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Hernando County demands that dredge contractor revise its work schedule

BROOKSVILLE — With work on hold for months now and state funding in jeopardy, Hernando County on Thursday demanded a revised work schedule from the contractor they hired to dredge the Hernando Beach Channel.

In the 12-page letter written to Orion Dredging Services, LLC, County Attorney Garth Coller reminds the company of its obligations under their contract to complete the dredging project.

Coller gives the company until April 15 to "cure the deficiencies listed'' and provide a revised work schedule and address ongoing environmental problems with the dewatering system that had been used on the dredge spoils. He also invites the firm to meet and discuss "all possible alternatives.''

The county is facing a June deadline for completing the dredge in order to safeguard the state's matching money. The project had an estimated cost of $9 million with $6 million of that promised by the state if the deadline is met.

The county is seeking an extension of that funding, and county officials say that they have had some assurances the state may be lenient on enforcing the deadline.

The county has already paid Orion about 30 percent of the contract amount and officials estimated that only 6 percent of the actual dredging has been done.

In his letter to Orion, Coller notes that the firm did not meet the state's water quality standards and the state had to stop work in early January. Orion was supposed to have stopped work themselves as soon as that happened.

"To date, Orion has failed or refused to correct the turbidity problems despite its clear responsibility to do so under the contract documents,'' Coller wrote.

The county has also repeatedly asked for a revised work schedule and a plan to solve the problem of too much sediment in the water going back into the canal "however to date, Orion has failed or refused to comply with the county's requests.''

In discussions with state environmental regulators, solutions to the sediment problems have been discussed including filtering ponds a coagulant to separate the sediment from the water and a high dam wall but Orion has not yet had the plans signed and sealed by an engineer or provided DEP requested details, the letter states.

If the county acts to answer those DEP requests through the county or its consultant Halcrow, then "the county has assumed ownership of the "means and methods'' thereby relieving Orion of this critical responsibility.''

But Coller goes on to say it does not want to assume that responsibility.

In addition to sending the letter to Orion, Coller also copies various county officials, Halcrow officials and the bonding company which is on the hook for the $5 million dredging contract.

The County Commission accepted the bid of Subaqueous Services LLC — which is now named Orion Dredging Services, LLC — in late May agreeing to pay $5 million for the widening, deepening and straightening of the channel. The project, mired in legal, financial and environmental problems, has been on the drawing board now for more than 16 years.

The bid was $2.8 million lower than the next lowest bidder and received a strong endorsement from Halcrow. Terry Durand of Halcrow noted at the time that his firm had worked with Subaqueous before and "is a competent dredging contractor for your project.''

Charles Mixson, former public works director, was fired earlier this year in large part for continuing cost overruns and project delays on the dredge project and others. Assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton, who had been the dredge project manager for years, quit a few days later.

In late November, Orion and the county were put on notice by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that contractor was not following all of the rules set out in the hard-won channel dredging permit. The contractor made immediate changes.

A month later, more problems arose when Hernando Beach residents noticed the water extracted from the dredged material and piped back into a canal was murky rather than clear. That is the problem that Orion and the county have not yet solved.

Further complicating the problem, county officials also had been wrangling with Halcrow over their fees to complete needed sea grass mitigation for the project. Last month they finally reached an agreement to raise the Halcrow contract amount by another $553,000, bringing their total contract to $2,530,738.

In their press release on Thursday, officials said they are still forging ahead to finally get the dredge accomplished.

"The county remains in constant communication with FDEP and the project contractor to ensure the project's continuation and to get the project back on track as soon as possible,'' the release states.

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

Hernando County demands that dredge contractor revise its work schedule 04/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 7:48pm]
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