BROOKSVILLE — State environmental regulators will work with Hernando County officials to modify the permit for the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project so the work can be done in time and at less cost.
That was the outcome of a two-hour meeting in Tampa on Wednesday where County Administrator David Hamilton, County Commissioner John Druzbick and other Hernando representatives discussed the dredge project with top staffers of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"We're sitting in a much better position today than we were yesterday,'' Druzbick said after the meeting.
The new, more flexible permit actually would merge elements of the current one and one of two previously approved. It should be available within 30 days and Druzbick said he was hopeful that it might even be ready by the time the commission meets to discuss the project Jan. 25.
County staffers will meet today to talk about the options that remain to get the job done, he said.
The dredge project stalled a year ago when the former contractor on the job failed to meet the state's water clarity standard after filtering the dredge spoils.
Druzbick said the state will allow a contractor more flexibility in the new permit to use whatever filtering system, settling ponds or chemical treatment — or skip some of those elements altogether — to meet state water clarity standards and other environmental parameters.
Only one company, BCPeabody of Tampa, submitted a bid on the project under the current, very-specific dredging permit last week while two dozen other companies that had expressed interest last month chose not to bid this time.
Several of those companies cited details of the permit among the reasons why they didn't bid. Others said they were concerned that too much liability for the ultimate success of the project would rest on the contractor even though it had no flexibility within the permit.
BCPeabody is the same firm county officials had recommended for a no-bid contract late in the fall, but the commission didn't agree to the deal because they were able to get an extension in the deadline for the project completion.
County officials have said that they cannot afford the $8.8 million bid by BCPeabody. The actual cost of the work could be more than $12 million under that scenario if the county pays the landfill tipping fees to dispose of the spoils if toxic chemical coagulants are needed to reach the state's water quality standards.
In a letter to the editor published in the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday, Bob Carpenter, CEO and owner of BCPeabody, said his company has been the winning bidder on the project twice. The commission, however, has not acted on BCPeabody's bid.
Druzbick has said he would like to see the project bid again since there were numerous qualified firms interested in the job and the new permit will offer more flexibility.
Bidders who were interested in doing the work saw the requirements of the most recent permit and found them "difficult to deal with,'' Druzbick said.
Officials with BCPeabody asked the commission to work with them and invite them to the table with the DEP but the commission has not publicly taken the firm up on its offer.
Commissioners will consider a menu of options Jan. 25 and Druzbick said he was hopeful that a cheaper and faster alternative will be found so that the work can finally get started.
"This (new permit) will give us a lot more latitude than what we had previously,'' he said.
In recent days, commissioners have been flooded by e-mails and comments from residents urging them to do the project, which has been on the drawing board for more than 16 years. They have argued it is needed to make the channel more safe and would also be an economic benefit by drawing boaters into the community and helping out the area's commercial fishing fleet.
The dredge project must be finished by Jan. 1, 2012, or will lose its $6 million in state funding.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.