BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County on Friday ordered its dredging contractor to return and start working on the Hernando Beach Channel within 10 days.
The notice sent to Orion Dredging Services LLC on Friday comes just a day after Orion submitted a change order that nearly doubled the cost of the dredge, putting it far out of reach of the county's available budget.
The county's notice also questions some of Orion's recent actions.
"We're telling them to get back to work. Honor their contract,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "While we're negotiating with them, we need them to honor their contract.''
Orion wants another $7.8 million on top of its contracted $5 million. The entire budget for the dredge is $9 million, several million of which have already been paid to Orion, the county's consultant, or included in a settlement with the owner of the previous spoils site.
Tens of thousands of the additional dollars Orion is seeking from the county are the costs of breaking down and moving equipment from the site while the dredge was stalled, and the cost of moving it back.
But the notice to Orion written by interim public works director Susan Goebel details that she told Orion officials on Aug. 4 that the state Department of Environmental Protection had approved the permit to resume the dredge using a new plan to dewater the spoils.
That was her signal that Orion needed to start moving its equipment back to the site.
In her correspondence to Orion, Goebel said the firm's representative had said that a change order for the additional work on the new dewatering system would be submitted and she asked for it to come immediately "as to not delay the project any further.''
Ten days after Orion received the notice that the permit was approved, on Aug. 14, "Orion or someone acting under Orion's direction removed the Del Tank & Filtration Total Clean System unit and the remainder of Orion's equipment'' from the spoils deposit site, Goebel wrote.
The system was the primary filtration device that Orion had been using to clean the dredged spoils. That system never cleared enough sediment out of the water to meet state environmental standards, which is why the state ordered the dredging stopped in January.
"The whole thing smells fishy,'' Russell said of the timing of removing the equipment and then sending the county the bill to bring it back just days later.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he felt bad that he and other county officials tried to calm Hernando Beach residents weeks ago when they feared that once Orion removed its equipment, it would never return.
"We assured them that everything would be okay,'' Stabins said.
With a project that has spanned several incarnations over two decades, Stabins said he worried about the project 20 years ago when the Army Corps of Engineers was the lead agency.
"It's just awful,'' Stabins said of the recent developments. "These guys are just bastards. … I can't think of any more appropriate word to describe them.''
Since then, the county has been working with its consultant on the project, Halcrow, and with Orion to design a system that would work. That system includes new settling ponds and use of a coagulant to separate the water and the solids.
The change order focuses on the costs of building, maintaining and closing those ponds as well as mixing and treating the coagulant, in addition to costs associated with the delays and moving the equipment.
County officials under the advice of their attorney have not commented on the change order. Goebel's Friday letter notes the change order will be handled according to the details of their contract.
She copied Orion's bonding company on the correspondence.
Russell said the county will pursue the bonding company if Orion doesn't comply with its contract. "We're doing to do everything possible to preserve this project,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.