BROOKSVILLE — In an effort to get the stalled Hernando Beach Channel dredge project moving again, the County Commission agreed Tuesday to begin talks with a new dredge contractor, BCPeabody.
But commissioners, who were inundated with a flood of last-minute paperwork about a deal that would require them to declare an emergency and eschew normal purchasing procedures, were not ready to sign on the dotted line yet.
Instead, they will hold a special meeting at 11 a.m. Friday to consider a formal approval of the Tampa-based firm that has promised to get the job done by the June 30 funding deadline and do it within the parameters of the county's existing dredge permit from the state.
Because time is running out, BCPeabody owner Robert Carpenter voiced some concern about even the couple of days of delay in getting started. But he also told commissioners that he wanted the work, had assembled his team of the best fellow former-military personnel he knew and, if it were humanly possible, they would get the job done by working around the clock seven days a week.
Despite his confidence, commissioners were concerned about rushing in too quickly to a job which carries a base price of $8.5 million with another $1.2 million in chemicals if they are needed.
When Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben asked the commission to consider declaring the situation an emergency and the vote had to be a super majority, that motion passed with a 4 to 1 vote. Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he needed more time to examine all the documents staff had assembled in the past two days, and he voted no.
Commissioner Rose Rocco voiced strong concern about one of the subcontractors that the firm has said is part of the team, long-time developer and former road builder Gary Grubbs. With help from the tax collector's office, Rocco detailed the hundreds of thousands of dollars Grubbs owed the county at the time of his bankruptcy and the tens of thousands spent to try to collect it.
"Have we vetted the company?'' Rocco asked.
Carpenter assured the commissioner that their contract would not be with his subcontractors but with him, and his capital was his reputation.
Jouben assured commissioners that background checks on the firm would be conducted.
During public comment, the commissioners heard from an agitated Jim Gantt, the county's former purchasing director, whose job was eliminated. "I'm flabbergasted,'' he told them, first asking if County Administrator David Hamilton had his hearing aid turned up, then questioning whether Jouben was even quoting from the right regulation.
He called the process "a sham" and asked commissioners why they were just going to do whatever Hamilton asked them to do. He argued that the only people to benefit from the dredge were those with land at the beach, prompting chairman John Druzbick to testily demand that Gantt to "prove it'' if he were intimating that someone was getting a kickback or bribe.
Gantt left the meeting threatening to seek an injunction to stop the board from moving on with the project.
The county fired its original contractor on the project, Orion Dredging Services LLC, after determining the firm breached its contract. The work was shut down because Orion couldn't get enough sediment out of the dredged spoils to satisfy state environmental regulators.
After a new system was devised, the county and Orion couldn't reach agreement on the cost of implementing it and Orion refused to guarantee completion.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.