VERO BEACH — If the county commission and the contractor putting tons of sand on north county beaches don’t come to a financial agreement soon, work could stop before the beach replenishment project is completed.
Indian River County and Ranger Construction are squabbling over a half million here, a half million there. But the bottom line is the price tag on the so-called bargain sand project is rising, inching towards the $15 million mark.
“The price keeps going up and up and up, almost every time Chris (Mora) comes before us. I’m starting to regret Chris showing up,” said Commissioner Bob Solari of the county’s public works director.
“What I’d like to see is for us to get put on a path of resolution with this and to get a better idea of what our total costs are going to be.”
Though the dispute is not yet at the point where workers will be walking off the site of the north barrier island beach sand project, county commissioners and Ranger Construction need to find a solution to keep the dump trucks running.
“While the dispute is going on, we’re still working and the mines are actually working 24 hours a day, seven days a week right now to mine and process the material,” said county coastal engineer James Gray.
Nearly one-fifth of the sand to complete the 317,000 cubic yard first phase of the project has been delivered and close to 6,000 linear feet of beach and dunes in front of Orchid, Sea Oaks and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort has been shored up with the trucked-in sand.
The original contract for nearly $7.3 million included the cost of transporting sand from three sand mines, which would each provide one-third of the sand.
When it was determined that a coarser sand would be needed to be able to place the entire 487,000 cubic yards on the beaches, the supply chain was altered and one mine, Ranch Road Lake, the closest mine to the jobsite located just west of the Quail Valley Golf Club, is now providing 90 percent of the sand.
The county is contending that — based on reduced fuel and trucking costs — it should have a credit of up to $500,000 coming from the consolidation of material being supplied from the Ranch Road Lake mine.
“We’re still trying to look out for the county’s best interests… but we want a reduction for the trucking,” said County Administrator Joe Baird. Baird said the staff, not wanting to write a “blank check,” calculated a fuel reduction of $264,000 alone, not taking into account wear, tear and time.
Commissioner Joe Flescher, who represents District 2 where the sand is being dumped, agreed.
“I believe that if it’s 20 or 30 miles that we’re not moving sand, that’s a whole lot of diesel fuel that we’re not using and that you’re not using,” Flescher said to Ranger Construction executive Bob Schafer during the last county commission meeting.
On the other hand, Ranger Construction and Ranch Road Lake mine owner Steve Smith counter that producing the coarser sand requires more intense processing and necessitated the mining of sand from a different part of the mine than was originally intended, so the county should have to pay more for that.
Ranch Road Lake brought in a second dredge machine and team to operate it, and Smith is listing this as an additional financial burden — tacking about $490,000 more onto the taxpayers’ bill.
“The conditions of the bid changed,” Ranger Construction’s Schafer said, adding that he and the sand suppliers worked with county staff to come up with material that would allow the county to place the full complement of sand on the beach, instead of the 50 percent reduction that would have been required of the finer, lower quality sand.
County Attorney Alan Polackwich, who acknowledged he had to get up to speed on the saga of the sand project, told commissioners that the sand now being required is still within the parameters of the original bid specifications and that there may have been some confusion.
Schafer brought forth email correspondence from project engineer Mike Walther of Coastal Tech saying the proposed increases seemed “reasonable” and accused the county of not negotiating with Ranger Construction in good faith.
“We never said we would do this for free,” he said, reminding commissioners that cost increases came up as early as September.
Commissioner Wesley Davis, who has been a friend to the upland sand providers, said he was not sold on what might be seen as horse trading with the processing and transportation costs.
Ranger Construction brought back a change order of $984,000 for additional testing of sand — which it has subcontracted out to an Orlando firm — and for the added costs at the sand mine for dredging and processing the coarser sand.
County Commissioners approved $493,000 of the change order to cover the required mobilization/demobilization and the on-site testing. It kicked back the rest.
“The task is to produce the material and that’s what they contracted for,” Gray said. “As far as the extra time or whatever at the mine, that’s within the scope.”