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Hernando officials want to do controversial dredge project themselves

BROOKSVILLE — After more than 16 years of trying to get the Hernando Beach Channel dredged, county officials have a new, and novel, idea: Let's do it ourselves.

County Administrator David Hamilton is pitching an idea to the County Commission that the county's own staff act as the lead agency on the project, contracting out the tasks that county staffers cannot perform.

Part of that plan is to bring community members, businesses and organizations into the process to get the project done cheaper and by the state's Jan. 1, 2012, deadline.

Those community resources would form a dredging advisory group, and it would offer advice and guidance to the project. Hamilton noted in a memo to the County Commission that such a partnership could be a model for future projects.

On Tuesday, Hamilton will recommend that the commission reject the only bid it received on the project earlier this month, a bid from Tampa-based BCPeabody that could end up costing the county more than $12-million with all the needed activities included.

His rationale is that the county now has assurances from state environmental regulators that the county can get a more flexible dredging permit than the one that outside firms were forced to bid on in the most recent round.

"With less than a year remaining to complete the project, staff has convened a series of administrative meetings to explore the option of taking the lead role in undertaking this project,'' Hamilton wrote in a memo to commissioners released late Thursday.

"Under the leadership of (Transportation Services Director) Susan Goebel a tentative plan has been discussed to combine our own county resources within her Department of Public Works and the Environmental Services Division.''

Other divisions of the county would also likely be involved, Hamilton explains.

"Should the county board of commissioners support this approach, Ms. Goebel would lead the initiative starting with a strategy to prepare necessary internal resources to mobilize within our organization and to simultaneously identify external resources in specific areas of need that would be contracted under her day-to-day control,'' he wrote.

In recent weeks, commissioners have been inundated with e-mails and contact from residents eager to see the dredging completed. Not only have they cited the need for the widening, deepening, straightening and lengthening of the channel for safety purposes, but they also cite the county's economic need.

In response to the commissioners' request for information to quantify the economic impacts of the dredge project, Mike McHugh, the county's business development manager, wrote in a report to the board that it was a mixed bag.

The Property Appraiser's Office said it was unable to predict the effect of the project on property values, McHugh wrote. Whether the project is completed or not, the effect can only be accounted for through sales of properties in the area.

McHugh added that, "History has shown that added transportation capacity almost always positively influences or maintains property values and commerce.''

McHugh also gave commissioners statistics in a number of areas aimed at demonstrating the economic importance of an improved waterway, especially from commercial fishing boats.

Interviews with tourism-related businesses showed differing feelings. Boat renters would be able to move better with a wider and deeper channel, but others noted that the shrimp boats would be moving faster, which could make it more dangerous for smaller boats.

Others, such as charter captains and guides, said it would not affect their businesses very much either way.

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

Hernando officials want to do controversial dredge project themselves 01/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:11pm]
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