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Hernando commission okays contract to address sea grass concerns

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday approved a four-month contract with a private sea grass recovery company to get the county back in compliance with a federal permit critical to the Hernando Beach Channel dredge.

Earlier this month, the county received notice that it was out of compliance with its Army Corps of Engineers permit to replant sea grass as part of the dredging process. The county, which had taken on the sea grass monitoring responsibility, had failed to provide nutrient injections and fertilizer spikes required to maintain the sea grass beds.

Noncompliance could result in a permit suspension or revocation or a fine up to $27,500, according to the letter sent by Alfred A. Pantano Jr., district commander for the corps.

County transportation services director Susan Goebel, who told commissioners that she was responsible for the noncompliance, assured them that the four-month contract with the firm Seagrass Recovery would get the project back on track and would not cause any delays in getting the dredging started. The cost for the contract is $83,672.

Additional maintenance and monitoring of sea grasses will be required for the next five years, but the county staff is continuing to explore options to accomplish that as inexpensively as possible, including a possible permit modification. Monitoring and maintenance costs could exceed $500,000.

Commissioner Dave Russell asked if the county could go back to previous sea grass mitigation requirements in which the county discovered some areas that needed replanting actually regrew sea grass, but Goebel said that the permit requires the regular maintenance even if the grass is doing well.

"That's goofy,'' Russell said.

County Administrator David Hamilton said that it was important to follow what is required so that Hernando doesn't hold up actual work on the dredge project. The contract for the dredging work was awarded last week and Tampa-based contractor BCPeabody is trying to complete the work by the end of the year.

In a related motion, commissioners rejected a proposed $303,610 increase in the most recent amount paid to the county's dredge consultant, Halcrow Inc. Instead, the commission asked the staff to try to get a better price for the work.

"I think we can do better,'' Russell said.

Halcrow has already collected $2.1 million for its work on the project.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins also asked the board to support his desire to see a detailed report from the staff, not just on Halcrow's most recent bills, but bills back to when the company started working with the county in mid 2005.

"I want to make sure the taxpayers of this county have not been overcharged,'' Stabins said.

The commission agreed to request the detailed report.

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

Hernando commission okays contract to address sea grass concerns 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 7:38pm]
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