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Failing to complete Hernando Beach channel dredging could hurt long term

Doing nothing carries an exorbitant cost in Hernando County. To complete a stalled dredge of the Hernando Beach channel, county staffers are negotiating with a pair of companies each of which bid more than $7 million to finish the job. Currently, the county has just $4.5 million in its dredge account.

It also has an outstanding claim from its dredge consultant for more than $1 million not to mention litigation with a company fired after dredge work halted amid state concerns over the quality of the water being discharged into the canal.

The county is using local money and a $6 million state grant to finance the work. But, clearly, expected expenses exceed revenues. By a lot. Walking away, however, is impractical. It would mean repaying millions of dollars to the state with nothing to show for it besides taxpayer frustration. It also would mean carrying a well-deserved label of government ineptitude.

It is imperative to complete this long-promised dredge to widen, deepen, lengthen and straighten the 3-mile channel. Allowing navigational hazards to remain in place — increasing the potential for damaged craft and boater injury — is unacceptable.

That's just common sense, but it is more difficult to quantify the benefit in dollars and cents. There is the potential for higher property values for the $337 million worth of residential real estate at Hernando Beach, though not immediately. The Save Our Homes Amendment capping increased valuations at 3 percent annually means any boon to the property tax rolls won't be realized until homes are sold and reassessed. All told the 3,000 homes and 114 commercial parcels account for 4.2 percent of the county's taxable property value.

On the employment front, 32 shrimp boats are based in the Hernando Beach area and the marine industry including commercial fishing, charters, boat dealers, marinas and sporting good sales accounts for 271 jobs in the county.

It is not unreasonable to expect commerce and property values to increase if the channel can handle more and bigger boat traffic. Certainly, that would be the likely case if a road added transportation capacity, according to the Hernando County Office of Business Development.

This week, commissioners are expecting a recommendation to take money from a $12 million fund previously reserved for courthouse construction and earmark it for completing the dredge. It is far from an ideal position, coming just a week after the county administration recommended an extensive remodeling program to add three new courtrooms to the county courthouse. The money would be replenished if the county is successful in winning a multimillion-bond from the fired dredge contractor. Commissioners should approve the new spending for the dredge.

They are correct to be leery of the escalating costs, but failing to complete the dredge project carries a greater expense of broken promises to the public and a self-inflicted black eye to their own economic development efforts. Exactly who will feel comfortable doing business with a county that botched a public works project 16 years in the making?

Failing to complete Hernando Beach channel dredging could hurt long term 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 3:31am]
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