BROOKSVILLE — State environmental regulators have put Hernando County and the contractor dredging the Hernando Beach Channel on notice that the work thus far may violate the law and permit requirements.
A state site inspection on Nov. 3 turned up a variety of possible violations including:
• Rocks and sand dredged from the channel have been placed in sea grasses and impacted mangrove trees.
• Water-quality-monitoring reports have not been submitted as specified in the permit.
• Manatee warning signs required by the permit were not posted.
• The mean high water line was not marked and rocks were placed below the line in violation of the rock disposal plan.
Those problems were outlined in a sternly worded warning letter delivered last week from Deborah Getzoff, district manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In separate letters to Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer, and the project manager for Orion Dredging Services, LLC, Getzoff asks for a meeting with her staff to discuss the issues and determine if violations have taken place.
"Please be advised that this warning letter is part of an agency investigation, preliminary to agency action in accordance with … Florida Statutes,'' Getzoff wrote. "We look forward to your cooperation in completing the investigation and resolution of this matter.''
When County Administrator David Hamilton learned of the problems last week through a courtesy call from Getzoff before the letter was delivered, he called a meeting with officials from the dredging company.
Hamilton said he told them firmly that if one more thing goes wrong, the county will enforce the compliance clause in the contract, which could mean legal action against the dredger. Hamilton also indicated the county would pursue steps to have the problems already created remedied to the state's satisfaction.
The timing of the warning letter was less than ideal, Hamilton noted, since the county is still seeking its last permit for its sea grass protection plan from the DEP. That permit is needed so the county can dredge the two ends of the channel, but the permit allowing dredging the rest of the channel is already in hand.
The long-awaited dredging project, which was mired in legal and environmental problems for years, got under way last month.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434