BROOKSVILLE — A new direction seems likely for the most snake-bit public works project in recent Hernando County history, the Hernando Beach Channel dredge.
County commissioners frustrated by the inability to make the dredge happen are interested in County Administrator David Hamilton's newest idea to make the county essentially the general contractor on the job.
Their reactions to the idea on Friday also reflect their frustration about all the recent glitches.
"If we contract it out or do it ourselves, who gets blamed if it doesn't happen?'' asked Commission Chairman Jim Adkins. "If I'm going to get blamed for something, I'd rather be a part of it.''
"Well, nothing else has worked, so why not try this?'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. "What the heck?''
Hamilton's proposal, which commissioners will discuss on Tuesday, would have county transportation services director Susan Goebel head up the dredge. Staff would be used for the part of the work, such as moving pipes or hauling dirt. The more specialized jobs, such as the actual dredging, would be contracted out.
"It's certainly worth a look,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "We have limited funds. We have a project that needs to be completed.''
The county already has the talent to accomplish the project in its in-house engineers, Russell said, and firms can be hired for tasks for which the staff lacks expertise or equipment.
Acting as the general contractor would allow the county to have more flexibility and that might even allow the county to scale down the project to make it better fit within the available funds, Russell said.
A smaller project would also have less environmental impact and could cut back on the amount the county will have to spend on seagrass replanting, he said.
While hiring a general contractor to oversee a project takes some of the day-to-day oversight of a project like the dredge off the county's plate, "that doesn't always work,'' Russell said. "Look at our last contractor. How did that work?''
The dredge project budget was originally $9 million, with the county paying a third and the state paying the remainder. About half that money has already been spent on the last contractor, whom the county fired, and other expenses. Only 6 percent of the actual dredging has been done.
County officials estimated that if they opted to take the one bid they have received on the project, the job could cost another $12 million. Hamilton is suggesting that the bid be formally rejected.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is working with the county daily to craft a new and more flexible permit for a dredge process that would be cheaper. That permit is expected soon.
The county is required to get the work done by Jan. 1, 2012, or lose the state funding.
Commissioner John Druzbick said that the commission on Tuesday must decide whether to reject the bid from BCPeabody, a Tampa-based contractor. Druzbick has said repeatedly that he did not believe it would be fair to accept the bid because it was tied to the old permit.
That permit added many complications to the project, which drove all other interested firms away from submitting a bid. Some of those firm representatives said they would have bid if the project followed a simpler path, like the one county officials are now hoping to get from the state.
Druzbick said he does not want the county to prepare to work on the project until the new DEP permit is in hand because that would be costly.
He also is concerned that, since the county is legally required to bid every expense that tops $25,000, it could slow down the process unless the county can find some goods and services on an already approved state list of vendors.
Another drawback to using county employees for the work is "what else is not getting done,'' Druzbick said. "It's not like we have an overload of additional people just lying around.''
He said the idea is certainly worth talking about but all things need to be considered.
"I don't know if it's the best idea but it does give you a certain amount of control that you didn't have before,'' Druzbick said, "but is also lays more responsibility on the county.''
Stabins said that he understands people might be critical of the idea because the county hasn't been able to make the project happen in more than 16 years and now it wants to run the dredge itself.
Hamilton's proposal "caught me off guard. I found it innovative and I have no other idea,'' Stabins said.
Adkins said he didn't think the job was really that complicated and he believes the county can get the work done. "The dredge, it took on a life of its own and now we're trying to get it back under control,'' he said.
Russell said he hopes Hamilton's proposal is the one that finally gets the job done. "We've got to be thinking outside of the box and within our means,'' he said. "We're just trying to bring this thing in for a landing.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com.