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Dredging project bogs down
After requiring a new site for the muck and sand to go, the DEP wants to know more.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 27, 2007
[Maurice Rivenbark | Times (2005)]
An aerial view shows the Hernando Beach channel. The dredging project, which has been considered for more than a decade, would make the channel 6 feet deep and 60 feet wide.
HERNANDO BEACH - Just a few months ago, assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton stood before the County Commission and predicted that the long-awaited Hernando Beach channel dredging project could be starting as soon as February.
Now, it seems the county will be lucky to have secured the necessary permits by then.
The latest bump in a very long road is a request by the state Department of Environmental Protection for more information - lots more information.
The dredging project has been on the county's drawing board for more than a decade and everyone from boating and fishing interests to county commissioners have been eager to see the project make headway. It is designed to make the channel 6 feet deep and 60 feet wide. The work also will include lengthening the channel and straightening a dangerous S-turn.
In early December, when county officials met with DEP representatives, they figured they were going to hammer out the final details and finally secure the needed permits. What they heard was that the site where they intended to dump sediment dredged from the channel was not going to work.
The plan was to use the muck and sand to fill four-tenths of an acre of wetlands on the 3-acre Eagle Nest Drive property owned by the Manuel family.
But the DEP representatives told county engineers that their plan to mitigate the filling of wetlands was not good enough. Accomplishing the level of mitigation the agency was requesting was going to be difficult, Sutton said.
Add to that, 24 residents have filed a formal objection to the spoil site, stating that there is no need to fill fragile wetlands permanently when other sites are available to hold the pumped-out sand. These legal objections could delay the project for another year or two.
At that point, Sutton said, the officials decided to abandon the Eagle Nest site and go with a 4-acre, triangular-shaped property bordered by Petit Lane and Shoal Line Boulevard. That site contains no wetlands.
There could be another hitch in the plans, however.
The county would have to lease the site from the owner, Gulf Marine Investment Corp. One of the members of Gulf Marine is John Saittis, who is also a member of the Hernando County Port Authority.
The authority has been a major proponent of the dredging project, and its existence has helped the county secure $6-million in state funds for the $9-million project. The authority also secured the easements from the state that would allow the county to dredge the state-owned water bottoms.
County Attorney Garth Coller said there would be no formal conflict of interest if the county leased the land from a port authority member since the port authority did not choose the site for the spoils.
According to Sutton, the county told DEP that it plans to go with the alternative site and DEP officials said they would be willing to grant an expedited review. That could mean that, unless there is another glitch, the permit could be issued by February.
Sutton's plan is that once the permit is received, the county will bid out the maintenance portion of the dredging, which covers about 90 percent of the channel. That would get the work started sooner.
The county is still facing a glitch on the portion of the project that would lengthen and straighten the channel. Since sea grasses are affected by that part of the work, the county is going to have to establish a sea grass protection zone, but the state agencies that would assist with that have conflicting rules and jurisdictions.
County officials are hoping state Rep. Robert Schenck can help iron out those new wrinkles.