BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission will bid out the dredging of the Hernando Beach Channel — again.
With an extension of the deadline to complete the project in hand, the commissioners did not need to make an immediate decision on a new dredging contractor during the special meeting they called for Friday.
They had been poised to consider staffers' recommendation to hire Tampa-based BCPeabody to take over the dredge without a formal bid or request-for-proposals procedure on the multimillion-dollar project.
The board agreed instead to follow a formal bid process but also set its own deadline. If a contract cannot be reached by Jan. 31, the county will abandon the years-long project and pay back the millions in state dollars already spent.
"At this point in time, we need to take a good deep breath'' and decide what should happen next, Commissioner Jim Adkins said. Now the county has the time to consider the options and possibly come up with a plan that is less expensive than BCPeabody's $9.7 million proposal, he said.
Other commissioners agreed they were not going to award a contract on Friday, considering the extension gives them until Dec. 31, 2011, rather than June 30 to complete the project.
Commissioner Dave Russell, who helped secure the extension, suggested Hernando set its own deadline to get a contract because he said people stay focused on projects with a tight deadline. Then, he said, "Things have a tendency to get done.''
Adkins and Commissioner Rose Rocco both noted that the whole point of the dredge was to make the Hernando Beach Channel safer. Rocco and Commissioner Jeff Stabins both expressed concern about the sped-up processes they were seeing recommended by the county staff.
Chairman John Druzbick asked about whether the board should listen to formal presentations from BCPeabody or another firms, Jahna Dredging Inc. Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben advised them not to hear the presentations.
But BCPeabody owner Robert Carpenter protested that the details of his firm's bid had been made public and that was unfair if he wanted to try to bid the project. He also complained that his company had been unfairly "skewered in the newspaper."
Carpenter said it would be fairer for the county to negotiate another proposal from BCPeabody with the time extension taken into consideration, which would mean a lower price because his crews wouldn't have to work around the clock including on Christmas.
He argued that he had been dealing in "good faith'' with the county for the past month but now that all his competitors knew the details of his proposal, he was at a disadvantage. "I've been wronged here. My team has been wronged,'' he said.
Druzbick told Carpenter that all the firms that submitted quotes in the informal process had their detailed plans and figures in the public record as well.
Assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk reminded the board that, in the absence of an emergency, the commission had to follow the state law and its own code and bid the project.
Russell said that if the county hadn't gotten the extension, he would not have approved BCPeabody on Friday. And he said that his read on the discussion from his fellow board members at the meeting, they would not have done so, either.
Commissioners also raised questions about who on the county staff had been involved in negotiating the deal with the dredging firms. Transportation services director Susan Goebel reported that she had been involved. Various screening groups also included County administrator David Hamilton; a representative from the county's consultant on the dredge, Halcrow; and Lisa Hammond, the purchasing and contracts consultant for Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai.
Since BCPeabody became the apparent choice for new contractor, the community has been abuzz about the firm's connections with Gary Grubbs, a long-time area developer and former road builder. Grubbs has a history of financial problems including a bankruptcy in 2003 in which he owed the county $500,000 at one point. He also owes nearly $100,000 in back taxes to Pasco County.
Grubbs was to have helped haul dredged materials.
In addition, Piedroba Marine Construction LLC was identified as the dredging subcontractor. But that company was removed from a job in Southern Shores, N.C., after the contractor the firm was working for was found in default on a canal dredging project in February.
Town Council minutes indicate the problem was that PMC could not successfully remove enough sediment in the dredge spoils there to satisfy state permit requirements and the dredging project manager there, Tom Bennett, confirmed that PMC was replaced by a different subcontractor after the default.
That is the same turbidity problem that stalled the Hernando Beach Channel dredge in January, the problem which eventually resulted in the County Commission deciding that its dredge contractor Orion Dredging Services had breached its contract.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.