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Hernando Beach Channel dredge problems linger

BROOKSVILLE — State environmental regulators have put Hernando County on notice that an acre of protected sea grass has been damaged by the Hernando Beach Channel dredge operation.

Field inspectors for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation confirmed their suspicions about the damage after visiting Hernando Beach several days ago.

The county's environmental services director, Susan Goebel-Canning, broke the news Tuesday to county commissioners, who are anxious to put the 17-year project behind them.

The county will know more about what needs to be done to fix the problem after a meeting scheduled for Friday with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Those two agencies required the county to plant sea grass to mitigate expected damage the dredging operation would cause.

The latest finding was not damage that had been anticipated.

Goebel-Canning told commissioners two weeks ago that when the dredging subcontractor, Konga Marine Logistics, did the work in the channel, the company dug deeper than it was supposed to in some areas and might have destroyed sea grass in others.

While county staffers recommended at the time that the scope of the problem should be determined before the county made any further payments to the contractor, BCPeabody, commissioners decided to hold back just a small amount and paid the contractor 90 percent of the $464,782 owed on its $8.7 million contract.

It is not known whether the remaining funds that were retained — about $46,500 — will be enough to fix the sea grass damage.

In the meantime, commissioners heard a plea on Tuesday to not pay BCPeabody any additional money until ongoing property damage issues with Hernando Beach waterfront homeowners are settled.

Paul Douglas, a Brooksville resident running for the District 5 County Commission seat, has spent the last several weeks talking to residents and gathering contracts, pictures and documents concerning the residents' damage.

He told commissioners that, despite being required to carry insurance to protect property owners, BCPeabody and Konga Marine were not fully insured to cover damages from their operations. He urged the commission to help.

County Attorney Garth Coller said that the issues could be the subject of litigation, and he suggested that county officials not respond to the allegations by Douglas and the property owners.

County Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked how the lawsuit against the county's contract engineer on the project, Halcrow, was going, but Coller offered the same advice to staff to not comment.

The county is embroiled in a lawsuit with Halcrow and the first dredging firm hired for the job, Orion Dredging Services.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Voted unanimously to join a lawsuit planned by the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida Association of County Attorneys challenging the Medicaid cost-sharing bill approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. If Hernando is forced to pay 100 percent of what it owes under the law for the billing backlog from 2001 through 2012, it would cost the county $3.2 million, according to budget manager George Zoettlein.

• In an effort to help to small-business owners, approved a six-month moratorium on the $30 code enforcement fee for temporary sign permits. Commissioners also asked for information about how the moratorium is working as the six-month deadline nears in case they want to extend the moratorium.

• Heard a report from representatives of the Gehring Group about possible changes in health insurance options for employees that could reduce the county's expenses, a long-term budget goal set by the commission. Among the ideas county officials are considering are the establishment of a local medical clinic for county employees that would bring basic health care services closer to employees and a partially self-funded insurance program.

Hernando Beach Channel dredge problems linger 04/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 8:18pm]

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