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New overseer wants Hernando Beach dredging project back on track

Members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Assessment Team, Chris Anastasiou, left, and Pete Wenner, take photographs and make notes at the outflow site for the Hernando Beach dredging project Wednesday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Assessment Team, Chris Anastasiou, left, and Pete Wenner, take photographs and make notes at the outflow site for the Hernando Beach dredging project Wednesday.

HERNANDO BEACH — On just her second day as interim public works director, Susan Goebel stood ready to look the beast in the eye.

At midday Wednesday, she met state environmental regulators at the Coast Guard Auxiliary building here and prepared to visit the trouble spots of her new top priority: The snakebit Hernando Beach channel dredging project.

Shifted from her job in the county utilities department after County Administrator David Hamilton fired public works director Charles Mixson last week, and assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton quit on Tuesday, Goebel knows the stakes are high.

Problems with the dredging project were key in the demise of both longtime public works officials.

Goebel tried to get up to speed by reading reams of documents about the project over the holiday weekend and Tuesday. The soft-spoken 35-year-old mechanical engineer admitted that school was never like this.

Goebel said her first task is to hear directly from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials about their concerns and to find out about any other issues that might delay a project that already is falling behind schedule.

Her priority, she said, is getting the dredging back on track.

Dredging began in October but the pace slowed in recent weeks when the DEP found repeated environmental problems with rock removal and signs, among other issues.

When the dredged spoils started to go back into a canal still cloudy with sediment, the dredging was stopped and will remain so until the state approves a new plan for spoils disposal, said Ana Gibbs, DEP spokeswoman.

The agency is expediting the approval process, Gibbs said. The deadline is looming for the county to avoid losing state matching dollars for the $7.7 million project. Hamilton has set a meeting Friday with Halcrow, Inc., the county's consultant on the project.

In May, Mixson told county commissioners the extra $1 million he was seeking for Halcrow — which would double their contracted amount — should be enough to finish the project.

In a recent memo, however, Mixson said the county might need to pay Halcrow another $600,000 because of issues with mitigation for the destruction of seagrass.

Hamilton wants to talk more about that with Halcrow representatives and also talk to them about their contract obligations to monitor permit compliance by the dredging contractor on the job in light of the two warning letters the county has received over the various problems on the dredging.

The contractor has an April deadline to finish the work.

Goebel said Wednesday that they might get a slight extension taking into considerations days allowed if bad weather impacts their operation. The firm has assured the county that, once the issue of the turbid water is solved, the company will work 12 hours a day to finish the dredging on time, she said.

Hamilton is optimistic that the dredging will get done as promised.

"I have every reason to believe we will get it back on track and back on budget,'' he said.

His new point person on the county's top priority took her first step in that direction Wednesday by boarding a watercraft and heading out to face the growing menace.

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

At a glance

Hernando Beach channel dredging

Work began: October.

Cost: $7.7 million.

Scope of work: Make 3-mile channel wider, deeper and straighter.

Recent problems: Water returned to the canal has been determined by the state to be too turbid. Seagrass mitigation might cost more than the county expected.

New overseer wants Hernando Beach dredging project back on track 01/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 8:30pm]
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