Latest snag won't hold up Hernando Beach Channel dredging but may add to consultants' fees

BROOKSVILLE — Don't look now, but the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project has just hit another snag.

But at least this time, the environmental glitch that has cropped up is actually a good news/bad news sort of scenario, Hernando public works director Charles Mixson told county commissioners this week.

Sure, the county needs to draw up a Plan B for how to mitigate for lost sea grass and, yes, that's going to cost some money.

But the upside is that Hernando County will be fixing a new area of damaged sea grass between Jenkins Creek and Bayport, a move that will improve habitat for local sea life.

And the really good news is that this glitch is not going to stop the dredging from moving forward.

As part of the long-awaited dredging project, the county was going to have to mitigate for the sea grass that will be lost when the channel is lengthened. The plan was to cultivate new grass where propellers have scarred areas near the beginning of the channel.

Once the dredge was done, the area would be marked so that no motorized vessels would enter.

But as the county's sea grass consultants arrived to do a survey showing where the scars were, they found that the sea grass had filled back in and no fix was needed.

Mixson said that state environmental regulators were not going to give the county credit for that and they needed another plan. That's when the sea grass consultants suggested cultivating the badly scarred areas just out from Jenkins Creek near Bayport.

Protecting that area from motor boats would be good for boat owners and sea life, Mixson said. It's a spot that is shallow and rocky, and motor boats should not be there, he said.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials have given verbal permission for the sea grass cultivation in that area, Mixson said Wednesday. Commissioners agreed to hold a public hearing Aug. 11 on the change in the county's sea grass protection ordinance.

Expanding the county sea grass consultants' responsibilities to the new area would result in an increase in their fee, which would be brought forward to the County Commission in the future. But Mixson said the project still would be well within budget.

The county is funding one-third and the state is funding two-thirds, up to a total project of $9 million.

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

fast facts

In other County Commission business:

• Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to again offer a voluntary separation incentive package for county employees. This time, they have opened it up to all employees with six or more years of experience of any pay grade.

While it's unknown how many employees would take the incentives, county officials estimate they could save more than $300,000 in the 2010 fiscal year after the expenses from the buyouts are considered. In the long term, the savings could be $1 million per year.

• Commissioners concurred with the school district's choice of a contractor for a hurricane shelter retrofitting of Parrott Middle School that will allow the facility to become the county's first pet-friendly hurricane shelter.

The contract, to be awarded to Spike Construction Inc. of Tampa, is for about $100,000. Those funds will retrofit doors and windows, providing room for 172 people and 284 pets in case of an emergency. The funding comes from a state grant.

The item was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Jim Adkins voting no.

• The board approved an Emergency Action Plan for the Government Center, replacing a previous plan approved four years ago. The plan includes a color-coded guide for any type of emergency ranging from fire to medical emergency, lockdown to bomb threat. It sets up rules and procedures in the case of each scenario.

• Commissioners set an Aug. 25 public hearing to consider establishing a special municipal benefits unit to install and maintain street lights in the county's portion of the south Brooksville community.

Initial costs will be paid for through $20,000 in forfeiture funds from the Sheriffs Office and a loan from the county general fund. Long-term maintenance would be paid for by residents through an assessment fee on their property tax bills.

• Health and Human Services director Jean Rags informed commissioners that the county has finally received state approval for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

The program, funded by federal money funneled through the state, will provide $5.5 million for the county to offer two programs.

One will provide funding to help qualified low- to moderate-income families buy foreclosed homes. The other will allow the county to acquire, rehabilitate or rent multifamily units for low-income residents.

Latest snag won't hold up Hernando Beach Channel dredging but may add to consultants' fees 07/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 8:06pm]

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