Hernando County crews began work Wednesday to clean up a canal fouled by the sediment-laden water piped there by a dredging contractor that the county later fired.
The County Commission has agreed to direct the long-troubled Hernando Beach Channel dredge project itself, handling some of the earth-moving and pond-building tasks and hiring an outside firm to accomplish the actual dredging and dewatering tasks.
Also this week, the parent company of the dredging firm Hernando County fired for failing to complete the project, offered to come back and help with one of its hydraulic dredges.
Orion Marine Group president and chief executive officer J. Michael Pearson wrote that the offer was made "in the interest of supporting Hernando County in getting the project completed.''
The letter, written to the County Commission, County Administrator David Hamilton and County Attorney Garth Coller and dated Tuesday, details familiar arguments about the stalled project including laying blame for the failure with the county's engineering consultant on the dredging, Halcrow Inc.
"The engineer's advice to the Board of Commissioners has been misguided and self serving and resulted in Hernando County negotiating in bad faith to force Orion off the project by wrongfully declaring Orion in default,'' Pearson wrote.
He argued that Halcrow's project design was flawed and that the engineer was unwilling to make changes to the design and construction plan while Orion was on the job but is now willing to make changes to aid the county's new dredging direction.
Orion Dredging Services LLC, the contractor the county hired to complete the long-awaited project, is a subsidiary of Orion Marine Group. The firm began the dredging work in late 2009 and was chided by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulations for violating portions of the permit.
But the work continued until January 2010 when the agency shut the dredging down because Orion was discharging water into the nearby canal that still held too much sediment.
The county fired the firm and called Orion's bond. Orion has since sued the county and the bonding firm has refused to pay.
The Orion Marine Group letter comes at the time when the county has set a new course for the dredging project, which must be completed by Jan. 1, 2012 or the county will lose the $6 million in state money needed for the work.
On Tuesday, commissioners formalized their desire to move swiftly to get the job done by approving a resolution that waives normal purchasing and bidding processes to expedite the project. The resolution, among other provisions, declares that the commission believes waiving the rules is in the best interest of the county and that funding for the project could be lost if the rules were not waived.
The county, preparing to advertise for proposals from interested companies, and the County Commission itself will screen and choose the firm during the week of March 7.
Commissioners agreed to a plan proposed by Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel, who will be heading up the project, which will allow commissioners to evaluate the proposals using criteria ranging from a company's ability to complete the job to its history on similar projects.
Officials are expecting a modified dredging permit from the DEP by late this week or early next week. That permit will allow more flexibility in how a company can accomplish the dredging and dewatering, something county officials hope will make the project cost less and take less time.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.