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Channeling frustration along Hernando Beach

Drive down Shoal Line Boulevard and Calienta Street and take note of what you don't see. Campaign signs.

Oh, there's a handful. Wayne Dukes, for sure. And his opponent, incumbent County Commissioner Rose Rocco. There is a single placard for Marco Rubio and if you search hard enough once you get into the residential neighborhoods, you find a Charlie Crist supporter.

Beyond that the most common signs read "for sale'' or '"for lease.''

For those unfamiliar with the geography, Shoal Line Boulevard and Calienta Street are north of Country Road 595 that carries motorists from the urbanization of western Hernando's Commercial Way to the highly desirable waterfront addresses of Hernando Beach.

The lack of signs doesn't mean people here are disengaged from the government process. They are frustrated.

Hernando Beach, these days, is synonymous with the Hernando Beach channel and its interminable dredge that stands just 6 percent complete. Five days ago, commissioners fired their contractor amid a multimillion-dollar dispute over changing the scope of the project.

The commission is concerned about costs (rightly so) and political careers. Commissioner Jeff Stabins actually asked Administrator David Hamilton if he would resign if the commission's preferred alternative — presumed litigation and hiring another contractor — proved fruitless. I wonder if Stabins is willing to do likewise.

The rest of the talk that day in the quasi-judicial hearing centered around dewatering systems, good faith, culpability, guarantees, design changes and enough legal and bureaucratic lingo to sound like a primer on contract law. Diminished by this Paper Chase resemblance, however, were the relatively few voices of the public. So, I sought out more.

Jerry Reidenbach is 63 and a 15-year resident of Hernando Beach. He made his living on the sea as a ship captain and he worked on offshore oil rigs. Bad knees forced him into retirement in January.

"The stalled dredge? You want to go back 15 years?

"It's a comedy of errors. It's gone from the drawing boards to the board rooms to the equipment moving out but we never seem to get much done.''

There is a common theme among the residents beyond frustration and disdain for this legal mess. They talk of navigational hazards, damaged crafts and the need for better safety.

David Morris shares the concerns, though not the same historical perspective of the longtime residents. He and his family moved to a home on 1st Isle Drive just 18 months ago from Pensacola. At the time of the closing, there was renewed optimism that the dredge would be resurrected and completed at last. The buoyancy proved temporary and now is deflated.

Morris, 51, keeps the family's 27-foot cruiser on a trailer and times his departures from the community boat ramp with the high tide.

"The moment you go into the channel, it's very hazardous. You run the risk of doing serious damage to your vessel. We've gotten reluctant to take the boat out.''

"That channel is awfully shallow,'' agreed Raymond T. Peters, 77. "Even when I used to take my pontoon boat out.''

The dredge when/if completed is intended to change all that. Dig out the rocks and make the channel wider, deeper and safer to navigate. It's supposed to be a boon to the commercial fishing interests, trigger business investment and theoretically boost the property tax base through enhanced residential values.

"If they would just complete the damn thing,'' mused Reidenbach.

There is one more noteworthy sign aimed at the waterfront community. It's on the marquee outside the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary District 7, Division 15, Flotilla 8 on Calienta Street.

It's a promo for an upcoming boating class that, sadly, won't be irrelevant anytime soon:

How to navigate Hernando Beach.

Channeling frustration along Hernando Beach 09/25/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 25, 2010 10:39am]
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