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Hernando commission votes to settle litigation over Hernando Beach dredge

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission agreed Tuesday to settle the final piece of the complex litigation over the botched Hernando Beach Channel dredge.

In exchange for dropping all litigation, the county will receive $2.5 million from Halcrow Inc., the engineer of record on the project. The settlement was negotiated last week and was better than the $1.75 million offered by Halcrow before mediation, said Jon Jouben, deputy county attorney.

The settlement brings to an end years of legal wrangling. Outgoing commission Chairman Dave Russell praised the work of the staff in reaching the settlement.

"I believe this to be fair and just settlement,'' Russell said, noting that the best part was "the Hernando County dredging project is over.''

The actual dredge work was finished in early 2012. The project cost more than $15 million and took 17 years from start to finish. Various legal, environmental and financial issues caused long delays.

The latest legal wrinkle erupted after the county fired Orion Dredging Services LLC in 2010 for failing to complete the dredge. Orion sued the county, blaming Halcrow for designing a defective dredging plan.

In November 2012, the county agreed to pay Orion and its dredging subcontractor, Harvey-Taddeo, $1.7 million while acknowledging that the county actually owed them $4.4 million.

At that point, the companies and their bonding companies agreed to drop their legal actions against the county, and their attorneys went to work on behalf of the county, bringing the work they had done for their previous clients with them.

At that point, the county was only litigating against Halcrow.

The deal at the time was that the county would pay reduced legal fees to the new lawyers and share with the lawyers half of the funds returned over and above $1.7 million.

Later in Tuesday's commission meeting, Russell said he already had an idea for spending roughly $500,000 the county will now return to its Transportation Trust Fund — money that previously had been borrowed for the dredge.

As the commission was discussing awarding the contract to design improvements for Barclay Avenue, Russell suggested that the extra dollars be used to match new state transportation money he expects the governor to make available soon.

Russell said the state dollars will likely go to shovel-ready projects. Assistant county administrator for operations Brian Malmberg said that was precisely what he was hoping to do, to get the Barclay design in place as soon as possible.

Russell also suggested that if money was available, the county might move up plans for improvements at the intersection of Cortez and Mariner boulevards, a congested area commissioners have said is a priority.

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

Hernando commission votes to settle litigation over Hernando Beach dredge 01/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:15pm]

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