New tests set at old Hernando public works site

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission has approved another round of tests at the contaminated old public works compound in hopes this will be the last.

Commissioners agreed to spend $217,508 for the tests, bringing the total cost of just the assessment through the consultant, Creative Environmental Solutions Inc., to more than $2-million.

The request came with pointed questions from commissioners who have been told before that tests were done and remediation of the contamination in the water and soil on the site was just around the corner.

Commissioner Rose Rocco asked whether the original contract with the company had been bid. County purchasing director Jim Gantt said no because at the time, the county was under the gun to get the cleanup started. Hernando was facing fines from the state, so the board allowed an expedited process without bids.

"We made a commitment to get this cleaned up,'' said Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley.

Rocco said she wasn't questioning the integrity of the firm or the county's sincerity. She just wanted to know if the cost was negotiable.

Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer, said all fees were negotiated with the company. This latest change to the contract would allow the consultant to finish the last tests requested by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and to begin work on the remediation plan.

George Foster of Creative Solutions said he was 95 percent sure this would be the last tests needed. He also said the county administrator was holding the firm to a state cost template that is 15 to 20 percent less than his standard rates.

He also explained that some of the delay on the project has been because when his firm was hired in 2005, they had to repair mistakes made by a previous consultant.

Foster agreed the price is getting steep. "It's obscenely high,'' he said. "I'm almost embarrassed to stand up and talk to you about it.''

But he assured commissioners that the plan now is to finish the testing and, also as part of the contract, begin drawing up the important plan to remediate the compound and contamination in the surrounding neighborhood.

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

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In other business:

• At the urging of purchasing director Jim Gantt, commissioners rejected all three bids received recently for the roadway pavement inventory and condition inspection services project.

This is the project in which the St. Petersburg Times has reported that the former public works employee Bill Busch helped design the bids. Busch then attended the bill opening in his new role as an employee for the firm KMS & Associates, which had previously done the project for the county. KMS was low bidder.

Gantt suggested that the bids be rejected because of Busch's conflict of interest issue and the commissioners agreed.

• The County Commission accepted $2-million in grants from the Florida Department of Transportation for buying right-of-way for the Elgin Road widening project. Public Works director Charles Mixson said the county should be very close to completing the acquisition. Design of the expansion is expected during the next year with construction starting immediately afterward.

• Commissioners approved a hike in the cost for riding the county's public transit system known as THE Bus. With new fees taking effect on Oct. 1 and a second batch of increases on July 1, 2009, the regular fare will increase from $1 to $1.25 and then to $1.50 next year. Monthly passes will increase from $15 to $25 with the 2009 cost going to $30.

• Commissioners will allow staff to write a request for proposals for a public-private partnership to build a judicial center. Commissioners can compare it next week to a proposal from the DLR Group, which has offered to create the request for proposals for $109,000. County officials said staff can do the work.

• The board unanimously approved a pay raise proposal brought forth by County Administrator David Hamilton that would freeze salaries of all county officials earning over $65,000 and give other county employees 2 percent raises. Hamilton said the county's pay freeze for top staff has also been adopted by the constitutional officers and a total of more than $94,000 will be saved.

• The commission gave a positive review to Hamilton as he completes his first six months in the job as of today. Written evaluations by commissioners praised his work to lead the county into a more efficient operation. They also asked him to improve efforts to keep them informed of important county developments, something Hamilton said he would make a priority.

New tests set at old Hernando public works site 09/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 2:14pm]

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