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State, county remain at odds as contractor denies responsibility in Hernando Beach dredge

HERNANDO BEACH — Months after the last excavator was packed up, Hernando County officials are still embroiled in the aftermath of the Hernando Beach Channel dredge, and the parties continue to point fingers of blame.

County officials learned in April that an inspection by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation revealed the dredging subcontractor, Konga Marine Logistics, dug too deep in some areas and destroyed sea grasses in others, potentially violating the county's state permit.

Late last month, the county notified the dredging contractor, BCPeabody Construction Services, that it expects BCPeabody's insurance company to defend the county in whatever action might follow, as required by its contract.

"Both the Army Corps (of Engineers) and the Department of Environmental Protection have indicated they are considering fining the county as punishment for your company's purported permit violations,'' wrote Cristi Charlow, the county's risk management coordinator.

In a letter to the county last week, BCPeabody chief executive officer Robert Carpenter said the problems were not its responsibility. Instead, he pointed the blame at the county's engineering consultant, Halcrow, which obtained the permit.

"The consultant appears to have made significant errors in the permit process, the most significant of which is not clearly identifying and providing compensatory mitigation for all impacts,'' Carpenter wrote.

He noted that his company found an engineering error in the alignment of the channel and modified the work, which actually reduced the impact on sea grasses.

"While we do not believe that our work is the basis for the agency concerns with over-dredging, we offer our continued support and expertise to the county in trying to resolve this issue,'' Carpenter concluded.

In the months since the county was notified of the potential permit violation, officials from the county, the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers have been talking about the consequences. The DEP could take actions ranging from requiring mitigation to penalties, and all options remain on the table, agency spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said Thursday.

The county's environmental services director, Susan Goebel-Canning, said the delays in resolving the remaining issues are due to a change in command at the DEP. She said she hopes to meet soon with the department's new director to settle the matter.

"We believe there hasn't been any significant violation'' of the permit, Goebel-Canning said.

The county has not yet made its final payment to BCPeabody on its $8.7 million contract. The County Commission decided to give the company most of what the county held back in April, but still owes BCPeabody $46,500.

Estimates put the total cost of the dredge at more than $15 million. Legal, financial and environmental issues plagued the project, dragging it out for more than 17 years.

Several other issues remain.

The county is still engaged in litigation with its previous dredge contractor, Orion Dredging Services; subcontractors for that firm, and Halcrow.

In addition, several Hernando Beach homeowners still are battling to resolve their property damage claims against BCPeabody and its subcontractors.

"None of us out here dealing with their insurance has gotten anything fixed," said Betty Watkins, who said her seawall was badly damaged by one of the vessels involved in the dredge.

Watkins has been dealing with various insurance companies. She blames BCPeabody for not having full insurance coverage as was required in its contract and the county for not checking to make sure it did.

"It's just a nightmare,'' Watkins said. "Susan Goebel said they would take care of us. Yeah, here we are. Susan just lied. Commissioners don't care.

"Nobody cared.''

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

by the numbers

$15m The amount that total dredging costs are expected to reach.

$8.7M The total amount of BCPeabody's contract.

$46,500 What the county still owes BCPeabody.

17 The number of years the project has taken.

State, county remain at odds as contractor denies responsibility in Hernando Beach dredge 09/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 7:18pm]
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