Hernando commissioners fault pay arrangement for dredging project

BROOKSVILLE — Seven weeks after the contractor began removing sand from the channel, only 6 percent of the now-stalled Hernando Beach dredge project has been completed.

Yet the contractor, Orion Marine Group, already has collected a third of the $5 million it will be paid for the job. And when county commissioners learned that on Tuesday, they were not pleased.

The report came as interim public works director Susan Goebel provided updates on several Department of Public Works projects in the aftermath of the recent firing of department director Charles Mixson and the resignation of assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton.

Goebel acknowledged that a contractor would have major upfront costs to mobilize and stockpile supplies to begin a project like the dredge. But the disparity between what has been paid and what has been accomplished riled commissioners.

"So we presented 33 percent to them, and we received 6 percent cleanup,'' Commissioner Jim Adkins said.

Commissioner Dave Russell sought assurance that the county was protected by a bond from the contractor.

"That doesn't excuse or forgive the situation, and it doesn't offer a great degree of comfort, frankly. But as a contractor, I don't recall ever being paid 33 percent and giving 6 percent,'' he said.

"It wouldn't work in my case,'' Adkins agreed.

Adkins asked who was overseeing the project to assure the county that what is required in the contract is actually done.

Goebel said that the county's overseer is its consultant, Halcrow Inc., and that another staff member from Public Works has also been assigned to provide oversight.

"At this point, I know that part of the oversight will be DEP,'' commission Chairman John Druzbick said, referring to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which has already issued the county two warning letters for environmental problems with the dredge. "We cannot afford to have the errors and mistakes that have happened so far.''

"It's unacceptable at this point in time, 6 percent,'' Adkins said.

Representatives of Orion, the Department of Public Works, Halcrow and the DEP were meeting Tuesday to try to settle on a way to remove more of the sediment from water being returned to a canal after it is dredged.

Goebel said county officials are hopeful that by March 1 the DEP will approve a new plan for improving water quality. That would still allow the dredge of the channel to be finished by June.

Orion's original completion date was April 11. The county must finish the project by June 30 or it could lose state funding that is paying for two-thirds of the nearly $8 million project. Goebel said the county is also working through Halcrow to extend that deadline if necessary.

Also on Tuesday, the subcontractor hired to replant sea grass to mitigate for the plants that will be destroyed by the dredge process was concluding the first 7 acres of its project. The replanting of another 6.5 acres should start soon, Goebel said.

Halcrow and the county are still at odds over who should pay that cost, which could run $600,000.

In a letter delivered to the county Monday, Halcrow insists that the DEP did not agree to accept the same sea grass replanting required by the Army Corps of Engineers permit. That decision came after the county agreed to a million-dollar supplemental payment to the consultant to accomplish the federal mitigation requirement.

With the additional mitigation required by the state, "Halcrow was asked by the county to prepare a supplemental change order to cover the additional work required to comply with the FDEP permit,'' Halcrow's Lake Ray III wrote to the county.

But County Administrator David Hamilton has contended that sea grass mitigation details were known for more than a year and that completion of all of the work was included in the last pay increase to Halcrow.

Goebel said Tuesday that the county's attorneys and Purchasing Department were still working through the issue of who will pay any additional cost.

Hamilton agreed to continue to bring reports back to the commission and to the Hernando County Port Authority.

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

Hernando commissioners fault pay arrangement for dredging project 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 7:20pm]

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