BROOKSVILLE — At last week's County Commission meeting, an optimistic assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton predicted that the long-awaited Hernando Beach channel dredging would soon begin.
Not so fast.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection received the first of what could be several formal objections to using the site where the county has long planned to dump tons of the dredged materials, a piece of property owned by the prominent Manuel family.
Hernando Beach residents Ed, Carol and Ann Oz are seeking a formal administrative hearing and a reversal of the DEP's plan to issue the permit for the spoils disposal.
They say DEP conducted an incomplete review of the environmental effects and that the project would have a negative effect on "natural resources, water quality, aesthetics, public health, landowner rights and quality of life,'' according to the petition.
The six-page petition adds that the plan could violate the Clean Water Act because it could potentially degrade water quality. Water-quality monitoring is necessary, the petition notes, but monitoring is not part of the requirements in the permit.
The petitioner also states that needed details are left out of the permit, such as what kind of vegetation will be planted on the berm that must be built on the spoils site and what becomes of 100 percent of the materials dredged up as part of the project.
"Furthermore, if the county or commercial interests receive compensation for the project, whether in money income, property value or business gain at the expense of taxpayers and public resources, this would constitute an unfair business practice under respective Florida Statutes and laws and be contrary to the public interest,'' the petitioner writes.
This petition and any others received will be reviewed by the Office of General Counsel to be sure they are complete, DEP spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez said Monday. If they are found to be complete, they will be forwarded to the state's Division of Administrative Hearings for further review. There is no set time line to go through that process.
However, several months ago a DEP official warned that a formal challenge to the spoils site permit could delay the project for a year or more.
In addition to the Oz family's formal petition that seeks a hearing before the state's Department of Administrative Hearings, the DEP has also received three other requests for 60-day extensions of the comment period, which technically ends Wednesday. Those will be considered separately, Vazquez said.
Hernando Beach residents Michael and Sandra Ahern, Ron Basso, Lisa Bambauer, Cindy Hallee and Richard Doyle are seeking the extensions so they can prepare their objections. They cite the need to have time to review diagrams available only in Tampa and missing attachments to the permit, which they claim are not set for completion until after the permit is approved, as items they need to see to prepare their cases.
The channel dredge is strongly supported by many Hernando Beach residents because the existing channel is shallow and dangerous. The plan is to deepen, lengthen and straighten the channel.
The choice of where to put the dredge materials has mired the project in controversy for more than a year as opponents say that putting the spoils on the Manuels' Eagle Nest site would harm the wetlands and enhance the value of the site, which the Manuels have said they intend to develop.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.