BROOKSVILLE — County officials on Wednesday opened three bids for the long-awaited Hernando Beach Channel dredging project, with the apparent low bidder being a firm out of Jacksonville, Subaqueous Services LLC.
The company bid just over $5 million to dredge the channel and dump the spoils at the county's old wastewater treatment plant on Shoal Line Boulevard.
Because the spoils dump site has been the sticking point in moving the dredge forward, the county asked for firms to also bid based on the other site in contention, property on Eagle Nest Drive owned by the prominent Manuel family.
Subaqueous bid $5.5 million to dredge and put the spoils on the Manuel site.
The difference in the bids for the two sites turned out to be nowhere near the $2.6 million estimated last month, when the county decided to focus on the permit for the Shoal Line site.
Neither of the other two bidders submitted bids for the Eagle Nest site, but their bids using the Shoal Line property were much higher than Subaqueous', based on the initial read of bids, purchasing director Jim Gantt said.
A Louisiana firm called Wilco Industrial Services LLC submitted a bid of $7.8 million, and Coastal Marine Construction Inc. of Venice submitted a bid of $8.3 million.
The bids were to be examined and the math checked before a recommendation is prepared for the County Commission next month, Gantt said.
The scope of the project is to widen, lengthen, deepen and straighten the Hernando Beach Channel, replace navigational markers, mark sea grass protection zones and dispose of the spoils.
Rocks are to be placed on the offshore spoil islands. More than 60,000 cubic yards of sand will be pumped ashore to the county's property on Shoal Line Boulevard.
The Shoal Line site was proposed last year when neighbors objected to the use of the Eagle Nest Drive property. The county had been working to permit that location as a spoils site for more than a year. Both sites ended up tangled in litigation until a settlement was reached recently.
The dredging project will be paid for with $3 million in county money derived from a bond issue floated several years ago and from general fund reserves and a $6 million allocation from the state.
To date, the county has spent $924,585 on the consultant hired to get the permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Halcrow Inc.
No cost was available on Wednesday for the fees of attorney Richard Brightman of Hopping Green & Sams, hired by the county to facilitate the project.
Another cost is the $196,000 the county has agreed to pay to Manuel LLC and the other property owners who objected to using the Shoal Line site for the spoils disposal. That payment and the agreement to give Manuel LLC at least 40,000 cubic yards of the dredged materials are key elements of the legal settlement. The county has also agreed to water quality monitoring.
Since that settlement was approved, Manuel LLC and the other objectors have had dismissed their legal challenge to the Shoal Line site.
As the dredge moves forward, more than a dozen residents of Eagle Nest Drive are now at the end of a their nearly three-year battle to keep the county from dumping the spoils onto the Manuel property.
After spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on their case, several of the neighbors say they learned a lot from the experience, and one major conclusion they reached is that the county dropped the ball in several key areas.
"We were made out to be some sort of selfish complainers," said neighbor Lisa Bambauer. "That was absolutely wrong."
She recounted a community meeting early on when she and the others fighting the Manuel site for spoils dumping were held up by county officials as the people who were stopping the needed project.
"They were hostile toward us. Our questions were belittled and berated," she said. "It was clear to me that it was a effort to drive a wedge between the people with questions and everyone else."
Bambauer said the group has always supported the project, just not the spoils site or the way the selection of that site was made.
"It's a win to get the dredge done and the dredge does need to get done," she said.
While the residents on Eagle Nest asked repeatedly for information about why the Manuel site was preferred — and specifically a cost study showing it would be cheaper than other alternatives — no formal cost study ever came out until last month as officials were preparing the documents to bid the job.
At that point, they learned that the county's consultant determined that the Shoal Line site was going to be approximately $2.6 million cheaper. The difference, it turns out from Wednesday's bid opening, was closer to a half-million dollars in savings.
With their complaining, Bambauer said, the residents saved Hernando County hundreds of thousands of dollars that will not have to be spent for the dredging.
Neighbor Richard Doyle said that the wastewater treatment plant site was reviewed and approved by the state in just 54 days rather than the years it took for the Manuel site, an indication that it did not have the same number of state environmental issues to settle.
The history of delays and the final outcome have the residents worried that there will also be a lack of oversight as Manuel LLC prepares to develop the property into houses. They plan to watch closely to be sure all the proper rules are followed.
"Our concerns are to this day that we don't have anybody at the commission level, anybody doing any oversight on these failed projects," Doyle said of the dredge.
"Up until this point, no one has been held accountable and if they're not, nothing is going to change," she said. "I believe that anyone who has turned to look the other way is complicit."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.