Even as work on the long-stalled Hernando Beach Channel dredge finally restarted with a test run Thursday afternoon, new questions have arisen about the integrity of the massive ponds built to hold the murky water being piped in.
In a memo to the county on Wednesday, a key official with Halcrow Inc., the project's engineer, questioned how the dredge construction company, BCPeabody, designed the berms that are supposed to hold the water while the solids settle out of it.
Halcrow senior project director Paul Starr noted that there are discrepancies in the drawings of what was designed and what was built. He writes that one of the berms, which are expected to hold an estimated 6.5 million gallons of dredge spoils, might have a problem.
"Of particular concern is the narrowness of the dike's top width in the southeast corner, which appears to be too narrow,'' Starr wrote in a memo to county Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel.
BCPeabody owner Robert Carpenter said Hernando County has already signed off on the points Starr is raising.
In fact, he said, the work has been approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Actual dredging began Thursday, putting the project three weeks ahead of schedule, he added.
Goebel said Thursday, "There are no safety concerns'' from the county, from the contractor or from the engineer. "There are just discrepancies,'' she said. "There are not issues.''
In fact, the way the berms were built, at 5 to 12 feet in width instead of 4 feet, "that actually adds to the structural integrity,'' Goebel said.
The dispute is the latest hurdle in a project that has been going on for more than 16 years, with actual dredging work just beginning. To date, the county has approved payment of $2.03 million to BCPeabody. The total contract for the firm is $8.456 million.
Earlier this month, the county settled a pay dispute with Halcrow and asked the firm this week to review aspects of the project designed by BCPeabody. The review includes comments about how BCPeabody's plans lack detail and that the information provided doesn't match what was envisioned in earlier plans.
Carpenter said Halcrow's comments were based on paperwork, not from actually visiting the site of the ponds on Shoal Line Boulevard on the site of a former sewer treatment plant.
He said Halcrow was misinformed. "These berms are so overdesigned, it's not an issue,'' he said.
Questions have been raised before about the berms, however.
In April, as the County Commission was discussing whether to hire Greg Jarque's Gritz Development and Construction as the construction manager of the project, Commission Chairman Jim Adkins asked about the berms. Adkins said he was confused because first he was told that a berm might fail and then he was told that it might not. He voted against hiring Jarque.
Later, after Jarque was fired for what county officials said was his claim of being a general contractor when he was actually a building contractor, he explained to a Times reporter why he questioned the berm.
If the berm fails, he said, the county could see Minnow Creek flooded by dredge spoils, possibly dooming the project.
Jarque said he asked Carpenter for his calculations on the slope of the berm and other details to demonstrate that the ponds BCPeabody was building, which were different from the ones Halcrow designed, were sound.
On April 10, Carpenter responded in a terse e-mail: "No.''
Jarque wrote back, "No to what, may I ask?"
Carpenter said he had a contract with the county, had promised that there would be no cost overruns, and he thought Jarque was adding to his workload.
"I have reviewed my contract and it does not require any of this stuff or give you the authority to delay my project. That is what no means. You are well beyond your authority,'' Carpenter wrote.
"As construction manager, I am allowed to ask about pretty much everything,'' Jarque said.
Carpenter said other concerns raised in Halcrow's review showed Halcrow didn't understand the complex final stages of cleaning the dredged spoils. As for the plan discrepancies and changes in design, Carpenter said, the drawings were approved by the DEP.
County commissioners will hear presentations of qualifications from firms that want to take over the construction management during a special meeting Thursday and should make a decision at another special meeting on May 31.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.