BROOKSVILLE — Boaters anticipating the long-overdue completion of the Hernando Beach Channel dredge may be waiting awhile longer.
The county is uncertain enough about contractor BCPeabody's ability to meet the Dec. 31 deadline that staffers will talk to the County Commission on Tuesday about seeking yet another deadline extension.
The completion date is important because the county could have to pay back $6 million to the state if the job is not done by then — unless the county can convince the Florida Department of Transportation to extend the deadline.
"Over the last several months the county has witnessed downtime and delays associated with the contractor dredging the Hernando Beach dredge project,'' public works staffers wrote in a memo to commissioners. "Currently the contractor confirms that they can still meet the Dec. 31 deadline. However, it is in the county's best interest to secure the state funding beyond the current approval date.''
The deadline is also important to BCPeabody because the company's contract with the county requires the contractor to pay $5,000 for each day the dredge remains unfinished after Dec. 31. The memo notes, however, that the request is not intended to let BCPeabody off the hook for meeting its deadline — only to make sure that the county does not lose its funding.
The most recent schedule given to commissioners indicates that three separate dredging operations will be going on in the channel to get the work done in a timely manner.
When asked this week how many are actually operating, transportation services director Susan Goebel said one.
In mid September, BCPeabody president Andrew Goetz pleaded with the County Commission not to lose faith in his company's ability to complete the dredge, despite the many setbacks and delays. He also urged the commission to accept the company's latest pay request, even though Goebel disagreed with some of the charges.
Commissioners voted to make the payment, but the discussion didn't end there. Another meeting followed among staff members because Goebel was still concerned about some portions of the bill. Making the decision fell to Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai.
Her general counsel, Don Barbee, responded. He told Nicolai that her job was to decide whether she could legally dispense public money to pay the entire bill and that "this preauditing function of the clerk does not extend into the prudency of the payment or any additional evaluation beyond its legality.''
Barbee also told Nicolai that the issue of what to pay the contractor would continue to be a problem because BCPeabody was dredging in an entirely different manner than was described in the original contract and fee payment plan.
Originally, the contractor was to use mechanical dredging equipment to clear away the rocks impinging on the channel and hydraulic dredging equipment to suck out the muck at the bottom of the channel, filter it and return clean water to the system. Then in late summer, BCPeabody decided that the hydraulic dredging wasn't working and that a complete mechanical dredge was needed instead.
A change in the contract is needed to make the rules of payment clear under the new arrangement, Barbee wrote. The County Commission on Tuesday will consider entering negotiations to change the contract and redefine those rules.
Commissioners also will consider whether to allow BCPeabody to decommission the huge settling pond that had been used for the hydraulic dredge.
"The change in methods was made in early August and although behind schedule, in two months, the mechanical dredging operation has provided reasonable assurance that the method is effective,'' county staffers wrote in a memo to the commission.
"As to not delay the contractor from successfully completing the project on time, a decision should be made to allow the contractor to decommission the dewatering ponds at his will.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.