Hernando Beach Channel dredge again bogged down over money

BROOKSVILLE — The consultant on the snake-bit Hernando Beach Channel dredge wants more money for work it has contracted to do, county officials say, adding that the company already has been paid too much.

And the project is dead in the water at the moment, due to problems for which the consultant, Halcrow Inc., is partially responsible.

Halcrow, meanwhile, insists it is owed money to complete state seagrass mitigation. The firm says it has "a measure of deep concern'' about Hernando's willingness to pay its bill.

Those accusations and more are detailed in a series of hostile e-mails, memos and letters that have been flying between Hernando officials and Halcrow in recent days.

As the bickering goes on, the work is stopped, and the clock is ticking toward a June deadline for completing the long-awaited project. If the county misses that mark, millions of dollars in state funding could be lost.

Only 6 percent of the dredge was done before environmental problems halted the job earlier this year.

To try to get the project going again, the county offered on Thursday to pay part of what Halcrow is asking to mitigate for seagrass destruction and other monitoring functions.

But the offer is significantly less than the $794,130 Halcrow is seeking. It was unclear late Thursday whether Halcrow would go along with the county's figures, but the president of the firm told the county he hopes to meet soon to "resolve all outstanding issues.''

It is the latest in a series of contract issues between the county and the consultant that threatens to sink the project.

Hired in March 2005, Halcrow contracted to do complete design services for $206,450. Since then, the firm has asked for and received seven supplemental agreements, each one increasing the scope of work and the cost.

The seventh, granted by the County Commission in May, nearly doubled the amount paid up to that point to $1,977,738.

Last month, delays in the project and other problems in the Department of Public Works prompted County Administrator David Hamilton to fire longtime public works director Charles Mixson. The project manager for the dredge, Mixson's second in command, Gregg Sutton, quit just days later.

Two weeks ago, Halcrow sought a change order for that seventh supplemental agreement, wanting to get paid more to obtain permits, provide engineering services and modify an existing permit for the seagrass mitigation.

County and Halcrow officials had hoped that seagrass mitigation required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and included in the scope of work for the firm would also satisfy state environmental regulators.

It did not, and so more work is required to satisfy the state.

Halcrow then submitted a request for an eighth supplemental agreement, for another $159,830, to cover seagrass monitoring and aerial imagery over the next five years. That would also raise the amount of additional payments Halcrow is seeking to $794,130.

Earlier this month, the county's purchasing director, Jim Gantt, reviewed the contract with Halcrow and all the supplemental agreements. He agreed that the county owed enough to the firm to cover the seagrass mitigation expenses. In an offer to Halcrow submitted late Thursday, Gantt suggested Halcrow was owed $484,000.

And he drew the line on any other payment requests.

In a Feb. 8 memo, he wrote: "Other costs submitted by Halcrow (should be) denied because they are either after the fact or fall under existing contractual requirements.''

Also this week, interim public works director Susan Goebel sent a letter to Terry Durand of Halcrow saying the county is not going to pay for a number of items requested by the firm in a previous pay request because they are not yet done.

"Disposal site has been constructed. However, observation is still needed during dredging activity,'' she noted. "Thirty-seven percent of the site was constructed. Dredging is at 6 percent. Payment issued in the past is already too high.''

E-mails and memos indicate county officials were concerned that Halcrow was not going to review the dredge contractor's plan to resolve environmental concerns and worried it wouldn't show up at a meeting Thursday to discuss those proposals.

On Thursday morning, Goebel received an e-mail from Lake Ray, vice president of Halcrow, assuring her the firm wanted to work with the county and complete the project. Halcrow is already reviewing the environmental solutions. He also said there must have been a misunderstanding about the company's stance on whether it would review the contractor's proposed fix, as well as the details of the meeting.

County staff is expected to report to commissioners on Tuesday just where the negotiations with Halcrow stand.

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

Hernando Beach Channel dredge again bogged down over money 02/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2010 8:18pm]

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