BROOKSVILLE — After weeks of jockeying among potential suitors, only one firm has chosen to bid on the job of completing the stalled dredge of the Hernando Beach Channel.
And that company is one that county officials were criticized about two months ago after questions were raised about the firm's subcontractors.
At Wednesday's bid opening, the Tampa-based BCPeabody company was the only one standing. Its $8.8 million bid is well above the roughly $4.5 million still available for the project, which is a joint effort; two thirds of the cost is being paid by the state and one third by the county.
The bid also is $300,000 more than the amount the company had indicated months ago it would need to complete the job.
More than a dozen firms had attended a mandatory pre-bid conference in early December to ask about the project. But only one stepped forward.
"I expected more bids,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "However, we set such stringent requirements on the permitting that we weeded out quite a few of the other potential bidders.''
Commissioners will get an update on the bid on Tuesday and will consider a bid award and several staff-prepared options at their meeting on Jan. 25. The county is not obligated to go with the BCPeabody bid.
"This is just a royal cluster fuss,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. He said it was "another sad chapter'' in the dredge saga.
He called the added $300,000 in BCPeabody's bid "pain and suffering'' for the treatment the firm perceives it has endured during the process.
The County Commission chose to rebid the long-awaited dredging project after firing the previous contractor, Orion Dredging Services LLC. The county determined that Orion had breached its contract for failing to complete the dredge.
Orion, in turn, has sued the county, claiming Hernando broke the contract. Orion's bonding company has refused to pay on the county's claim, repeating Orion's argument that a faulty dewatering plan doomed the project.
Before the county was able to get another extension to the state deadline to complete the dredge, county staff recommended that the commission approve an un-bid $8.5 million contract with BCPeabody.
But concerns about the past performance of subcontractors on the BCPeabody list stirred up controversy. The company planned to use former road builder and long-time developer Gary Grubbs, who has a history of not paying taxes and bills, plus a bankruptcy. At one point, he owed Hernando County $500,000 in back taxes. Recently in Pasco County, he owed nearly $100,000 for 2008 and 2009 taxes.
Dredging firm Piedroba Marine Construction, also listed as a subcontractor for BCPeabody, had run into problems with dewatering in a dredging job in Southern Shores, N.C. The town ended up replacing the contractor and the dredging firm on that job.
Transportation Services director Susan Goebel said late Wednesday that she had heard that Grubbs might not be part of the BCPeabody team anymore, but she had not confirmed that. Chief procurement officer Matt Perry could not be reached for clarification.
After the commission fired Orion, a number of other dredging firms came forward to say that they could do the job for millions less than what Orion was asking. But they also said it would be cheaper to go back to the dredging process described in the permit that Orion couldn't make work.
Using a filtering device, Orion had been unable to separate enough of the sediment from the spoils to return clear water to the canal. To fix that, a new system using settling ponds and a chemical coagulant was designed and permitted. That proposal increased the original $5 million cost by nearly $8 million, according to Orion.
While bidders were told to bid to the new permit with the new, more-expensive system, Commission Chairman John Druzbick said there is wiggle room for the winning bidder to seek a permit modification, provided that the work is still done by the Jan. 1, 2012, deadline.
After a recent conversation with officials from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Druzbick said he felt confident that, with the new leadership in Tallahassee, the agency would work with the contractor if a permit modification is needed.
A meeting for top county officials with DEP is planned for next week. County Administrator David Hamilton said the plan is to talk to state officials about the county's permits, including the possibility of returning to the previous — and cheaper — plan.
While county officials have determined that the idea of spending money from the Transportation Trust Fund on the dredge is legal, commissioners have expressed some reluctance to use those dollars to make up the difference in cost. Druzbick said borrowing to pay for the project is another possibility.
Ultimately, he said he would like to see the county get reimbursed by the bonding company, but when or if that might happen is unknown.
Without a change in the price tag, Commissioner Jim Adkins said he wasn't willing to go forward with the dredge because the county can't afford it. He does not favor using Transportation Trust Fund dollars because of the impact that would have on needed road projects countywide.
Stabins said he believes all alternatives for funding the project should be on the table. He would be willing for some money to come from the Transportation Trust Fund, but not all of it. The county might also consider a special taxing district for those in the Hernando Beach area who would most directly benefit from the dredge.
But Stabins said he won't feel comfortable with voting to proceed until he gets a cost analysis from the staff that shows the county will reap more economic benefit than the work will cost.
"At some point, the dredge will not be economically worth doing,'' Stabins said.
Druzbick said he has no doubt the project is needed.
"There's always the safety factor. By not doing anything, it's not getting any better,'' he said. "It has a lot to do with commerce. We have the commercial fishing fleet out there, and someday it will just get to the point where they won't be able to get out there anymore and they'll leave.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt[email protected] or (352) 848-1434.