BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando Beach Channel dredging project is in trouble again. Big trouble. Expensive trouble.
This week, the county received a change order request from its dredging contractor Orion Dredging Services LLC seeking an additional $7.8 million to pay for added work under the new permit, various claims and the costs of moving equipment while the dredge has been stalled since January.
That would mean the project would cost millions of dollars more than what the county has to spend, bringing the total cost paid just to Orion alone to $12.8 million.
The total doesn't count the near $2 million already paid to the county's consultant and hundreds of thousands in other costs including a settlement with the owner of the original site for storing the dredge spoils.
The total available money for the project is $9 million with $6 million coming from the state and $3 million from local coffers.
"It's just a ridiculous sum,'' said County Commissioner Dave Russell. "The contractor knows that we don't have that much available for the project.
"It's a damn shame,'' he added. "It's been a snake-bit project right along with one stumbling block after another.''
The project has been mired in environmental, legal and financial problems for more than a dozen years. Late last year, there was finally a ray of hope when Orion was hired and work on the dredge began. But almost immediately it was clear that the de-watering efforts were not working.
State environmental regulators shut the project down in January when too much sediment was being returned to an outflow canal. Ever since, county officials have tried to find a solution.
Just weeks ago, the county got word that the state Department of Environmental Protection was going to issue a modified permit that would allow Orion to use settling ponds and a coagulant to strip the sediment from the dredged spoils.
County officials have been holding their breath hoping no one would challenge the permit. Then Orion submitted the change order.
One immediate red flag Russell noticed in the change order is a request for the county to pay to remobilize equipment Orion got permission to move from the site while the project was idled.
"Now they want to charge us,'' Russell said. "Obviously staff is going to sit down and go over it piece by piece and see if we can reach some reasonable and rational solution. If not, we'll leave it to the lawyers.''
County Administrator David Hamilton said that, at the request of the county attorney's office, all comment about the case to the media was to be referred to the county attorney. That was echoed by interim public works director Susan Goebel.
Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben said the office could not comment.
In the change order, Orion's vice president of operations William Hussin writes that the firm will have to "perform extra work and furnish materials consistent with the revised permit.''
He goes on to detail some of that work and blame the faulty de-watering system for causing costly delays. He again repeats the argument that the contractor was not supposed to be the engineer to design the system and "Orion does not assume any responsibilities of the engineer-of record.''
The county's consultant, Halcrow, Inc., and Orion have both presented cases before the county commission that the other was responsible for not making the de-watering system work. Eventually all parties came together to design the new solution.
In the change order, Hussin says that if Orion cannot begin the modified work on the permit by Wednesday, the firm can again make cost adjustments for continued delays.
More than $1 million of the additional costs Orion is seeking are for the delays in the project, demobilizing and remobilizing equipment. A subcontractor to Orion is also seeking $745,000 for "delays, standby and additional costs'' because the de-watering system didn't work.
The largest costs in the change order include nearly $900,000 to operate the settlement ponds, $2.1 million to clean up and restore the ponds at the end of the process and $2.13 million to mixing and hauling the sludge in the ponds.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.
"It's just a ridiculous sum. The contractor knows that we don't have that much available for the project."
County Commissioner Dave Russell