BROOKSVILLE — It looks like Tropical Storm Debby's epic rainfall won't swamp the county with big repair bills for the Peck Sink project after all.
Fixing containment ponds damaged by heavy rain and floodwaters can probably be done for about $150,000, according to a memo from Dale Ravencraft, the engineering manager for the county's environmental services division.
Based on initial estimates, officials had feared the bill could climb to twice that or more.
"It's more encouraging than what we were expecting," said Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's environmental services director.
Awarded to Goodwin Brothers Construction in June 2011, the $1.3 million project on the north side of Wiscon Road, southwest of Brooksville, includes swales, lined ponds, piping and plants to treat the stormwater entering Peck Sink Preserve. The sink serves as the drain into the aquifer for a large area from southwest Brooksville to the Hernando County Airport.
The funding came from a Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant, along with dollars from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the county's stormwater taxing unit.
When Debby hit, county officials were already working with Goodwin Brothers to repair damage caused by heavy rains that fell in early June, just as crews were wrapping up work. Grasses planted had not yet flourished, leaving the soil vulnerable to erosion.
Then Debby dumped some 15 inches of rain on some parts of the county, and the entire Peck Sink treatment project remained submerged for days.
The water has receded, but heavy rains continue to fall almost daily, exacerbating the existing damage. The overall design, however, is sound and worked properly, officials say.
"Contrary to the criticism the county has received regarding the project, my experience (is) that when dealing with stormwater, these situations are quite common and there is nothing overly complicated in accomplishing the repairs," Ravencraft wrote in his memo.
The most urgent priority, Goebel-Canning said, is to restore the slopes and regrade the top parts of the berms and perimeter areas to control runoff.
That will also prevent further damage to the plastic liner buried underneath the soil to keep the water in the ponds and to prevent the formation of sinkholes. The rainfall exposed portions of the liner and damaged a small area. County workers were on site last week to stabilize the one area of major concern.
"You don't want water getting underneath there," Goebel-Canning said.
The soil is so saturated that operating heavy equipment is difficult and could even be unsafe, so much of the work will have to wait until the area dries out a bit. That might not happen until the rainy season begins to taper off, Goebel-Canning said.
Ravencraft met with representatives from King Engineering this week to finalize a restoration plan. The firm will receive some additional compensation for overseeing the recovery construction process, he wrote in his memo.
Coastal Engineering Associates will do a damage assessment survey for no more than $5,000, and Goodwin Brothers has offered to deliver, free of charge, soil with a high clay content that will be more resistant to erosion.
"At this point, everybody's being cooperative," Goebel-Canning said.
The county is exploring several options for the funding, so it's too early to tell if the extra expense will bring the project in over budget, she said.
Mother Nature's dousing came at a bad time, but there should be no question that the effort, years in the making, was the right thing to do, said County Commissioner Dave Russell.
"It simply performed as it was intended to perform," Russell said, "and we're better off for it."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]