BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission settled on a plan Tuesday for taking the lead on the long-delayed Hernando Beach Channel dredge project.
The plan includes an expedited method for picking the company that will actually dredge the channel and waiving normal purchasing procedures.
Under the plan proposed by County Administrator David Hamilton and accepted in a 4-1 vote by the commission, the county will forgo its normal, time-consuming bidding process and instead issue a request for proposals from companies interested in doing the dredging and dewatering work.
And instead of having a ranking team composed of in-house staffers and others review the proposals, the County Commission itself will listen to the firms discuss their qualifications, experience, time lines, dredging method and pricing.
That hearing will likely be at the March 8 County Commission meeting. The board would consider a final award of a contract at another meeting later that week, and the dredging would begin the first week of April.
Commissioners will vote formally next week to waive the normal rules for purchasing, which will allow the expedited process. The county attorney's office found several ways that the commission can waive the rules, including declaring an emergency and determining that it is in the county's best interest to follow a different process.
With a deadline to complete the dredging by Jan. 1, 2012, there was no time to follow the usual purchasing rules, Hamilton said. "In short, we know of no other way to make it work,'' he said.
Commissioners debated whether county workers should be involved in any of the construction portion of the project. Commissioner John Druzbick voted against the county's involvement, citing concerns about whether the county had the proper expertise and questioning how other important work would get done if county employees were building settling ponds or berms or hauling dirt.
"I believe we are going down the wrong path,'' Druzbick said.
Having county staffers work on the project further straps departments that have already suffered staff reductions because of the budget. "Staffwise, we're pretty much down to the bone,'' he said.
But ultimately, the majority of the board chose to have county staffers work on the project.
Both Druzbick and Dave Russell also expressed concern about having the right county person on site to make sure work gets done.
Russell said someone needs to be prepared for "knocking heads'' if the work is slipping, someone who is willing to "raise holy hell'' if problems begin to appear.
In short, he said, "We need one tough S.O.B.'' Then he turned to soft-spoken Transportation Services director Susan Goebel and offered, "I'm happy to provide instruction if you need it.''
Druzbick pushed for a non-bid contract for Clean to Green, a contractor that works with a new water-filtering system known as the Genesis system. Its work has the interest of the University of Florida, which might want to use Hernando Beach dredging as a "demonstration project.''
That designation could work for or against the county, Russell said.
"It means one of two things. Either we're a guinea pig or they're willing to devote the resources to it to make it a success,'' he said.
Druzbick found no support from the other commissioners on the no-bid award to Clean to Green. Instead, they favored opening the process up to others and pointed out that Clean to Green is welcome to seek the county's business, along with any other interested firms.
County officials anticipate getting a modified permit for the project from the state Department of Environmental Protection in the next two weeks. That modified permit is expected to include more flexibility so that more companies interested in the project can send proposals.
County staffers said that because of the wide variety of configurations that the dredge project might take under that flexible permit, hard budget numbers will come later. As Hamilton and Goebel explained to commissioners, having the county do some of the work in-house, they hope, will bring down the costs.
Commissioners rejected the one formal bid they received for dredging last month because they couldn't afford the price of that version of the project.
The county legal staff also advised commissioners that they would need a licensed general contractor because the cost of the portions of the job the county will do itself — primarily preparing the disposal site — will top the $200,000 ceiling set by the state. The general contractor would pull the necessary permits.
The county already has a licensed general contractor in-house, Dale Ravencraft in the Utilities Department.