BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County officials say the company hired to dredge the Hernando Beach Channel has breached its contract and that the arrangement will end if work does not resume within 10 days.
Orion Dredging Services LLC recently requested $7.8 million on top of the already approved contract price of $5 million to continue the work. The county's answer on Thursday was simple: No way.
County officials have been negotiating for much of the last week on a deal that would get the dredge completed. Officials offered to increase the contract by $1.5 million, had agreed to dispose of the spoils as well as defer discussion about whether Orion should be paid for the delays in the project.
Orion responded by cutting its $7.8 million change order by $80,281.
In a letter sent to Orion on Thursday, County Administrator David Hamilton and Susan Goebel, interim public works director wrote, "consequently the county's offer is hereby withdrawn in its entirely due to Orion's failure to negotiate in good faith with the county.''
The letter states that it was Orion's responsibility to know the requirements of the permit, study the soils and the methods of de-watering spoils that would be dredged up from the channel, and figure out the costs of a dredging system needed to accomplish the job before bidding on the project.
Plans to dredge the channel have been in the works for years but legal, financial and environmental problems have kept it from happening.
Late last year, the county got a state permit and hired Orion. The firm started work, but just weeks later ran into problems with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In January, the agency shut down the job because the contractor was returning water to a nearby canal that had too much sediment in it. DEP ordered the county to devise a new de-watering strategy. That new plan, for which the new permit was just issued, uses settling ponds and a coagulant to strip more of the sediment from the dredged spoils.
Building and maintaining those ponds, mixing coagulant and delays in the project are all the primary reasons for the massive change order submitted by Orion.
"The county … hereby denies Orion's request for an increase in the contract price,'' Hamilton and Goebel state in their letter. Accomplishing the dredge using the modified state environmental conditions would be Orion's responsibility under the original bid.
If the firm does not return to work "and fully and substantially resume all work,'' then the county would consider that grounds to terminate the contract and find Orion in "nonperformance." The letter to Orion is copied to the firm's bonding company.
While Hernando officials have been hopeful that Orion would complete the job they signed on to do, late Thursday Hamilton said the county might have to go a different direction. Still, he said that the plan is still to "get the sand out of the sea.''
If Orion doesn't return to the job, quitting the project is not an option, said Lisa Hammond, the purchasing and contracts consultant working through the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
"We would expeditiously pursue other options,'' Hammond said. "We're going to hustle. We are still confident that we are going to meet the deadline but we need a dredging firm.
"We need somebody as interested in getting this job done as we are interested in getting this job done.''
The county has already spent millions on the job, $2.8 million of that being state matching money. The overall budget for the dredge is set at $9 million, with the state providing two thirds of the funds.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.