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Vero beachside having a busy summer season
week of August 9, 2018

The trend toward busier summer seasons in Vero Beach is continuing and even accelerating this year, with bustling shops and restaurants, full hotels and record beach attendance during what used to be a sleepy part of the year. “Costa d’Este has had a great summer so far, with business levels higher than we have seen in previous summer seasons,” says Amanda Aucoin, the Ocean Drive hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We’ve been full every day this summer,” says Jeanne Radlet, general manager at The Driftwood Resort for the past 30 years. “This has been our busiest summer yet, with a lot more vacationers and more people moving down here,” says Marissa Young, manager of The Lemon Tree restaurant on Ocean Drive, across from Costa and Driftwood. “We have more customers this year than in previous years,” with most coming from other parts of Florida. According to county records, summer tourism revenue from the bed tax has more than doubled during the past eight years. For example, a total of $273,047 in tourism revenue was collected during May, June and July in 2009. That total climbed to $568,853 last summer and the trend is continuing. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District grapples with indigent care
week of August 9, 2018

Over the past month or so, Hospital District trustees, one by one, have gotten a very different view of Indian River Medical Center – the view from dilapidated houses half-hidden by a wild overgrowth of vegetation in a four-block pocket of extreme poverty just across and down the road from the hospital. Julianne Price, head of the Health Department’s PACE program for environmental health, has in separate trips taken trustees Allen Jones, Ann Marie McCrystal and Tracey Zudans over the rutted dirt roads of Gifford and West Wabasso in her minivan to show them conditions in the neighborhoods where many of the hospital’s indigent patients live. As the hospital inches forward in the partnership process with Cleveland Clinic, the Hospital District Board – which exists to provide public funds for indigent healthcare – is beginning to ponder its own future mission. And as board members debate their dollars-and-cents commitments to various agencies that provide healthcare to the poor, stepping out of the boardroom into the worst of the county’s poverty cannot help but bring a sense of urgency. READ FULL STORY


Ocean Drive condo fined for violating sea turtle light law
week of August 9, 2018

Vero Beach police code enforcement officers have issued citations to a central beach condominium complex and the owners of an oceanfront home for violating the city’s “dark beach” ordinance after scores of newly-hatched sea turtles crawled toward busy Ocean Drive instead of toward the ocean itself, and at least four were killed by cars. Vero Beach’s turtle lighting ordinance, first adopted in 1990 and amended several times, bans lights from shining onto the beach during nesting season which runs from March 1 through Oct. 31. The law is aimed at preventing hatchlings from crawling toward man-made light instead of being guided back to the ocean by moon and starlight. Penalties can range up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. The Village Spires Condominium at 3554 Ocean Drive and the rental home owned by a Miami couple right at the south end of the Conn Beach boardwalk received citations and fines last month for violating the ordinance by displaying lights that draw turtles inland, according to Lt. Dan Cook, head of the police department’s code enforcement division. READ FULL STORY


Environmental Learning Center unveils ambitious masterplan for expansion
week of August 9, 2018

After more than a year of planning and speculation, details of the Environmental Learning Center’s multimillion-dollar expansion project are finally available – and impressive. The agenda for an upcoming Indian River County Technical Review Committee meeting reveals that the project – which the ELC has termed “a multiphase, multiyear growth process” – will include a 23,455-square-foot interpretive center; a 4,750-square-foot volunteer training and grounds stewardship center; a 2,500-square-foot education/event pavilion; a 1,350-square-foot “critter corner;” and a 641-square-foot lagoon terrace. The agenda for the Aug. 13 preplanning conference did not include specific cost figures. “We are extremely excited to be completing the master plan in preparation for entering our new decade of life,” says Environmental Learning Center Executive Director Molly Steinwald. She expects it will take several years to raise funds for the major, multi-building expansion, so visitors won’t “see any major physical change to campus” this year. The Environmental Learning Center is located on a 64-acre island campus at the western base of the Wabasso Bridge on the 510 causeway. Since its genesis in 1988, it has become the epicenter of nature education, exploration and hands-on experiences for adults, families and especially school children in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Enthusiasts seek wider bike lane when A1A is resurfaced next year
week of August 9, 2018

Local bicycle enthusiasts have launched a letter-writing campaign urging the Florida Department of Transportation to amend its plan and install a wider and buffered bike lane when it resurfaces a 6.74-mile stretch of State Road A1A, north of Central Beach. The $7.5 million project, which is scheduled to begin next summer at Tides Road (north of Jaycee Park) and conclude a year later at Coco Plum Lane (near Wabasso Beach), includes stoplight and drainage improvements, new signage and pavement markings, and the addition of a 6-foot-wide sidewalk along the east side of A1A. The plans do not include any widening or buffering of the existing 4-foot-wide bike lane – an omission that members of the Vero Cycling Club and Bike-Walk Indian River County say violates FDOT’s “preferred standards” on the local roadway most used by cyclists. The cycling groups want FDOT to install a 7-foot-wide, buffered bike lane they say is needed to enable cyclists to safely ride along a two-lane highway with a speed limit that varies from 35 mph to 50 mph. A buffered bike lane is a conventional bike lane paired with a designated buffer space separating the bike lane from the adjacent motor-vehicle travel lane. READ FULL STORY


Atlantic Classical Orchestra moves to Community Church
week of August 9, 2018

When Atlantic Classical Orchestra’s David Amado decided to perform Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” last year, the grand music posed a logistical problem: even with the smaller size of the chamber orchestra, its 45 musicians plus various community choirs couldn’t fit on the stage at St. Edward’s School. Instead, the orchestra’s management decided to use Vero’s Community Church, a few blocks north of the mainland downtown. The concert was a sell-out, and the sound was spectacular. As a result, for only the third time in the group’s 29-year history, ACO has decided to move to a new location, leaving St. Ed’s Waxlax Theater, its home of more than a decade, and relocating to Community Church for all four concerts in its 2019 season. For concertgoers, the move solves two longstanding issues: acoustics and parking. And for those with a packed social calendar, a change from Thursday to Tuesday evenings could mean fewer conflicts, though the concert in March remains on a Thursday evening. READ FULL STORY


Harbor Branch launches first-ever citizen-scientist effort to study lagoon fish population
week of August 9, 2018

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute launched the storied research institute’s first-ever citizen-science program last month – enlisting 60 volunteers as marine researchers at Vero Beach's Round Island Park. Participants set out in boats and walked on shore, catching and observing fish and collecting water samples to help Harbor Branch researchers get a better handle on what species live in the Indian River Lagoon. The turnout exceeded expectations and the citizen-scientists did not have to get wet or handle fish in order to gather data. That's because the new DNAngler program's cutting-edge molecular technology identifies fish swimming through the lagoon without having to take them out of the water. Environmental DNA – from fish feces, scales or other tiny cells fish leave behind in the water – is extracted and analyzed for unique genetic 'barcodes' similar to tags on groceries that tell what species are present. READ FULL STORY


Shores approves zoning for Surfsedge development
week of August 9, 2018

The 24-home Surfsedge community – slated to be built on a 5.2-acre oceanside parcel sold at auction in 2017 by the Town of Indian River Shores – is one step closer to becoming a reality after the Town Council unanimously approved two ordinances needed for the Naples-based Lutgert Companies’ development plan to move forward. A detailed site plan and other construction documents still must go through the Shores’ permitting process before construction can begin on the project’s three-story, 12-unit condominium and 12 single-family homes, but the proper zoning is now in place. “We are super excited to move into the permitting stage for Surfsedge,” said Lutgert Project Manager Mike Hoyt. “We foresee the entire permitting process taking us into the first of the year, but we should have enough permitting complete to start marketing the homes with Dale Sorensen Real Estate – Megan Raasveldt is the contact person – late this year.” “The condominium is a three-story building – two living levels of 6 homes each over parking with a roof top amenity space – and it is on the eastern edge of our property overlooking the county property and the Atlantic,” Hoyt said. READ FULL STORY


Indian River proposing $50 copay
for ER

week of August 2, 2018

Even as lawyers research whether it’s legal for Indian River Medical Center to charge poor people copays, the hospital has decided on an amount – $50 – that it wants to get from people deemed medically indigent who come to the Emergency Room with non-emergencies. That amount is more than three times the maximum paid by Medicaid patients and it includes no treatment – only an exam to determine whether the patient’s complaint is threatening to life or limb. If the medical problem is deemed a non-emergency and the patient chooses to go ahead with treatment at the ER, they will be charged the full amount of care, “which could be in the thousands of dollars,” George Eighmy, hospital CFO, told the Hospital District Board at a recent Chairman’s Meeting. “And [the indigent patient] would be responsible for the entire bill.” The hospital is banking that the emotional jolt of a $50 copay to an already sick or injured person would keep them away from the emergency department next time. READ FULL STORY


Large power users pose real threat to Vero Electric deal
week of August 2, 2018

Somebody in charge of the Vero Beach electric sale should have known the $185 million deal was on a collision course with a coalition of Florida Power & Light’s largest commercial customers, but Vero’s 34,000 unsuspecting ratepayers had no clue the group wielding power to potentially block them from getting low FPL rates come October even existed until last week. The Florida Industrial Power Users Group (or FIPUG) objected to the Florida Public Service Commission’s proposed approval of the Vero deal on the basis it would unfairly take money out of FIPUG members’ pockets. With hearings on the group’s complaint scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11 in Tallahassee, the hoped-for Oct. 1 sale closing date is out the window unless the FIPUG challenge, plus three less credible objections filed by local opponents to the sale, are dropped. “The reason we are pursuing this is because we are concerned about FPL ratepayers and FIPUG members being asked to pay for an acquisition adjustment of $200 million,” Moyle said, citing figures in the PSC’s staff report alleging FPL is paying too much for the Vero system. READ FULL STORY


Lottery winner building huge home in Ambersand Beach
week of August 2, 2018

The largest house by far that has ever risen in Ambersand Beach is being built on an ocean-to-river lot two miles south of the Sebastian Inlet, apparently by a very private man who appears to have won one of the largest lottery jackpots in history. Situated, like all houses in Ambersand Beach, on the east side of A1A, the 18,810-square-foot poured-concrete and concrete-block fortress will have seven bedrooms – including a 2,100-square-foot master suite – nine bathrooms and two massive garages. Construction began in April 2017 and the shell is now complete, stretching for 120 feet along the scenic state highway on the north island, with the finished roofing material in place and windows ready to be installed. The three-story home is being built for Barton Raymond Buxton, according to county records and other sources. Buxton could not be reached to comment on the house, but the history of the project is spelled out in detail in 170 pages of county building department records and other public documents. READ FULL STORY


Laura Riding Jackson house likely moving to Indian River State College
week of August 2, 2018

The Laura Riding Jackson house, one of Indian River County’s most historic and picturesque buildings, has likely found a new home on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College. College Provost Casey Lunceford told Vero Beach 32963 that “we are in the process of preparing a memorandum of understanding” that should go before the college Board of Trustees at its August or September meeting. “I’m excited about it,” he said. Last year, the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation board was surprised and dismayed to learn that the 118-year-old structure, one of the few remaining examples of Florida Cracker architecture and home of the widely noted 20th Century poet and environmentalist, would have to be relocated from the site it had occupied on the Environmental Learning Center campus for a quarter century to accommodate the Center’s multimillion-dollar expansion project. The home was moved to the ELC campus years ago to save it from being demolished, and the Foundation has since paid $2,100 a year to the ELC, via a 5-year renewable lease. READ FULL STORY


Boca hospital will not be joining Vero in Cleveland Clinic
week of August 2, 2018

Boca Raton Regional Hospital, a hoped-for link in the future Cleveland Clinic Florida expansion that Indian River Medical Center expects to be part of, has chosen a different hospital system, Miami-based Baptist Health, as its potential merger partner. That leaves Martin Health’s three hospitals, two in Stuart and one in Port St. Lucie’s Tradition, to join Indian River Medical Center in the Cleveland family if negotiations here go as expected. Cleveland Clinic and IRMC this week missed what had been a tentative July deadline for a definitive agreement. But on an encouraging note, Indian River Hospital District trustees have been asked to make their vacation schedules known through August. That’s because any agreement must be reviewed by trustees in a meeting that requires 10 days advance public notice. The Hospital District, established by the state legislature, is a taxing district and must operate in accordance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws. Cleveland Clinic attorneys have moved on from examining the workings of the Vero hospital to reviewing issues involving the Hospital District, which owns the hospital buildings and land on behalf of county taxpayers. READ FULL STORY


County passes six-month moratorium on biosolids
week of August 2, 2018

It’s not certain if biosolids are the source of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake, but local governments are moving to block their use just in case while waiting for a slow-moving Florida Department of Environmental Protection to take action and give them direction. The FDEP is the oversight agency that issues permits for the application of biosolids – treated human waste – on agriculture land. The application of human waste to fields serves two purposes: It is a way for municipalities to dispose of the steady flow of biosolids coming out of their sewage treatment plants – 87,000 tons are produced annually in Florida – and farmers and ranchers, who are paid to absorb the material, use it as fertilizer. Problems arise when the nutrients contained in the waste material – especially nitrogen – end up in rivers or lakes, where the chemicals can feed destructive algae blooms. Several months after fears of pollution and toxic algae blooms at Blue Cypress Lake first emerged, the Indian River County Commission last month banned the hauling and application of “Class B” biosolids on unincorporated county land for the next six months. READ FULL STORY


Vero Electric sale suffers major setback
week of July 26, 2018

The projected Oct. 1 closing of the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light ran into a last-minute roadblock Monday when an organization representing large commercial users of electricity asked the Public Service Commission to reconsider allowing FPL to pass on the $185 million cost to its existing customers. The Florida Industrial Power Users Group contended it would be unfair for FPL to add into the bills of existing customers the $116.2 million premium FPL agreed to pay Vero over and above the $69 million the PSC staff said the city’s electric utility was actually worth. The FIPUG’s position is that if FPL wants to pay Vero $185 million, the $116.2 million premium should come either from FPL shareholders or from a surcharge on the bills of its new Vero electric customers. Regardless of how this issue is resolved, the petition by FIPUG – which includes some of FPL’s biggest customers and has a long history of taking FPL to task before the PSC, the Florida Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court – will certainly delay the closing of the sale beyond Oct. 1, and quite possibly beyond the Nov. 6 Vero City Council election. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic CFO sees Oct. 1 close for merger
week of July 26, 2018

The CFO of Cleveland Clinic, Steven Glass, has apparently blocked out Monday, Oct. 1 as his hoped-for date to celebrate the closure of Cleveland’s high-stakes merger with Indian River Medical Center. In a phone interview with a financial publication, The Bond Buyer, Glass said “We are currently [negotiating] . . . a definitive agreement with them and if that is successful they will fold into the Cleveland Clinic Health System probably around Oct. 1.” It was the first time a top Cleveland Clinic executive has confirmed that date, which had previously been floated by local hospital leaders, and Glass continued to make news. The article quotes him as saying he hopes to reach a definitive agreement with Martin Health on its three hospitals “within the same timeframe.” As for Boca Regional Medical Center, Glass told the paper he expects that hospital to have made its choice of partner “in the next month,” and is hoping it will be Cleveland Clinic. “With that we will be building a very large integrated delivery health system in South Florida and leveraging what we have been able to do,” Glass continued. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island hit by luxury car thieves
week of July 26, 2018

In a highly unusual incident, three luxury vehicles were stolen from a condo and two homes on the ocean side of John’s Island in the early-morning hours Sunday, according to Indian River Shores police. Police say they believe several youths scaled the perimeter fence along State Road A1A sometime around 2 a.m. on Sunday, and tried doors of cars until they found three that were unlocked and had keys inside. The thieves took a Mercedes GLC 300, a 2018 Porsche Convertible and a Toyota Land Cruiser, police said. John’s Island security officers declined to comment on the thefts, but sources said the suspects were captured on video surveillance. Capt. Mark Shaw with the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department said officers also were able to determine the direction the vehicles took leaving town by checking video from cameras that capture license plate numbers of all vehicles passing on State Road A1A. Sources said police believed the youths had come from Fort Pierce. As of 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, no arrests had been made and none of the vehicles had been recovered. READ FULL STORY


Judge rules accused killer of nurse will face death penalty
week of July 26, 2018

The family of Diana Duve, the 26-year-old nurse killed in June 2014, may take some solace in last Friday’s court rulings affirming the State of Florida’s ability to seek the death penalty against defendant Michael David Jones if he is found guilty of first-degree murder for her death. Judge Cynthia Cox denied nine out of 10 of the defense’s motions to disallow the death penalty. One motion resulted in a compromise whereby prosecutors and defense attorneys would agree on proper jury instructions to emphasize that the jury’s recommendation of either death, or a life sentence upon conviction, is significantly more binding that just advice to the judge. Jones, 35, was initially arrested on second-degree murder charges, as the state can only formally charge first-degree murder upon indictment by a Grand Jury – a ruling that panel handed down on Aug. 26, 2014, thus allowing prosecutors to ask for the death penalty should he be convicted. The case now appears to be headed for trial either later this year or in early 2019 after being stalled for more than two years. READ FULL STORY


No change coming in Vero nursing home ratings
week of July 26, 2018

The annual Medicare rating of nursing homes will not be updated this August, so two of Indian River County’s seven skilled nursing homes will continue to carry the top Medicare rating and two will still have the worst rating possible. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services temporarily froze the health inspection component of its one-to-five-star ratings system for nursing homes in February, leaving in place whatever rankings were assigned based on data from previous years while it implements changes to the inspection process. Other data based on surveys and payroll information will continue to be updated but the hiatus in inspections is problematic for those who need to place a family member in a nursing home. The choice of a nursing facility is a decision faced by many in Indian River County, where the elderly population stands at 31.7 percent, or more than 48,000 people. The best two homes in the county got five stars on Medicare.gov’s Nursing Home Compare, the quality rating website. Those are the 72-bed Grace Rehabilitation Center, which earned top marks for quality measures and above average for staffing; and the 120-bed Willowbrooke Court at Indian River Estates, with five stars for both quality measures and staffing. READ FULL STORY


City aerating bethel creek as part of cleanup effort after sewage spill
week of July 26, 2018

The city of Vero Beach has installed 10 aeration heads in Bethel Creek to try and accelerate cleanup of the creek in the aftermath of a major sewage spill last fall that dumped 3.2 million gallons of human waste in the narrow waterway lined with expensive homes. The creek, which has little natural flow, smelled like a toilet for weeks after the spill and residents converged on City Hall demanding action, concerned about possible dangers to human and animal health and harm to their quality of life. Rob Bolton, head of Vero’s water and sewer department, moved quickly to repair the broken sewer pipe, and put up warning signs to alert fishermen and boaters that the creek was contaminated. He also instituted a testing program to keep track of bacteria levels in the water, where manatees cruise in search of food and ocean-going yachts bob at backyard docks. Scientists from the Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Fort Pierce conducted separate, independent tests in April as part of ORCA’s ongoing mission to study, protect and restore aquatic ecosystems in the Indian River Lagoon. READ FULL STORY


Fortunately, sargassum not too bad on island beaches
week of July 26, 2018

If you’ve plopped your folding chair down at South Beach or Conn Beach lately, you may have had to weave your way through thickets of stinky, maize-colored seaweed covering some of the sand to find a good spot. The seaweed washes in with the tide and doesn’t always wash out again. It’s sargassum – a non-toxic, floating algae common in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico that’s usually beneficial to the marine environment. But when it comes ashore in tennis court-sized mats several feet thick, as it’s doing right now in several Caribbean countries, it can smother baby sea turtles emerging from their nests, cause nearshore fish kills by depleting oxygen levels in the water, and send gagging beachgoers packing. The problem isn’t too bad on Vero’s beaches – the Gulf Stream, which carries sargassum north from the Caribbean, is further offshore here than it is further south – but summer is far from over. “What we’re seeing now over a large area is too much of a good thing,” Dr. Brian LaPointe, research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, said. READ FULL STORY