BROOKSVILLE — A divided County Commission on Tuesday approved a formal contract with Gritz Development and Construction to provide construction management services on the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.
The firm, headed by general contractor Greg Jarque, has been at the center of a controversy that continued through Tuesday's commission discussion.
Residents questioned the need to spend $152,500 to oversee the project when contractor BCPeabody was under contract to complete the job and Transportation Services director Susan Goebel was the established decisionmaker if questions arise on the job.
But commissioners argued that they needed that extra layer to ride herd on the project since there was no time left to allow delays. Commissioner Dave Russell defended Jarque's credentials, pointing out that a general contractor is well-qualified to do a wide range of construction projects.
Jarque came under fire in an open letter written by Commissioner Jeff Stabins to County Administrator David Hamilton last week. Stabins criticized Hamilton's selection of Jarque because he had no dredging experience, had just gotten his general contractor's license in 2008 and because his work on the Arc Nature Coast training center and hurricane shelter was the only local permit he had ever pulled.
Hamilton has said that he learned about Jarque through his wife, Linda, who has also worked at the Arc Nature Coast project. Hamilton said he learned that Jarque had managed construction on that project for no charge, bringing it in under budget and months ahead of schedule. That is something he wishes for the long-delayed Hernando Beach channel dredging project.
Stabins called Jarque a "crony" of David Hamilton's wife and also took him to task for thousands of dollars of unpaid fire assessments on his other business, Omni Circuits International.
On Tuesday, Jarque assured the board that he had been on the job for several weeks since the commission informally approved his hiring. He also told them his intention was "to see this project through to the end.''
Tuesday's discussion revealed conflicts that are already appearing between Jarque and the staff of BCPeabody on the job site.
Bob Carpenter of BCPeabody said that the reports that Jarque had already submitted for issues he said he has helped resolve on site did not reflect what Carpenter and his staff had seen on site. He also questioned the hours that Jarque was representing that he had been working on the job.
Answering direct questions from the commission, Jarque said that he believed his actions so far have helped to trim days off the project length but Carpenter disputed that. "I can't think of anything that he has told me to do that I wasn't already doing,'' Carpenter said.
Goebel said that disputes like these are typical of any complex project and that, as soon as a line of formal communication is established, those kinds of issues can be worked out.
Hamilton told commissioners that he would be meeting with all parties this morning to work out the conflicts.
Russell said that he wanted to see that as a "come to Jesus meeting … so that the finger-pointing stops'' and the project moves forward.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said he could not support hiring Jarque's firm. He said an engineer should oversee the project. Adkins was especially troubled to learn several days ago that the berm built on the wastewater treatment plant site off Shoal Line Boulevard might fail and then he learned on Tuesday that that might not be true.
Adkins and Stabins were the no votes on the hire.
In other action:
• The County Commission approved a $2.25 million contract with Peter R. Brown Construction Inc. to serve as the construction manager at risk to oversee construction of the air traffic control tower at the Hernando County Airport.
• Commissioners presented a proclamation honoring Pat Fagan for his decades of service to county parks and recreation. Fagan retired when his job was eliminated as part of the county downsizing. He also resigned his School Board seat at that time because of issues related to his retirement.
• Citing the recent scare that West Nile virus was present in Hernando County, Stabins asked that the commission get a report on whether the county is spending enough to control mosquito populations. Adkins also expressed concern on the issue noting that with recent rains, he has seen more mosquitoes lately.
Hamilton said the issue would be discussed during a budget workshop May 3. He said the service has reached the point that it either must be funded to be operated correctly or the service should end. Last year, the county slashed the mosquito control budget, cutting back on mosquito-spraying efforts.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.