BROOKSVILLE — Handed another delay and a new set of problems on the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project this week, county commissioners are saying they hope the latest issues can be overcome.
Several said Wednesday that they want to see their staff and the contractor work together to get it back on schedule and avoid any cost increases.
This week, commissioners learned that contractor BCPeabody wants to switch its method to all mechanical dredging to clear the channel of the large limerock boulders that litter the entire 3-mile length of the channel.
Previously, the contractor had been running the mechanical dredge in limited areas where rocks had been seen and a hydraulic dredge in the rest of the channel. That device drew in sand and silt and piped it to the county's old wastewater treatment plant site to be filtered through treatment ponds.
The hydraulic dredging has been ineffective and rocks along the way have damaged two hydraulic dredges on the job, BCPeabody officials told the county. The company has been given permission to talk to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about making the change.
"They say that they're going to be on time and on budget,'' said Commission Chairman Jim Adkins. "For the overall project, I think they should be okay on time.''
The work must be done by Dec. 31 or the county may lose the $6 million in state funding it received for the dredge.
Commissioner Dave Russell said he was also confident that the staff could work out the problems and appreciated that commissioners have been getting timely information about problems as they arise. That hadn't happened with the previous contractor hired for the project.
"They're having some problems out there and that is unfortunate,'' said Commissioner John Druzbick. He said he wasn't sure why equipment failures have slowed the speed so significantly. Early in the project, the contractor was three weeks ahead of schedule, and now he is behind.
"We've lost a month,'' Druzbick said.
Contingencies should have been made for quickly replacing equipment that stops working, he said. And those costs were all to be paid by the contractor.
As for the change from using a hydraulic dredge, Druzbick noted that all of the firms that bid on the job focused on the hydraulic dredging with only minor mechanical dredging. County staff has said that the geo-technical surveys were provided for the bidders on the dredging project so conditions were known at that time.
Druzbick said he was interested to hear how much BCPeabody could reduce its overall cost for the project by not operating the treatment ponds anymore and because they never needed to mix chemicals with the spoils to filter them or haul the chemically treated materials to a landfill.
The ponds were a major expense on the project. The company's original bid sheet listed the cost to construct, operate and dismantle the ponds at more than $2.7 million.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins had doubts about whether the cost to finish the work can be contained.
"That's been a pipe dream from the beginning. This has been a boondoggle for 20 years, but luckily we have our own slush fund, which is known as the judicial center fund set aside for courtrooms we don't need,'' he said.
While Stabins said stopping the work now wasn't practical, with the county already spending more than $10.1 million on the project with millions more owed to BCPeabody, he did say, "it's already more expensive than it is worth.''
Officials estimate that about 11 percent of the overall work is completed.
Stabins said that as the public official who has allowed the dredge to go on the longest, first as a state legislator and then as a commissioner, people could rightly hold him to blame for the debacle.
"There's one man to blame and I've been around for the longest,'' he said. "I was in the Legislature and I didn't stop it and I'm sitting on the commission and I'm not stopping it. . . .
"What I will do is pull the plug on my career'' at the end of the current term, Stabins said. He has already announced he will not seek another term on the commission in 2012.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.