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Residents call for action on Hernando Beach dredging project

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando Beach residents have seen the headlines for some time now, each one announcing a new hitch for the long-awaited dredging project.

For more than 16 years, they hoped to see the work done, all the while worrying the worsening channel conditions would damage their boats or drive away commercial fishermen who rely on the channel.

On Tuesday, some of those residents spoke before the County Commission, while others inundated commissioners with e-mails. The message was the same.

"Do something,'' Robert Simons said. "Anything is better than nothing.''

Phil Rubin said the dredge would more than pay for itself in the long run but he recognized the county was facing issues with a very tight time line. He likened the county's position to someone standing "with a lit time bomb and an extremely short fuse.''

Others from the area reminded commissioners of the danger the channel posed. "We have been waiting almost two decades for the necessary maintenance to be accomplished,'' Don Bowers said.

The county commissioners are set to decide the project's fate on Jan. 25, but most of their hopes for getting the dredge done rest on a meeting taking place in Tampa today to discuss options related to state permits.

County officials including Administrator David Hamilton, Commissioner John Druzbick and Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel will be talking to the staff of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Druzbick told his fellow commissioners Tuesday that he felt confident about the outcome. A state legislator he did not name had contacted the county and wanted to help make the dredge happen.

He explained that his hope is that the DEP will allow the county to use a previous permit it had for the project, which would cost less. Last week, the county received only one bid for work based on the current permit, even though nearly two dozen companies had shown interest.

That bid was from Tampa-based BCPeabody, the same company county staffers had recommended that the commission hire without bids three months ago.

Lisa Hammond, a consultant for the clerk of the Circuit Court, said in a memo this week that the company's $8.8 million bid, and extra costs that could run the county another $3.4 million, were too much for Hernando to afford. She recommended the permit modification and negotiating or bidding the cheaper dredge alternative.

On Tuesday, BCPeabody president Andrew Goetz suggested that the county could negotiate with his firm on an altered version of the dredge. He also offered to work with the county as officials meet with the DEP, but county officials didn't publicly take him up on either offer.

Hammond's memo also criticized the county for building into its bid a financial incentive for the winning firm to use less chemical treatment of the dredge spoils as a way to save the county money on having to haul off and dispose of soils that were chemically contaminated.

She indicated that the incentive might violate policy because the commission didn't vote on it and that it might have given some potential bidders an advantage. But Goebel told commissioners Tuesday that all the potential bidders knew about the incentive.

Hamilton defended the staff's handling of the bid request, saying that the commission needed to trust the professional staff to get their job done and that he had wanted to discuss it all publicly to "clear the air.''

The original budget for the dredge was $9 million with the state paying for two-thirds of that cost. The county had spent more than $4.5 million with only 6 percent of the actual dredging work completed before the job was shut down last year. The county fired its previous dredging contractor because of the problems.

The dredge must be completed by Jan. 1, or the county will lose the state funding.

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

Residents call for action on Hernando Beach dredging project 01/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 7:23pm]
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