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Engineer must pay $8,140 in fines and fees

Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission vice chairman Nicholas Nicholson was fined and reprimanded for providing inadequate engineering plans on two construction projects in Hernando and Pasco counties.

In making the decision last week, administrative law Judge Don Davis handed down the minimum penalty for a licensed engineer found guilty of negligence in Florida: $1,000 in fines and $7,140 in fees.

"(Nicholson's) plans failed to conform to acceptable engineering standards and do not safeguard the life, health, property and welfare of the public," Davis wrote in his Jan. 20 order.

In addition, the prominent Brooksville engineer was placed on two years' probation, which stipulates that he must submit to two plan reviews during the sixth and 18th month of the provisional period. He must also submit a list of recently completed projects to the Board of Professional Engineers at his own expense.

Reached Wednesday at his home in Brooksville, Nicholson said the accusations lacked merit.

He added that the ruling does not affect how he runs his business, Nicholson Engineering Associates Inc. on Horse Lake Road, or his tenure as an appointed member of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I still feel that I didn't do anything wrong, but they did not feel that way," said Nicholson, whose wife, Sandra, is the chairwoman of the Hernando County School Board.

"I spent over $100,000 in fighting this stuff, I would not have done that if I was guilty. They never questioned how the structures were built. They were just saying that the plans were imperfect."

The complaint, which was filed by the Florida Engineers Management Corp. in January 2003, charged Nicholson with two counts of negligence stemming from his preparation of plans for a house in Hernando County and an airplane hangar in Pasco County. Both structures, Nicholson said, were built in 1998.

According to records from the state Division of Administrative Hearings, Nicholson provided little detail on the layout of the second-floor and roof framing plans for what records identified as the Wing/Alexander residence.

"A very significant fact, in that one who is reading the plan would not be instructed on how to construct that portion of work," Davis stated in his opinion.

Davis also found that Nicholson, in preparing the plans for the proposed airport hangar, did not indicate the proper reinforcement for a column.

Last week's decision was not the first time Nicholson was accused of violating engineering practices. Nicholson said he has been reported to the engineering board five times, of which three of those cases were dismissed.

In 1999, a St. Petersburg Times report found that four Florida engineers, including Nicholson, approved designs that likely would not have met the minimum requirements for the Standard Building Code.

The engineers, whose cases were not related, were later called before the state licensing board to answer to allegations that they negligently prepared plans for new home designs. In April 2002, Nicholson was found guilty of engineering flawed plans for Sweetwater Homes in Citrus County and was also reprimanded, fined and placed on probation.

On Wednesday, Nicholson repeated his assertion that he was not guilty of the infraction and added that engineers in Florida meet some of the toughest standards in the country.

"There are 23,000 engineers in the state of Florida," he said. "If they reviewed their plans like they reviewed mine, every engineer would be guilty. No engineer is perfect, but in this state you have to be."

Florida Engineers Management Corp. lawyer Douglas Sunshine did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

_ Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114. Send e-mail to dbournesptimes.com.

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