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$280,000 more sought for beaches

(Week of March 10, 2011)

Indian River County officials are considering a change order request from contractor Ranger Construction seeking at least another $280,000 to complete the county’s $14 million (and counting) beach replenishment project.

This is the latest reminder that there were two options when the project was permitted:  One, for pumping the sand from the offshore, and the other, digging the sand from an upland source, processing it, and hauling it to the beach.

The county decided on the latter option.

Of a planned 580,000 cubic yards of sand to be placed on a 6.6 mile section of be beach from SeaView south to Indian River Shores, there are a remaining 280,000 cubic yards yet to be placed on beaches, said the county’s coastalF engineer James Gray.

Ranger, of Fort Pierce, is asking for the additional amount, essentially $1.01 per cubic yard for hauling, in order to cover the cost of higher than anticipated diesel fuel prices, said Chris Mora, the county’s public works director.

The request could be presented to county commissioners at the March 15 County Commission meeting.

“We had locked in a price of $15.66 per cubic yard of sand from them, but they didn’t anticipate a rise in the price of diesel of more than $1 per gallon in a year,” Mora said.

At a recent Indian River Shores Town Council meeting, Commissioner Joe Flescher, who represents the North County district where the sand is being placed, was asked to explain the endless series of difficulties and cost overruns. He was specifically prodded about the delay to the start of work in February since the county had already paid for much of the sand.

“When they got the prepay agreement, it was clear Ranger Construction said there would be no more change orders,” Flescher said.

Commissioners agreed last summer to pre-pay Ranger Construction part of the $15.56 per cubic yard it is charging the county to test, truck and grade sand from Ranch Road and Fischer mines for the current project.

In mid-January, Ranger reported that approximately 85,000 cubic yards of sand had been stockpiled between the Ranch Road Lake (75,000 cubic yards) and Fischer (10,000 cubic yards) mines.  County commissioners agree to prepay Ranch Road $7.50 per cubic yard for its sand and Fischer $6.16 for the sand it stockpiles.

“With the sand we have stockpiled now, that should reduce any delays,” Gray said at the time – nearly two months ago.

The county began placing sand on the beach again on Feb. 28, in a two-mile section stretching from Golden Sands Park south to Indian River Shores.  A four-mile section from Golden Sands north to SeaView was completed last year.

The work was delayed by state environmental regulators who wanted to split the project up into the two phases, to see the effect of upland sand, on sea turtle nesting, said Mora.

The verdict? The turtles did just fine, he said.

The contractor also recently ran into a “vein” of coarse sand at one mining  site that resulted in some 40,000 cubic yards being ruled unusable for the project, Gray said.

The beach material is being hauled from two pits; one on 86th Avenue owned by Henry Fisher and Sons; and the other located at 82 Avenue owned by Stephen Smith’s Ranch Road Lake, LLC.

Referred to as Sector 3, the effort is part of a larger plan to protect a 15.7 mile section of beach along Indian River County shores which are federally designated as “critically eroded,” according to county records.

But not everyone is happy with the Sector 3’s progress.

Councilman Mike Ochsner, a member of the County Beach and Shores Preservation Committee and long-time skeptic on the use of upland sand rather than sand pumped from the seabed, gave a somber report of the status of the final phase of the project.

“Sector 3 is supposed to be in process, and the county submitted a request for $6 million from the state and it’s not going to happen. There is no state cost sharing for Sector 3,” Ochsner said, adding that the project was ranked very low on the state’s priorities.

But Gray said the cost of hauling the sand from upland sources and what would have been the cost of pumping it ashore from the offshore bar are roughly neck-and-neck at this point: comparable.  “They are looking at (a comparison) now,” he said.