BROOKSVILLE — Only days after county commissioners fired their contractor on the Hernando Beach Channel dredge, officials already have heard from four others who are interested in taking over the project.
County officials have met with representatives from three dredging companies, and a meeting is being set with a fourth, said Lisa Hammond, the purchasing and contracts consultant for the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
All four of the companies are aware of the project's tight time line, financial constraints and environmental concerns, Hammond said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Orion Dredging Services LLC, which commissioners booted from the project on Tuesday, has sent a letter threatening litigation. The company also reiterates its arguments for why it needs several million dollars more and why the county's consultant is to blame for problems with the long-delayed project.
In the letter, Orion's consultant and general counsel Peter Buchler states that the commission's conclusions "fail to serve the best interest of the people of Hernando County.''
He notes that while it is not likely Orion will be asked back to work for the county, if it is, it will cost even more than the previous change order that riled county officials.
"We had hoped for a far different result, but notwithstanding what will undoubtedly be a highly contentious and expensive adjudication of our claims and cross claims, we truly wish you 'God's speed' in completing this project for the people of Hernando County,'' Buchler's letter concludes.
The county late Wednesday also notified Orion's bonding company, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., that it was calling for the performance bond.
"Orion materially breached the contract by abandoning the project,'' wrote Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben. "As a result of Orion's default, the county formally makes a claim against the above-referenced bond for all coverages and remedies provided therein.''
Hammond will meet today with county legal staff to discuss the rules of the bond. Technically, Liberty Mutual has 30 days to determine whether to find someone else to do the dredging, award the county millions to complete the work or simply deny the claim.
Since a June 30 deadline looms to spend or lose a $6 million state grant for the $9 million project, officials want to move on some issues while waiting for the bonding company's response.
The prospective dredge contractors are aware that the county has a strict deadline and only about $4.5 million left to spend to deepen, lengthen, widen and straighten the Hernando Beach Channel.
"So far no one has flinched,'' Hammond said. "Frankly, it's really refreshing to talk to people who say that it can be done and who want to do it.''
The county is also talking about utilizing some public works employees for tasks at the spoils disposal site, which is an old county wastewater site on Shoal Line Boulevard.
County officials will update the County Commission on their efforts to get the stalled project moving again during Tuesday's regular board meeting.