BROOKSVILLE — The county can look into a new place to dump the spoils of the Hernando Beach Channel dredge project without having to fight a legal battle over a different site at the same time.
On Tuesday, an administrative law judge granted a continuance on hearings for the disputed spoils site, pushing them to Jan. 28-29 from Oct. 22-23.
Residents who have filed complaints about the county's original plan to dump spoils on the Eagle Nest Drive property owned by Manuel LLC have been asking to delay the hearings since they learned last month that the county was looking at a new site.
County commissioners voted to pursue a site east of Shoal Line Boulevard that once housed a county wastewater treatment plant to keep the county from losing $6-million in state funding for the dredge project.
Delays brought on by the neighbors' legal challenge threatened to cost the county the state grant, which is set to pay the largest share of the $9-million project to lengthen, straighten and deepen the channel.
Manuel LLC has intervened in the legal case filed by the residents, seeking a dismissal of the challenge and arguing against any delays in the hearing process. The company had a deal with the county to be the dumping site of sand that largely would have been left to build up the waterfront property for the residential development planned by the Manuels.
But neighbors argue that the proper environmental information has not been provided to the state about the Eagle Nest Drive site. Residents and even former consultants on the project have questioned whether the county has worked too hard to please the Manuels.
When the state Department of Environmental Protection announced plans to permit the Manuel site, the residents filed their legal challenge against Hernando County and DEP.
DEP has not weighed in formally on the delay in the procedure and DEP spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez said Tuesday that no comment was likely during the litigation.
She did say that the county has not yet filed its application for a permit for the new site.
Assistant County Attorney Geoffrey Kirk said Hernando County didn't want the case held in abeyance for an extended period, but did support a delay until January.
If the county gets a permit for the new site and the residents do not object, the county could move on with the project "in the shortest amount of time'' and the funding would not be at risk, according to Kirk.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.