BROOKSVILLE — Despite all the recent setbacks, plans to restart the stalled Hernando Beach Channel dredging project are moving forward, County Administrator David Hamilton assured commissioners on Tuesday.
He said he hopes to have a new plan before the board by Oct. 26 for the long-awaited project to widen, deepen, lengthen and straighten the channel.
Four dredging contractors have talked with the county about the project, interim public works director Susan Goebel told the board. Talks also continue with the state Department of Environmental Protection officials who issued the county its dredging permit, she said.
By the end of October, "we'll know what the bonding company is going to do,'' Hamilton said. When the County Commission last week fired its dredging contractor Orion Dredging Services LLC, county officials immediately sought to pull Orion's performance bond.
But the bonding company has 30 days to decide whether to honor the bond by taking over the project or paying the county to finish it. The company can also deny the claim.
The county only has about $4.5 million left in the dredging budget and faces a June 30, 2011, deadline. County officials said they needed to find a contractor willing to fulfill the permit within budget and guarantee the job.
Orion officials would not guarantee that the latest method of dewatering the spoils would work. It was the incomplete process of stripping silt and sand from the spoils that stopped the project in January.
In a related development, Hamilton recommended Goebel be granted the new title of director of transportation services. Goebel has been the interim public works director since January when Hamilton fired former public works director Charles Mixson.
Goebel has been at the center of the county's efforts to revive the dredge project. She earned high praise from Hamilton and especially utilities director Joe Stapf, who had been her previous supervisor.
"She has the right stuff,'' Stapf said, noting that other utilities staff members flocked to her for her opinion on issues. "She's not only passionate about her work but she's passionate about doing the right thing.''
As commissioners Rose Rocco and Jeff Stabins questioned whether Goebel was the right person or if the timing of the appointment was right, Hamilton noted that Goebel's probation would be for six months.
By then, he said, the commissioners will know if the dredge is moving forward or whether both Goebel and Hamilton himself might be at risk in their jobs for not getting the project done.
Stabins called Hamilton out at last week's board meeting asking him if he would resign if the dredge does not get done. Hamilton said he is still working toward getting the sand out of the sea.
Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of Goebel taking on the new job. As Chairman John Druzbick put it after the vote, he wasn't sure whether to offer Goebel congratulations or condolences.
In other action:
• The commission approved the job descriptions that accompany Hamilton's management reorganization minus any ties to salaries. The county has still not received a final report from the consultant hired to reclassify county management jobs and salaries. Hamilton said he expected to have that information for the meeting on Oct. 26.
• The commission approved changes to its groundwater protection ordinance that detail additional land uses not permitted near springs.
The changes include a prohibition of auto maintenance shops and car washes, new underground storage tanks, marine paint or repair shops, dry cleaning plants, electroplating operations and laundromats not connected to sewer lines within 500 feet of a spring.
The changes were pushed by the residents of the Holiday Springs RV Resort in Spring Hill.
• Commissioners approved a change in the master plan of an apartment complex for senior citizens proposed at Quality Drive and Medical Boulevard near Spring Hill Regional Hospital.
Developer NVC/GP — Spring Hill had been approved for a three-story, 90-unit project, but sought a smaller footprint on their property and wanted to increase the building to four stories with the same 90 units.
Nearby residents voiced concern about the height and the impact on area roads. The commission voted unanimously on the change.
Some of those same neighbors asked the county for some help with another project also planned for their area which concerned them. The project is a sand mining and residential development proposal on the Pasco side of County Line Road.
Residents worry about sand being trucked around their already-overburdened roads. A hearing before Pasco officials was continued last week, but Hernando officials assured the residents that they were now talking to Pasco officials about neighbor concerns.
Rocco said she would attend the next meeting next month and other county staff may also attend.
• Commissioners approved the latest offer of funding from the Florida Department of Transportation to construct the air traffic control tower at the Hernando County Airport.
The total project cost is now $2,625,000 with DOT contributing $2.1 million of that. The county will pay the rest with the funding coming from the airport's reserves for capital projects.
• Commissioners unanimously approved a change in their ordinance that would reduce the amount of gain time inmates earn when they work in the county jail.
At the request of Sheriff Richard Nugent, the new gain time policy would allow inmates to accrue gain time at the rate of 11/2 days of gain time for every 40 hours of work.
The current policy earned an inmate two days of gain time for 40 hours of work. The change will bring an inmate's time in jail closer to the intent of judges' sentences, jail administrator Michael Page told the board.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.