BROOKSVILLE — The contractor for the ill-fated Hernando Beach dredge project had a simple answer Friday to the county's demand that it fix major problems and get the machinery moving again: It's not our job.
Peter Buchler, executive vice president and general counsel for Orion Dredging Services LLC, instead blamed the project's consultant during a special meeting with the County Commission.
Buchler said a dewatering device designed by consultant Halcrow did not work, just one of several issues that have stalled the long-awaited project for weeks.
Halcrow officials were at the meeting, but chose not to respond. They will present their side of the situation to the commission at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
An entourage of Orion executives accompanied Buchler, who gave a 40-minute presentation about what has happened up to this point. He explained the dredging process designed by Halcrow, which was set in the permit the county obtained from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
By showing portions of the permit language and parts of Orion's contract with Hernando, he pointed out that Orion was hired to do a particular form of dredge. Called a hydraulic dredge, it requires a mechanical dewatering device to remove the solid materials from the water dredged up from the channel.
But that device, known as a Del Tank, did not filter enough of the sediment out of the water to meet the water-quality standards in the DEP permit, Buchler said.
He said that to meet those standards, a coagulant would have to be added to settle the solids in the water, and settling ponds would need to be added. Neither of those procedures are addressed in the DEP permit, he said.
In a letter to Orion last week, the county demanded that Orion get a new plan designed, signed and sealed by an engineer and sent through the DEP so that the dredging, stalled since January, could resume.
But Buchler said the contract Orion signed with the county is a "build contract" rather than a "design and build contract.'' Responsibility for the design, which he called "flawed," rests solely with Halcrow.
Besides, he said, Orion doesn't sign and seal designs and has no license to do so. By its own marketing strategy, the company doesn't want to compete with engineers with whom it wants to maintain good working relationships.
Orion, Buchler explained, complied with its contract. The existing, permitted plan to de-water the spoils doesn't work, he added, but it is not up to Orion to devise a plan that does work.
"We're locked in. Our hands are tied. We have no discretion,'' Buchler said. "Why? Because it's not our responsibility.''
He said the county has two choices: Go after either Halcrow or Orion legally for not fulfilling their contracts, or have all parties work together to find a solution.
He suggested the latter.
"Our part of this mess we're all in is constructing the final facility,'' Buchler said. "We believe that we can, in fact, construct a facility that meets these proposed changes'' with adding the coagulant and settling ponds.
Such a permit modification, however, would be a "significant, radical modification.''
Until a fix can be presented to the DEP and the agency signs off, dredging cannot resume.
The county awarded the $5 million bid to Orion in late May and the firm began dredging rock on Oct. 6. On Dec. 4, Orion began the second phase of dredging to get the sand and silt out of the channel. That is when the problem with the sediment in the water was discovered.
Assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk questioned Orion officials about whether they had tried a different size of Del Tank to dewater the dredge slurry or other equipment offered by Del Tank. But Curtis Huggins, Orion Dredging Services president, said a representative of Del Tank told him this was the right model and that they would need to use a coagulant.
While Halcrow officials didn't want to make a presentation Friday, Commissioner Dave Russell said he wanted to know how their calculations to determine how much filtering would need to happen to clean the water to the proper standard could be so wrong.
Todd Stockberger, senior vice president for Halcrow responded: "Mechanical de-watering should be able to do this.'' He promised to bring back more answers on Tuesday.
Commission Chairman John Druzbick summed up the session at the end of Friday's meeting.
"I'm really sorry it's come to this point,'' he said. "Let's make this work. … The bottom line to this board is this has to work.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.