BROOKSVILLE — The curse of the Hernando Beach channel dredge continues.
The contractor is behind schedule, and county transportation services director Susan Goebel has notified county commissioners that BCPeabody is unlikely to meet two progress deadlines it has later this week and next.
Also, because the contractor says it has discovered that all 3 miles of the channel must be dredged for large rocks, it wants to do away with its original plan to remove sand and silt from portions of the channel using a hydraulic dredge, then filtering the sand, silt and water through an extensive series of settling ponds.
The ponds and the clarity of the water at the end of the filtering process have been a focal point of the work and the expense to date.
A BCPeabody official said that because of the large rocks that are present along the entire length of the channel, the hydraulic dredge operation has been ineffective and that, in fact, the rocks caused the company's original equipment to break. A second, more powerful hydraulic dredge also broke and has not been operating since last week.
Instead, BCPeabody wants to switch from one to two mechanical dredging operations. Mechanical dredging equipment is designed to scoop up the larger rocks that clog the channel.
County spokeswoman Brenda Frazier could not explain Tuesday afternoon why no one had taken note of the extent of the problem with larger rocks until now. Geotechnical surveys were completed and provided as part of the package for BCPeabody and the other bidders on the dredge project, she said.
"Our most recent hydrographic survey of the hydraulically dredged portions of the channel confirmed the ineffectiveness of hydraulic dredging of this particular channel,'' BCPeabody president Andrew Goetz wrote to Goebel in a letter dated Friday.
"In effect, the hydraulic dredge is not able to eliminate the need to mechanically dredge the entire length of the channel to achieve permit depth and width,'' Goetz wrote.
He told Goebel he doesn't believe that a permit change will be needed from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"In the meantime, continue to bring the project back into schedule with the method in which you bid the project,'' Goebel responded on Friday.
"We have authorized them (BCPeabody) to hold preliminary discussions with FDEP, but have not given them approval to modify the permit,'' Goebel wrote to commissioners late Monday. "While (BCPeabody) has shown that they can remove more material via mechanical dredging, they still have turbidity issues that they are contending with.''
At this point, BCPeabody has not asked for any cost increase because of the possible change in the dredge method, Frazier said. To date, the dredge project has cost the county $10.1 million, including payments to BCPeabody, the previous dredging contractor, an engineering consultant, a sea grass consultant and other expenses.
Even before the problems cropped up with the hydraulic dredging, BCPeabody was on a very tight schedule to try to finish the project by the state's Dec. 31 deadline. Now the work is behind schedule, and it was unclear Tuesday whether the $6 million in state funding tied to that completion date is in jeopardy.
Prior to the most recent troubles, Goebel had already sent several letters of concern to the contractor about staying on schedule and within its $8.8 million budget. So far, BCPeabody has been paid $4.2 million, and only 11 percent of the work has been completed, Frazier said.
Since the dredge was first proposed more than 17 years ago, it has run into a series of legal, environmental and financial problems.
Early failures in the dredge project were a key reason that the county's last public works director lost his job. The county has been sued by its original dredge contractor. It fired its last dredge construction manager, has suffered a critical audit and legal review of its procurement processes for the project, and has borrowed millions from its judicial center fund to pay for the work.
Reach Barbara Behrendt at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.