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Hernando Beach dredge contractor rejects order to get back to work

BROOKSVILLE — The dredging contractor on the Hernando Beach Channel project will defy the county's order to return immediately to the job, according to a letter received by the county Thursday.

The firm also asked for a hearing before the County Commission. The county has agreed to consider the issue in a public hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers.

Orion Dredging Services LLC, notified the county that while the firm would "like to return to work,'' it will not do so until the county agrees to pay more for the project because the scope has grown.

Orion vice president and general counsel Peter Buchler blames Halcrow, the county's consultant on the dredge, for the project's problems. Orion officials have argued before that Halcrow's job was to design a dewatering system that worked and Orion's job was simply to dredge and use that system.

"In fact Halcrow (the county's professional design firm) has already completed three separate and costly designs but yet the county continues to excuse and protect its professional design firm,'' Buchler wrote.

"Why does the county continue to excuse and protect its professional design firm (Halcrow)? Why doesn't the county file a claim against Halcrow's professional liability insurance policy?''

The letter also blasts the county's letter demanding that Orion return to work, saying it is full of "confusion, obfuscation and distortion of the facts'' and complains that the firm has been "savaged in the press and otherwise victimized by the county.''

Orion began dredging late last year, but work stopped in January when state officials determined that there was too much sediment being returned to the canal system. Since then, the county, Orion and Halcrow revised the dewatering plan, adding settling ponds and a coagulant to strip more sediment from the dredge spoils.

Because of the extra tasks, Orion asked for $7.8 million to complete the project, on top of the original $5 million contract price. After negotiations failed over that change order, the county ordered Orion back to work, notified the firm that it had breached its contract, and told Orion that it must meet the requirements of the state permit within the original contract cost.

Buchler states that the contract between Orion and the county requires mutually agreeable provisions on compensation and scheduling and the contract cannot be modified without both parties agreeing to the modification.

"Your position is a desperate and absurd assertion,'' he wrote.

Orion's appeal before the County Commission will be familiar territory. Earlier this year, when the dredge ground to a halt, officials from both Halcrow and Orion stood before the board to blame the other for the failed dewatering system.

The conclusion of that discussion was the effort by all parties to design the new dewatering system and get a permit to begin dredging again from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Because of the potential that the dispute could land the county in court, the county attorney has urged officials to not comment on the situation.

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

Hernando Beach dredge contractor rejects order to get back to work 09/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 9:00pm]

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