It's deja vu all over again for Hernando Beach dredge project

Welcome back to square one.

After the County Commission's bold pledge in January to go it alone on the Hernando Beach dredge — to create a streamlined-but-fair bidding process, to secure a more flexible permit to attract more companies, more competition and lower costs — the new front-runner for the job is, well, exactly the same as it was two months ago: BCPeabody of Tampa.

That is also, by the way, the same company that won the behind-the-scenes scramble to be the dredge contractor back in October.

BCPeabody's bid then was $8.5 million. It's now $8.7 million, or just about what it was in January — before it faced all that supposedly cost-reducing competition.

And remember the idea of eliminating a layer of supervision, assigning county staff to act as contractor, overseeing one company to dig the boat channel and another to drain the water from the dredged soil?

If BCPeabody wins the job, that's out the window, too.

This is a company run by former Army Corps of Engineers officers and civilians, including the founder, retired Col. Robert Carpenter. Its resume is long on the political/bureaucratic work of getting permits from regulatory agencies, including — no surprise here — Carpenter's former employer.

On the other hand, BCPeabody has never done a dredge and won't do this one. Instead, the company has lined up the same subcontractor as it did the last two times, Piedroba Marine Construction, which was removed from a similar job in North Carolina.

So, as Merle Haggard might say, we're right back where we've really always been. Right?

Not exactly.

As of Friday evening, the county was negotiating furiously to knock a few hundred thousand dollars off the bids of the two top-ranked contractors. (The other, Iowa's Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, initially bid $10.5 million.) This is possible because in that get'r done meeting in January, the commission decided county workers could handle some of the job, such as building berms and hauling away the drained dirt.

This also helped rid BCPeabody of some of the baggage that came with the company's original proposal. John G. "Gary" Grubbs's construction company was then listed as the earth-moving subcontractor and will now, Carpenter said, have no more than a minor role in the operation.

Not that Carpenter is completely free of the taint of Grubbs, whose development company, Sun West Acquisitions, has made a dent in its infamous delinquent real estate tax bill in Pasco County, but still owes $55,392.

It also owes, or owed, PBS & J $103,000 for unpaid bills on the design of a boat channel for the SunWest Harbourtowne project in Pasco. The Tampa engineering firm filed a lien against the owners of the property, but Carpenter said the payments to PBS & J had been withheld in a dispute over its job performance that has since been resolved.

It is fair to bring that up — at least I think it is — because Carpenter is the project manager for Harbourtowne, and the permitting work his company did for that development is the No. 1 item on BCPeabody's resume.

But it is also fair to point out the ethical and public relations burden carried around by Great Lakes or, more specifically, its dewatering subcontractor, Genesis Fluid Solutions. It prominently lists as a consulting engineer a Fort Myers lawmaker with a long history of eliminating environmental rules and who, if she listed her true constituency, would be officially known as Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Building Industry.

So, that's another advantage gained by putting the dredge job back out to bid. It's given commissioners a better chance to open up this — sorry in advance for running this metaphor into the ground — baggage, taking a look inside.

If rebidding the job didn't bring the price down much or at all, taxpayers at least have the assurance the county did all it could. And the process has left commissioners, as it should, with a choice.

On Tuesday, they will decide between the less expensive but apparently well thought-out scheme presented by BCPeabody and the more expensive plan by the more experienced Great Lakes.

Then — after a mere 16 years — we can move on to square two.

It's deja vu all over again for Hernando Beach dredge project 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 9:43am]

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