BROOKSVILLE -- In a quiet coastal community with a lifestyle tied to boating, government leaders struggled through years of obstacles before finally getting the permits to finish a multimillion-dollar dredging project.
Months later, but before any significant dredging was done, the dredger got into trouble for not filtering enough sediment from the water to meet state requirements.
Fingers were pointed, voices were raised, and a critical funding deadline approached. The dredging contractor was fired.
It should to anyone who has followed with the long-running Hernando Beach Channel dredging saga. But this time, the events took place earlier this year in scenic Southern Shores, N.C.
They are relevant in Hernando County because the general contractor in Southern Shores was found in default and was removed from the project. The dredging subcontractor, Piedroba Marine Construction (PMC) of Coral Gables, which is being considered for the Hernando Beach project, lost the project as a result.
Southern Shores' project manager and minutes from the Town Council meeting indicate that PMC did not meet water quality requirements for the state permit, which played a role in the general contractor being found in default.
On Tuesday, the Hernando County Commission declared an emergency and agreed to begin negotiations with BCPeabody to take over the dredge. BCPeabody has chosen PMC to do the actual dredging and dewatering of the spoils material.
Commissioners will meet in emergency session at 11 a.m. Friday to consider finalizing the contract with BCPeabody.
Commissioner Rose Rocco on Tuesday raised concerns about the quick turn-around on the recommendation to hire BCPeabody. She wanted assurances from staff that the firm and its affiliates would be fully vetted, noting specific concerns about another potential subcontractor, Gary Grubbs.
A developer and former road builder, Grubbs owed the county $500,000 when he filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003 and the county spent $90,000 in legal fees to recover what it could. Rocco said Wednesday that Grubbs owes Pasco County some $98,000 in back taxes.
Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben assured her the companies would be checked out.
At least one person in Southern Shores suggested Hernando officials take a good, hard look at PMC and have a conversation with their town manager about the firm.
"Our experience with them has not been a positive one,'' said Tom Bennett, project manager for the dredge in Southern Shores. "I'd be very, very cautious.''
The head of PMC, however, down-played any comparisons between the two projects.
"On paper, they certainly look similar,'' said company president Luis Prieto y Munoz. "But that job was very, very different.'' For one thing, he noted, in Southern Shores, "a lot of things made that job more complicated mostly because it became political.''
The similarities, however, are striking.
Just as in Hernando, Bennett said Southern Shores had problems finding a place to put the dredged spoils.
Then came problems with too much turbidity in the water; that same problem was a major reason why Hernando declared a breach of contract with its original contractor, Orion Dredging LLC.
Ultimately, the solution in Southern Shores to "polishing'' the water to meet expected government standards involved the use of a polymer, also known as a coagulant. Use of the wrong type of coagulant cost time on the Southern Shores project.
Use of a coagulant is also planned for the Hernando Beach project.
Bennett said that PMC "didn't do enough sampling to cover themselves.'' That is another familiar story to Hernando residents who have been waiting for 16 years for the Hernando Beach Channel to be cleared.
During the lengthy meetings the County Commission conducted with Orion as the project foundered, Orion was pressed on why they didn't do enough sampling of the channel to know that the sediment would be difficult to separate from the water.
Prieto y Munoz said he did not anticipate any problems with meeting the Florida standards on clarifying the water at Hernando Beach. He said their plan for filtering, settling ponds and sand filters will do the trick. Dewatering experts from Rain for Rent will be working with PMC on the project.
He blamed too small a site for dewatering for the failure in the North Carolina project. He also said the main contractor on that job had a rocky relationship with the regulatory agencies there.
That won't be a problem here, he said, because BCPeabody is comprised of former regulatory agency officials including top officials retired from the Army Corps of Engineers.
"They know exactly what's going on with the regulatory agencies,'' he said.
"The prime contractor (in Southern Shores) was also a little bit over his head on a job of that magnitude,'' Prieto y Munoz said. That North Carolina-based firm, Sampson Contracting, Inc., had not done another dredging job that size before.
He acknowledged that his firm hadn't checked closely enough on Sampson before jumping into the project but that "we very, very carefully looked at BCPeabody.''
Today, in Southern Shores, a new contractor has been hired and dredging is expected to start in the middle of November, Bennett said. Nov. 15 is also the target date BCPeabody has set to begin work in Hernando Beach.
Because of potential legal problems, Bennett declined to say much more about the problems with PMC.
"We're not able to discuss the negative aspects of our relationship with the contractor and that extends to the subcontractor,'' he said. "I can say they're nice people.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.