BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County can proceed with finding a contractor to take over the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.
That was just what County Administrator David Hamilton hoped to hear Friday as the county waited for word from the bonding company for the contractor that county commissioners threw off the project last month.
In a letter to assistant county attorney Jon Jouben, the representative of bonding company Liberty Mutual states that the firm has no intention of taking on the dredge itself, which was one of its options.
The representative, Duane Daiker, also states, however, that "Hernando County has agreed that Liberty Mutual is reserving all rights and defenses in this matter'' and will continue to investigate it.
While that phrase raises the question of whether the firm will pay on its bond, Hamilton said late Friday that issue will be handled by the county attorney's office and he will take a formal proposal to proceed to the County Commission on Tuesday.
"We're right on schedule as we struggle to bring this project back under operation,'' Hamilton said.
In the interim, county officials will be meeting on Monday with at least four companies interested in completing the dredging work. There also may be a fifth contractor at the table as well: Orion Dredging Services LLC, the contractor the county recently fired for breaching its contract.
On Thursday, Orion Dredging Services LLC sent a letter to Susan Goebel, transportation services director, extending an olive branch to avoid a lawsuit.
"Orion is not in the business of pursuing litigation and prefers to devote its effort to completing projects that offer good value for our clients and us,'' wrote John A. Yaksch, manager of contract administration.
"Given the attendant time and cost for both parties, we are of the mind-set that litigation of this dispute is not in the best interests of the project, Hernando County taxpayers or our firm,'' he wrote.
Yaksch extended an invitation for Goebel to meet and work on a deal.
The county responded on Friday saying officials would meet with Orion representatives at 3:30 p.m. Monday but only if certain conditions were met.
Those included a construction agreement co-signed by Orion Dredging's parent corporation, that a completion bond for the county would be provided to guarantee the job was done by the June 30, 2011, state funding deadline, an agreement that Orion was solely responsible for any more state permit changes, and an agreement that the county would pay no amount to Orion for delays or remobilizing.
A new Orion team to accomplish the dredge was also requested.
Dredging on the long-awaited project began late last year but was stopped by the state in January when it was discovered that the dewatering system in place was not stripping enough sediment out of the water. Since then the county, Orion and the county's dredging consultant have been working out a new dewatering system.
Once the county got the permit for the new system, which includes a series of settling ponds and the addition of a chemical coagulant, Orion returned to the table asking that their original $5 million contract be expanded by another $7.8 million for the additional work.
That took the total project cost out of reach for its $9 million budget.
When no compromise could be reached, the county put the firm on notice that it was in breach of contract and notified Liberty Mutual.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.