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Hernando County officials move to take over long-stalled dredge project

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission took the first steps Tuesday to take over control of the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project by rejecting the sole bid for the project and agreeing to seek a more flexible permit from state environmental regulators.

Details of how the county will serve as the lead agency on the project, which faces significant time and monetary constraints, will be worked out in commission meetings to come. County Administrator David Hamilton promised to bring additional information back for further discussion at a special meeting planned for Tuesday.

The idea is to have Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel lead a team that would assemble county staff members to do the things that they can do such as moving dirt and bid those functions the county cannot do itself, such as the actual channel dredging.

Hamilton said that the county wasn't trying to become a dredging business, but rather find a way to get the long-awaited project completed. "We're in the solution business,'' he said.

With the commission's approval, the staff will begin immediately to clean the discharge canal that has been fouled by the previous dredge effort. Goebel said she can begin work on that task immediately.

Not everyone was in total support of the plan for the county to step into the lead role and Hamilton himself even expressed some trepidation.

"Do you really think you can handle this job in-house, as you say,'' asked Hernando Beach resident Patricia Simons. She said the general public "seriously doubts'' that the county could pull off the project in that manner.

Bringing in individual companies to accomplish the dredge would be unwieldy and each company would blame the other when things didn't work out, warned Robert Carpenter, the owner of BCPeabody, the only bidder on the last round of the dredge.

"It would be a constant circle of people pointing to the other guy,'' he said.

Carpenter and firm president Andrew Goetz both urged the county to negotiate with their firm and said that they could drop their bid price if the state issues a more flexible permit. But commissioners voted unanimously to reject the BCPeabody bid.

They also unanimously agreed to formally ask the state Department of Environmental Protection for the new permit. Officials say they hope to have a new permit in hand soon, one that will take less money and time than the dredging system that BCPeabody had bid on. Under the plan the county last bid, county officials described a worse-case scenario that could have raised the dredge cost to $12 million.

Currently the remaining budget to complete the dredge is a little more than $4 million.

Another option that the commissioners placed on the table was to consider doing a scaled-down version of the dredge, similar to a maintenance dredge without making the channel longer or straightening the start of the channel.

Commissioners left that idea for more discussion.

Commissioner John Druzbick said he still had reservations about the administrator's plans and hoped that all options would still be available for the board if details could not be worked out on Hamilton's plan.

He was concerned about several aspects of the plan including the time it would take for the county to bid for every purchase that tops the county's $25,000 bidding threshold.

The county must finish the project by Jan. 1, 2012.

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

Hernando County officials move to take over long-stalled dredge project 01/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 6:05pm]
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