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Hernando Beach channel dredging project facing obstacles

BROOKSVILLE — The permit needed to begin the long-awaited Hernando Beach channel dredging project will not be arriving as soon as county officials had hoped.

In fact, several recent developments indicate that the all-important state grant money that will pay for two-thirds of the work may again be in jeopardy because of possible delays in the time line.

The county now faces the same kind of legal challenge to their new spoils site as they did to the old one.

The county must spend $3-million of its own funds to receive another $6-million in a state grant to lengthen, straighten and deepen the Hernando Beach channel by June 1, 2010.

To meet that deadline, the county must have a permit in hand and the project ready to go probably by March, County Administrator David Hamilton said this week.

But several things stand in the way.

The state Department of Environmental Protection had planned to issue a permit for the county to dump the materials dredged up onto a property on Eagle Nest Drive owned by the prominent Manuel family.

Neighbors objected, landing the permit resolution in the hands of an administrative law judge with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings. Hearings are set for January.

The residents have argued that the Manuel site is a bad choice for various environmental and flood management reasons. And they say that the Manuels stand to gain financially if the county leaves the sand on the site because it would help the family's plans to develop a waterfront subdivision.

Several months ago, county officials realized that the review process could last far longer than the time they have to get the dredge started. So, they picked a new site nearby to dump the dredged sand. They chose the county's former wastewater treatment plant on the east side of Shoal Line Boulevard.

The county began the permitting process with a hope that the DEP could expedite the permit. But earlier this month, the agency told county officials they needed more information.

County staff and consultants were meeting with the DEP officials in Tampa on Friday to make sure they knew exactly what technical details state environmental regulators need to move the permit along.

But there is now a new problem.

The attorney who represents the Manuel family has notified the state and the county that he now also represents a group of residents and members of a church that abuts the Shoal Line Boulevard dump site.

They are raising objections to the new site and will formally challenge the county's permit for that alternative site, Assistant County Attorney Jeff Kirk said at a recent meeting of the Hernando County Port Authority.

In an e-mail to the county, Manuel's attorney Jake Varn predicted that the new challenge could mean that the county will not be able to get its permit until late 2009 at the earliest.

In a follow-up e-mail, Varn details 18 concerns about the alternative spoils site on the county's land. Most of the technical questions involve wetlands on the site and potential environmental impacts including water quality questions on nearby Minnow Creek.

Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer who has been heading up the dredge project, said he was hoping that the meeting with the DEP would give the county what it needs to answer those questions.

"We're working very aggressively'' to get the permit secured and the work started, he said.

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

Hernando Beach channel dredging project facing obstacles 12/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 8:27am]
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