BROOKSVILLE — There was finally some good news Wednesday on the long-awaited Hernando Beach Channel dredge project.
Officials got word that state environmental regulators have at last accepted Hernando County's permit application for the project. That starts the time clock on a series of events that officials hope will end with dredging beginning again in the coming months.
The long-awaited project to widen and deepen the channel has been stalled by the state since January. For months, county public works officials have been responding to regular requests for additional information from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The dredge project began late last year but it was soon discovered that the approved process to separate the water from the sediment in the water wasn't working and the contractor was pouring too much sediment into a nearby canal.
The state stopped work and Hernando officials went back to find another solution: using additional settling processes and a coagulating substance to help remove the sediment.
The new permit will require the county to dig a series of settling ponds, a construction project that won't start until the county already has the permit in hand, said Steve Whitaker, assistant public works director.
The new permit also allows some stockpiling of the dredged materials, known as spoils. The spoils will be removed from the ponds on the county's old wastewater treatment plant site on Shoal Line Boulevard, which is where all the treatment of the dredged materials will take place.
But with the new ponds, space is limited at that site and the state has agreed to allow the county to stockpile more of that material at the Sun West Mine property in Pasco County. The mine is allowing the county to use their site at no charge.
Once the DEP puts out a public notice that it will issue the dredge permit, anyone protesting the permit can seek an administrative hearing to challenge it. But Whitaker said officials are hopeful that through the long process of answering DEP's questions, everyone should be satisfied and all concerns should have been addressed.
The DEP has 90 days after concluding that the application is complete to issue the permit. After that will be a 21-day period in which contractor Orion Dredging will move equipment back to the dredge site.
Last month, Orion asked the county to be able to move its idled equipment to other projects while the DEP permit process was ongoing.
County staff worked through various community meetings to be sure that Hernando Beach residents were aware of the reasons why Orion was moving the dredge equipment, said Commissioner Rose Rocco. "I think the residents are comfortable with what has been happening'' because of that, she said.
As for the news that soon the work might begin again on a project that has been on the books for more than a dozen years, Rocco responded by saying, "Hooray!''
Interim public works director Susan Goebel also expressed happiness at the news and hope that DEP would expedite the issuance of the permit.
With so many delays, the state funding for the project had been set to run out but was then extended through June 30, 2011.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.