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Hernando Beach Channel not contaminated after all, new tests show

BROOKSVILLE — In late January, the surprise finding of oil and grease in the sediment of the Hernando Beach Channel threatened to doom the long-awaited dredging project there.

Turns out, there is no contamination after all.

County Administrator David Hamilton released results from recent tests that showed the previous findings were a "false positive," which have not been repeated. He said sediment samples have been examined by two separate laboratories, one for the county and one for the state.

While state officials have asked for one more confirmatory test, Hamilton said that will not keep Hernando from proceeding with plans to secure a permit for whichever spoils site it can get a permit for first.

The county originally planned to dump the dredged material at an Eagle Nest Drive site owned by the prominent Manuel family, which has plans to build houses there.

But neighbors filed a formal protest and sought an administrative hearing to block the use of the land.

A judge from the state's Division of Administrative Hearings was slated to hear that case in late January until it had to be postponed when the oil and grease contamination was revealed.

Because the county risks losing $6 million from the state for the $9 million project if the money isn't spent by the middle of next year, county officials also picked a second spoils site, which they had hoped would be less objectionable, to consider.

This one is the old county wastewater treatment site on Shoal Line Boulevard. But several challenges, including one from Manuel LLC, were also filed on that site.

Now Hamilton said the county will await new hearings to consider all the arguments for and against each site. He did not know how long that might take.

He has made the accomplishment of the dredge, which is designed to widen, lengthen and straighten the channel, such a priority that he has put Public Works director Charles Mixson on notice that he will get the project under way by the end of July or lose his job.

In order not to lose time, Hamilton said his staff is preparing to bid the dredge work for both spoils sites next month so that a contractor is already on board and ready to start as soon as the permit is in hand.

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

Hernando Beach Channel not contaminated after all, new tests show 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 7:22pm]
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