dredge process required under the current permit is more expensive than the original design and, while the winning bidder has a chance to seek a permit change for a cheaper method, the time to accomplish such a change will be extremely short.

"Mechanically, I think we can get it done,'' Russell said. "It's a matter of what are we willing to pay for it.''

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

Former dredge contractor sues Hernando County 11/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 8:34pm]
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