The dredge of the Hernando Beach channel requires a few finishing touches — think of it as a typical construction project punch list — but the 17-year odyssey of trying to make the waterway safer and easier to navigate appears all but complete.
The price tag, absent expenses that could be recouped through litigation, stands at $15.1 million. That's 67 percent over the originally projected $9 million cost. The county received a $6 million state grant intended to make the project financially palatable.
The costs include more than dollars and cents. In just the past three years, this project has witnessed disputes over fill dirt, drainage ponds, sediment discharges, permit violations, private property damage and noise complaints, among others. It led to the termination of the long-time public works director and later, a consultant hired without proper vetting. Criminal authorities nosed around without identifying wrongdoing, but a county clerk audit criticized the then-county administrator for circumventing purchasing rules to expedite the dredge.
A county commissioner asked the former administrator if he would resign if the dredge wasn't completed on time. Turns out the dredge got done, so the commission found another reason to scapegoat and dismiss David Hamilton.
There is no doubt this was an exhausting extravagance for a cash-starved county government that expects its crashing property values to continue through at least another fiscal year. But failing to complete the dredging of the channel would have been an unacceptable alternative.
The dredge made the 3-mile channel wider and deeper and removed navigational hazards to make it safer.
There should be a substantial economic benefit — hence the state Department of Transportation grant — but it is difficult to quantify the value precisely. There is the potential for higher property values for the $337 million worth of residential real estate at Hernando Beach, though the Save Our Homes Amendment caps valuation increases at just 3 percent a year, so a boost in tax revenues won't come until property is sold and reassessed at market value. A year ago, the county reported the 3,000 homes and 114 commercial parcels accounted for 4.2 percent of Hernando's tax rolls.
Additionally, 32 shrimp boasts are based in the Hernando Beach area and the marine industry, including charters, boat dealer, marina and sporting good sales, account for 271 jobs in the county. A wider and deeper channel should translate to larger boat traffic to help spur additional commerce.
Still, at least one commissioner, Jeff Stabins, wondered if the economic benefit will match the $15 million cost. It's a logical question, but it smacks of duplicity considering Stabins previously wondered if the county administrator would be willing to resign if the dredge wasn't completed. He can't have it both ways.
The arm-chair quarterbacking aside, Stabins and the rest of the commission must accept the dredge for what it is — the completion of a long-standing task intended to improve both the local economy and the sailing opportunities for Hernando's boating enthusiasts.