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Hernando Beach Channel dredging complete, but issues remain

Mike Birren, 44, left, a stonecrabber and grouper fisherman, and Fred Loetscher, 37, work on Birren’s boat in March while docked in Hernando Beach. The dredging project has allowed pleasure boaters to get out on the water.
Mike Birren, 44, left, a stonecrabber and grouper fisherman, and Fred Loetscher, 37, work on Birren’s boat in March while docked in Hernando Beach. The dredging project has allowed pleasure boaters to get out on the water.
Published Dec. 25, 2012

HERNANDO BEACH

In the nearly three years that Susan Goebel-Canning has overseen the snake-bit Hernando Beach Channel dredge, there have been few moments when the task felt like a success.

Mired in environmental, legal and fiscal issues for more than 17 years, the dredge brought a regular menu of challenges to county staffers, even after the final excavators and barges had gone and the channel had opened back up fully to boaters.

Now, Goebel-Canning said recently, she is hearing there is a new problem in the channel. Confident that the jagged rocks and sandy shallows are gone, boaters are speeding.

"It made me smile,'' Goebel-Canning said.

As 2012 draws to a close, however, the project is still not off the county's books. The contractor has not yet gotten his final payment, and legal issues remain to be resolved.

The work to widen, straighten, lengthen and deepen the 3-mile-long channel from Hernando Beach to the Gulf of Mexico did wrap up early this year, delighting commercial and recreational boaters. Nearby residents were also happy to see the work done, as it kept some up at night and others on edge because of the equipment that damaged some boats and docks.

Several residents are still seeking a resolution to their claims.

The contractor, BCPeabody, and its dredging subcontractor, Konga Marine Logistics, ended up over-dredging some portions of the canal, riling both state and federal environmental regulators.

County officials recently signed off on a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to settle the state agency's beef with the project. The county agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, plus $1,000 in administrative costs.

Federal regulators have been more difficult to satisfy, and discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers are ongoing, Goebel-Canning said.

Also ongoing is the complex legal case that grew out of the dredging debacle.

When the first company the county hired to do the project, Orion Dredging Services LLC, failed to meet the requirements of its permit and could not accomplish the job as designed, the county terminated the contract.

Orion sued, blaming the county's consulting engineer, Halcrow Inc., for drawing up a defective dredge plan. The suit grew more complex when Orion's de-watering subcontractor, Harvey-Taddeo, and the bonding companies of the various players all jumped into the suit.

Last month, county commissioners agreed to a partial settlement of the suit by acknowledging they owe Orion $4.4 million and agreeing to pay $1.7 million, which Orion and Harvey-Taddeo will share. The county, Orion, Harvey-Taddeo and their bonding companies then released their legal claims against one another.

The county has now focused its legal action strictly against Halcrow, using the same legal team as Harvey-Taddeo and all of the work product developed by the Orion and Harvey-Taddeo lawyers, thought to be worth approximately $2.5 million.

County officials hope to recover damages from Halcrow, including the approximately $2.5 million paid to Halcrow, the $1.7 million that must be paid to end the suit with Orion and other costs resulting from the project, but not yet calculated.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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