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Hernando County claims engineering consultant Halcrow Inc. shares blame for failed first dredge attempt

BROOKSVILLE — The county's litigation with the Hernando Beach Channel dredge's first contractor took a new turn this week as the county pulled in its engineering consultant, Halcrow Inc.

In the lawsuit the contractor filed against the county, it's the first time the county has formally blamed Halcrow for having some part in the failed first attempt at the dredge.

It comes just as the county is preparing to declare the second dredge attempt completed.

The arguments in the county's claim mirror the debates county commissioners watched in 2010 when officials from Orion Dredging Services LLC, the original dredge contractor, blamed Halcrow for designing a dredging plan that was unworkable.

Officials from Halcrow countered that Orion's workers failed to assess the dredging conditions in advance and failed to find a method that would filter the dredged spoils to the level required in the state permit.

Because Orion couldn't reach that level of water clarity, the state shut down the dredge operation. Orion and Halcrow worked out a new plan to address the issue, but one with a much larger price tag. The county refused to accept the change.

In November 2010, Orion sued the county for terminating its contract. The suit focused on Halcrow, saying Halcrow's "defective project design'' prevented Orion from getting the job done within the permit parameters.

Last August, the county filed a counterclaim against Orion, saying the company did not fulfill its contract. The county also sued Orion's bonding company, Liberty Mutual, for failing to pay on the bond.

In this week's new claim, county attorneys argue that Halcrow failed in its responsibility to defend the county from any liability from "the negligent error or negligent omissions of Halcrow.''

Halcrow has not participated in helping the county with its defense, which county attorneys say is a breach of the professional services agreement.

They ask the court to declare Halcrow obligated to defend the county and that the company must reimburse the county for all costs incurred and damages arising from the Orion suit.

The county also offers an alternative complaint alleging that Halcrow committed professional malpractice.

The claim argues that Halcrow reviewed plans submitted by each dredging company that bid to ensure that they would meet the terms of the dredging permit. Halcrow should have known its technical specifications were "insufficient to ensure that the successful bidder could satisfy'' the permit requirements, according to the county's claim.

"Halcrow knew or should have known that the plans submitted by Orion in response to the request for bids on the dredge contract were insufficient to ensure that the successful bidder could satisfy'' the requirements of the permit, according to the claim.

"Halcrow had a duty to exercise a degree of care and skill providing professional engineering services to the county pursuant to the professional services agreement,'' the claim states.

The county suffered because of the delay in the completion of the project and is seeking a judgment against Halcrow for unspecified damages, court costs and other relief from the judge.

In an email to county commissioners announcing the action against Halcrow, assistant county attorney Jon Jouben wrote: "It is unfortunate that the county has been forced to take this action. However, Halcrow had left the county without an alternative.''

Officials with Halcrow could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

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

Hernando County claims engineering consultant Halcrow Inc. shares blame for failed first dredge attempt 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 8:33pm]
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