BROOKSVILLE — State environmental regulators this week found a permit violation at the Hernando Beach Channel dredge and are seeking a meeting with the contractor and county officials.
Observers complained to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that barges on the project were not using turbidity curtains, as required. Those are the barriers that surround the equipment to stop sediment stirred up in the dredging process from filtering into surrounding waters.
The DEP did an inspection Wednesday night and found the reports to be accurate, Susan Goebel, director of environmental services for the county, told Bob Carpenter, the owner of the contractor, BCPeabody, in an e-mail Thursday.
A DEP official informed Goebel that the agency will send a noncompliance letter to BCPeabody and that officials want to meet to discuss it.
"We have a permit, and it requires us to use the curtain,'' Carpenter said Friday. "I had a guy in the middle of the night who didn't do what he was supposed to do.''
He noted that the unannounced inspection by DEP was the seventh since work began and this was the first violation.
The problem arises just as the County Commission is preparing to discuss some changes in its contract with BCPeabody on Tuesday.
One of those changes is to loosen the provision that would require the company to pay damages to the county of $5,000 per day if the dredge is not completed by Dec. 31.
While Carpenter states in a letter to the county that he still hopes to be done by then, the latest update on the project says it's only 56 percent complete after five months of work.
Now, workers are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Carpenter said. He disputed the completion figure and said only 3,000 of 16,000 feet remain to be dredged. With three excavators in the water and two on land, he said, only equipment failure would keep him from finishing on time.
Currently, the contract requires the contractor "to fully and satisfactorily complete all work under this agreement and make the project available for beneficial use'' by Dec. 31.
Carpenter is asking instead that the penalty be invoked only if the project has not reached "substantial completion'' by that date. He proposes new contract language that would require 75 percent of the material from each 100-foot section of the channel to be removed by the end of the year.
"Given all the challenges presented by this project," he said, "we believe this is a fair and reasonable compromise.''
Carpenter said Friday that beneficial use is the proper standard to use because at that point, the 3-mile-long channel for the most part will be 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep, and the small portions that won't can be cleaned up later if the work runs past Dec. 31.
The county had set the Dec. 31 deadline because that was the state deadline to complete the project or face the possibility of losing $6 million in state funding for the dredge.
Recently, the county asked the state Department of Transportation for another extension of the deadline. Late last month, the district secretary for the agency, Donald Skelton, responded.
"The department recognizes the county has been proceeding with this project and still commits to finish the project by the target date of Jan. 1, 2012,'' Skelton wrote. "Our staff will coordinate with your office regarding the requested time extension and to ensure any delay is thoroughly documented and minimized.''
In his letter, Carpenter details all of the changes on the project since it began, some of which he says he could use to make a claim for additional payment. But he notes that he committed to do the work without any change orders.
He states that he is just asking for payments totaling his original bid, which was $8,721,839.
"Although circumstances would support a claim, my commitment to my word and reputation far outweigh the change order that I would submit if I had not made the verbal commitment,'' Carpenter wrote. "After Hernando County's 16-year ordeal, I want to complete this project for the county on time and on budget.''
To date, the county has paid BCPeabody approximately $6 million.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.