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The county has more time to work on its plan for the former public works site.

Basketballs might someday bounce on ground once soaked with gasoline, pesticides and other chemicals.

But not any time soon.

The two-decades-long effort to clean up the county's former public works compound in Brooksville has been extended by at least a few more months.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has given Hernando County more time to submit its plan to clean up the 5-acre site on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard on the south side of the city.

The DEP expected the so-called remedial action plan to arrive by July 9 but granted the county's request for an extension to add to the plan. The county now has until Oct. 7.

The additions will include details of alternate strategies to remove or treat contaminants such as arsenic and lead, said Susan Goebel, interim public works director. It's better to include those details in the plan now rather than go back later to DEP for approval, she said.

The goal is to submit a plan that will make the property safe enough to develop, perhaps as a recreational facility, Goebel said. She offered a park with basketball courts as one possibility.

"That's what we've heard from the community, that they want something they can use," she said. "We want to make sure we can build what we want to build on it."

Creative Environmental Solutions, the Brooksville consulting firm hired by the county in 2005, submitted a plan for the cleanup about two months ago.

"We got everything that our scope of work said we were going to get" from the Creative contract, Goebel said.

But she discovered after doing some research that the county would still need some additional engineering services. The county will hire another engineering firm to augment the plan and help oversee the bidding process to select and manage a contractor to do the cleanup and transform the site into a flat, developable parcel.

Goebel is in negotiations with Tampa Bay Engineering, one of five engineering firms under a general and engineering services contract with the county. County policy allows such negotiations and selections without a bid if the services will not cost more than $200,000.

The project to this point has cost the county $3.35 million, Goebel said. She has budgeted an additional $700,000 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year but declined to speculate on how much the final bill might be.

"I just want to make sure we can cover the costs to do it the right way," she said.

DEP has 90 days to review the action plan once it's submitted. Once the plan garners the department's approval, the county can seek bids from contractors for the cleanup phase.

Creative Environmental president George Foster earlier this year expressed concern that going with another contractor for the cleanup instead of his firm could wind up costing the county more money.

The company was chosen without going through a formal competitive request for proposals, similar to the bidding process, and an original contract for $77,051 ballooned into more than $2 million of work, mostly through numerous changes in scope and cost. The delays and more than a dozen change orders angered county commissioners, who agreed that the county would use a competitive bid process to select a contractor to clean up the site.

Goebel said Foster is welcome to submit a bid for the cleanup phase. Reached this week, Foster said he hasn't decided if he will. He would not comment further.

Commissioner Dave Russell said he trusts Goebel's judgment on the need for yet another consultant.

"We want to make sure all the checks and balances are in place," Russell said. "Having an extra pair of hands in there in the form of another firm to oversee that, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Russell and Commissioner Jeff Stabins said they liked the idea of a park, though Stabins noted the county cannot afford to build or maintain another facility right now.

"That would be nice. It's very centrally located there and easily accessed," Stabins said. "But the first thing is to make (the site) totally safe. Once we've done that, we can look at recreational opportunities."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or