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Vero Beach High principal hospitalized with COVID-19
week of February 25, 2021

Vero Beach High School principal Shawn O’Keefe has been hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to multiple sources who did not want to speak on the record. His current condition is unknown. School district spokesperson Cristin Maddux wrote in an email, “Due to the HIPAA privacy rule, we cannot disclose individually identifiable health information of our students or staff members.” Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, where he is a patient, declined to provide information on O’Keefe’s condition. Oddly, Vero Beach High School has not reported a teacher or staff member testing positive for COVID-19 for more than a month, according to a review of school district and Health Department records. Either O’Keefe tested positive more than a month ago or the school district did not report his case for some reason. One would have imagined that a principal of a huge school like Vero Beach High would have come into contact with a large number of staff members or students who would have been required to quarantined. But the school district provided no information on quarantining as a result of exposure to O’Keefe, either. READ FULL STORY


As more receive vaccine jabs, new infections decline
week of February 25, 2021

All of our local COVID-19 statistics moved in the right direction this week. As nearly 4,700 more people received a vaccine shot, new infections were down, hospitalizations were down and death reports way down. The county experienced its lowest daily case count in many months on Monday, with only 14 new positive infections reported. The daily average of new cases was 43, inching down from last week’s daily average of 47 cases. New island cases dropped by nearly one-third from last week, with 22 residents testing positive in ZIP code 32963. Only one person was reported dead this week of complications from COVID-19. Both the local and state case positivity rates remained low, with Indian River County’s positivity rate staying in the single digits for the past 14 days, with only one day higher than 9 percent and only two days between 8 percent and 9 percent. Intensive-care bed capacity as of press time Monday was showing 27 percent of beds available on the state report – not a great number but it has been worse in the past month and a half. READ FULL STORY


Anti-mask parents who sued School Board will not appeal
week of February 25, 2021

Four parents who lost a court challenge against the mandatory facemask policy in Indian River County’s public schools have decided not to file an appeal after being told by their lawyer they have little chance of success. But the parents will continue lobbying the School Board to make facemasks optional in public schools, said Jennifer Pippin, the lead plaintiff in the case. The four parents have repeatedly questioned the strong scientific and political support for requiring facemasks in public, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Feb. 12 calling for “the universal and correct use of masks” in schools. Yet Pippin and three other parents who sued the School Board decided they would be unlikely to convince an appellate court to overturn the Feb. 9 order by state Circuit Judge Janet Croom dismissing their complaint with prejudice and upholding the facemask requirement. Meanwhile, School Superintendent David Moore gave no indication last week he is ready to start phasing out the requirement that students and employees wear facemasks on campus. READ FULL STORY


Small businesses doing well in Vero despite pandemic
week of February 25, 2021

The pandemic has been hard on small businesses, but those in Vero have fared better than in most places and a surprising number of new business are opening. According to the Indian River County Tax Collector’s office, new business permit applications this year are on par with the past several years, with more than 200 already applied for in 2021. That includes at least four new beachside businesses that have debuted in recent months or are about to open their doors: a surf shop, a marine art gallery and two salons. The beachiest of the businesses is Chelsea’s Surf Shack, which will open in Portales de Vero on Flamevine next month. Owned by Julia and Chris Simon, the family-run business is named after the couple’s 1-year-old daughter Chelsea. The Simons say their families think they are crazy to be opening a new business in such uncertain times, but they see the store as a step toward financial security. Chris Simon is an avid surfer and has often lamented the lack of surfing gear available on the island. And owning a small business isn’t new to the couple – Julia is an accountant and Chris is a mobile mechanic. They’re looking forward to building this business together. READ FULL STORY


Vero on verge of creating Cultural Arts Village
week of February 25, 2021

Vero is on the verge of accomplishing a feat its arts community has sought for six years: approving official zoning for a Cultural Arts Village. The proposed Cultural Arts Village area extends six blocks west from the 14th Avenue downtown arts district. Situated south of eastbound Route 60 (19th place), it encompasses much of the historic Edgewood neighborhood, ending at northbound 20th Avenue. The idea is to encourage the revitalization of one of Vero’s oldest neighborhoods into an inviting mixed-use, creative arts hub where painters, sculptors, woodworkers, musicians, writers and merchants can build a community that attracts tourists, gives locals an artsy place to explore, and brings commercial investment to benefit the community, while honoring Vero’s rich history and heritage. Changes to the city’s land development code and zoning regulations set to be considered in March and April would allow artists and skilled craftspeople to live, work and market their products at their home studios in the district. It would also allow for small-scale cafés and tea rooms where larger restaurants would not be permitted. READ FULL STORY


City seeks to increase use of marina by transient boaters
week of February 25, 2021

Now that the City Council has green-lighted the first segment of the Vero Beach Municipal Marina’s multimillion-dollar renovation, it has begun to discuss issues relating to the growing number of boats anchoring in off-marina waters. According to City Manager Monte Falls and Marina Director Sean Collins, “an estimated 20 boats” are anchoring in non-marina waters at any given time, a number which “has probably doubled in the last two years.” Although it is legal for boats to moor in the non-channel waters of the lagoon, it is unlawful for them to land their dinghies on city-owned shorelines, which some do on a regular basis, tying up in the Fingers canals, at Memorial Island, Riverside Park and other locations. Boaters outside the marina come to shore in dinghies to shop, sightsee and do other activities. Collins had previously noted a significant drop in the normal number of “regulars” – boaters who return year after year – occupying the marina’s mooring buoy field. Transient mooring rental, which includes use of marina facilities, is $20 a day, with harbormaster approval required after five days. READ FULL STORY


Speeding tickets in Vero soar, crashes way down, in 2020
week of February 25, 2021

Vero Beach police officers wrote 1,052 speeding tickets in 2020, compared to only 696 the year before, but crashes are down considerably. Which raises the question: Is the increase in citations the reason Vero Beach police responded to only 741 crashes in 2020 after being called to 968 the year before? Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey believes there is a correlation. “When you reduce drivers’ speeds through enforcement, you hope the number of crashes goes down,” Currey said last week after release of the Vero Beach Police Department’s annual Traffic Crash/Enforcement Analysis Report. “We issued a lot more citations for speeding last year, and the number of crashes dropped significantly,” he added. “Also, when you reduce speeds, crashes tend to be less severe, and we had fewer crashes involving injury in 2020 than we did in 2019, too.” In fact, only 113 of the motor vehicle crashes in the city last year resulted in injuries, compared to 179 the year before. Fatalities fell from four in 2019 to two in 2020. READ FULL STORY


Utility poles on Ocean Drive will be replaced this spring
week of February 25, 2021

A lot is going on with utility poles in Vero Beach. First and most noticeable, Florida Power & Light crews will be working on Ocean Drive over the next few months replacing aging wooden utility poles with sturdier concrete poles; second, Vero wants FPL to take down the old wooden poles when the new poles go up, something that hasn’t happened elsewhere in the city when poles were replaced; and finally, some city officials want to explore the option of having utility lines run underground, though that would be expensive for residents. City Manager Monte Falls said “FPL is undergoing a major effort in our community for storm hardening.” Falls said FPL will replace poles in residential stretches of Ocean Drive now through early April, during daytime hours, then work in busy commercial areas after Easter, at night. The first section to get new poles will be from Riomar Drive north to Humiston Park, followed by the section from Banyan Road north to Greytwig Road. “That should take them past Easter. Then they would jump back and do the center section,” Falls said of the Ocean Drive commercial district between Humiston Park and Banyan Road. READ FULL STORY


Closure of Wabasso Beach Park for repairs delayed by high tides
week of February 25, 2021

Residents and tourists will be able to keep swimming, surfing and sunbathing at Wabasso Beach Park for a while longer, after a scheduled beach-repair closure was put off due to ocean conditions. The county’s Public Works Coastal Engineering team is expected to decide in the coming week when Wabasso Beach Park will be temporarily closed to accommodate the ongoing, $14 million beach restoration project on the island’s northern tier. The busy-season closure, which is necessary to complete the southern end of the first phase of the project, initially was scheduled for Feb. 17 to allow sand to be placed northward from the park. However, county spokesperson Kathleen Keenan said recent high tides prevented sand trucks from accessing the beach in that area. “The team had to adjust its schedule and the beach will remain open until a later date,” Keenan said, “but we’ll provide advance notice once the date is set.” The first phase of the project, which began Jan. 4, must be completed by April 30, before the official start of the sea turtle nesting season. READ FULL STORY


Vero hits the Shores with epic demand for documents
week of February 25, 2021

After the Town of Indian River Shores released a 10-year-old letter from former Vero city manager Jim O’Connor in an attempt to show the public it has a strong case in an ongoing breach of contract lawsuit, Vero’s lawyers hit the Shores with an epic request to produce 36 years’ worth of utility documents. The Feb. 17 filing with the court asks Indian River Shores for all “documents, correspondence, emails, interoffice and intraoffice communications, text messages, or any other records that relate to any other records that relate to any of the allegations contained in Plaintiff’s complaint.” A separate item requests all records from 1985 to present related to the town’s original 1986 water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero Beach. Yet another item requests any records or correspondence between Indian River Shores and Indian River County related to utilities or utility rates, from 1985 to present. Other catch-all items request “All documents referencing or discussing Defendant City of Vero Beach’s water, wastewater, reuse water utility services and rates” plus all correspondence to or from the town manager related to water, wastewater and reuse water. READ FULL STORY


Nursing home let staff with COVID care for patients
week of February 18, 2021

In the lull between Vero’s summer and winter COVID-19 surges, and as families began to be able to visit residents in long-term care, a November inspection of Consulate Health Care revealed a frightening fact. Rather than tightening controls on COVID-19, one of Vero’s most problem-ridden long-term care facilities was letting down its guard. Nine months into the pandemic, when COVID-19 precautions should have been second nature, frontline caregivers – including a registered nurse in a supervisory role – were coming to work with symptoms of COVID-19, and in some cases, even after testing positive. The report, conducted by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) in response to a complaint, showed screenings weren’t consistently being done as required. Mask-wearing was found to be lax or abandoned by some. In one instance, the inspector noted a mask dangling off one ear of an RN as she chatted with patients two feet away from her. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 infections here unchanged, but deaths down
week of February 18, 2021

Reports of new COVID-19 infections countywide and on the barrier island during the past week were nearly identical to the week before, with an average of 47 new cases per day countywide for a total of 334. Vaccine administration is going strong locally, with nearly 8,000 shots given last week and the number of people who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine now in Indian River County at 27,568 – with 86 percent of people vaccinated being age 65 or older. On five of the last seven days leading up to press time, more than 1,000 shots per day were administered, with Feb. 8 setting a record of 2,059 shots in arms. The number of local deaths reported this past week was less than half last week’s number, with eight people dying with complications of the virus, down from 17 the previous week. Indian River County’s positivity rate for COVID-19 testing has remained below 10 percent now for a solid two weeks, after more than a month of percentages frequently in the teens. Emergency room visits for COVID-like symptoms and flu-like symptoms were down sharply over the past week. READ FULL STORY


El Sid Taqueria latest island eatery to close briefly as a result of COVID-19
week of February 18, 2021

Nearly a year into the pandemic, the coronavirus continues to occasionally impact island eateries with popular Mexican spot El Sid Taqueria the latest to shut down last Wednesday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The Ocean Drive taco joint reopened Saturday after a deep cleaning was completed and other employees tested negative for the disease. The first island restaurant was closed by the virus way back in June, when Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge shut down for two weeks after a bartender tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, a number of other island eateries have closed for various periods of time due to staff infections, including the Ocean Grill, Waldo’s Restaurant & Bar and Ryder’s Gourmet Market. All the restaurants were prompt to notify the public, determined to ensure customer and staff safety, and all of them paid a price for their diligence in the form of lost revenue, testing costs for other employees and expenses related to intensive cleaning. READ FULL STORY


Renovated Village Beach Market back at last
week of February 18, 2021

By the time you read this story, the Village Beach Market was open for business again after a six-month, nearly $4 million renovation that included a complete interior remodel intended to make the popular island market more open, attractive and modern inside. Closed since mid-August, the boutique grocery store and deli reopened Wednesday, though owner Jason Keen said last weekend the store still needed to “get past a couple of inspections” from the county Building Department on Monday and Tuesday. “We’re about 95 percent done, and we’re working frantically to make sure we’re ready,” Keen said. “We’ll finish stocking the shelves Tuesday and, barring any unforeseen issues, we’ll open our doors Wednesday. “We can’t wait to be open again,” he added. “We’ve been closed way too long.” READ FULL STORY


Florida city similar to Vero foils cyberattack on water utility
week of February 18, 2021

A hacker tried to poison the drinking water at a utility plant at Oldsmar, Fla., a city the same size as Vero Beach, on Feb. 5 by remotely changing the chemical mix using the treatment system’s computerized controls. The hack was detected before the water supply could be poisoned with lye, but the incident raised obvious concerns about the security of the Vero Beach and Indian River County water systems. Officials here believe the county and city water systems are safe from cyberattacks, but such attacks are constantly evolving, and protecting the water supply is an ongoing challenge. The county water utility recently completed a federally mandated review and risk assessment of its system, and Vero is in the midst of a similar process. Oldsmar – a quiet, harborside city of roughly 15,000 people near Clearwater and Dunedin – seems an odd target for a cyberattack. Its modern reverse-osmosis water treatment plant is only eight years old, and since it opened, Oldsmar’s utility has won several accolades, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Operations Excellence Award in 2013 and 2018. READ FULL STORY


School district hopes to tap generous island residents to fund major projects
week of February 18, 2021

School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot wants to enlist generous residents of the barrier island to enhance academic, athletic and artistic opportunities for Indian River County’s public school students and fund major capital projects for the school district. Barefoot last month proposed the school district form a nonprofit foundation to raise, manage and spend money for educational facilities and programs, and the School Board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing in March on a policy guiding the proposed foundation. A key strategy is raising enough money to create endowments to fund specific capital projects, such as a running track for Vero Beach High School, or annual awards for top teachers, Barefoot said. “I think there’s a lot of interest all of a sudden in public education in this county that wasn’t there before, just from lack of awareness,” Barefoot said. “People have said to me, ‘How can I help?’ They really get the importance of this additional way of funding priorities you just don’t have the money for, particularly in this environment.” READ FULL STORY


Unearthed decade-old letter could be key in fight over water rates between Vero and Shores
week of February 18, 2021

The outcome of the Town of Indian River Shores breach of contract lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach Utilities could hinge on an October 2011 letter clarifying Vero’s position on rates for reuse irrigation water rates. A statement released to Vero Beach 32963 last week pursuant to a public records request lays out the reasons why Shores officials feel confident they will prove in court that Vero has not honored the terms of a 2012 franchise agreement for water, sewer and reuse irrigation water service. In 2012, Indian River County and Vero Beach were competing for the town’s lucrative utility customer base, with Indian River County offering what the town saw as better rates, but Vero having the advantage of being the town’s provider since the 1980s. Building out the infrastructure to switch to county service would have taken several years and the cost of taking over the existing equipment could have been expensive. Then-city manager Jim O’Connor proposed a plan that gave the Shores an easy way out of the dilemma – Vero promised to match Indian River County’s rates if the Shores re-upped its franchise agreement with Vero for another 15 years. READ FULL STORY


Legislature trying again this year to preempt local regulation of vacation rentals
week of February 18, 2021

The Indian River County Commission has joined the perennial battle in the state Legislature over the latest effort to block local governments from regulating vacation rentals. County commissioner Peter O’Bryan last week testified against a proposed House bill intended to prevent cities and counties from inspecting and licensing properties offered as short-term rentals by Airbnb, VRBO and others. But the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee voted to advance the bill for further consideration this session. Various versions of the legislation have popped up for years in Tallahassee; this latest – House Bill 219 proposed by Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican – would require vacation rental platforms to collect taxes on the properties they offer and remit them to the state; ensure only properly licensed rentals are advertised; and submit reports to the state detailing the rentals. The measure would cancel local ordinances regulating vacation rentals dating back to June 1, 2011, such as Indian River County’s vacation rental property regulation law adopted in 2016. READ FULL STORY


Mardy Fish Foundation tennis championships rescheduled from late April to mid-October
week of February 18, 2021

The 2021 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships have been rescheduled from April to October, when tournament organizers hope enough of the Vero Beach community will be vaccinated against COVID-19 to allow spectators to attend the annual event. Tournament Director Randy Walker said the United States Tennis Association and the foundation’s board of directors have approved moving the $15,000 men’s professional event, which will be played at The Boulevard Tennis Club, to Oct. 18-24. The clay-court tournament, which has been played in Vero Beach since 1995, is widely regarded to be among the world’s best entry-level pro tennis events. Usually scheduled for late April, it was played in October last year, too, because of the coronavirus pandemic – though the event wasn’t sanctioned by the USTA, which had suspended competition at all levels, and offered only $10,000 in prize money. The tournament is the top fundraiser each year for the foundation, which “supports over 2,400 children throughout Indian River County by funding after-school exercise, nutritional and enrichment programs in a safe environment to prepare them for healthy, productive and successful lives,” according to the foundation. READ FULL STORY


Public school teachers to get promised pay raise
week of February 18, 2021

Indian River County’s 2,000 public school teachers will receive at least a 5 percent raise this year and new teachers will start at $47,500 per year under a contract approved last week by the School Board. The three-year pact calls for 5 percent raises for the current school year, 2 percent raises for the 2021-2022 school year and a half-hour reduction in the workday in the 2022-2023 school year. Schools Superintendent David Moore and teachers union President Jennifer Freeland said negotiators put aside public differences about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to strike a deal on pay raises. Both sides also said they believe relations between the district and the union are the best they’ve been in several years, another feather in the cap of Superintendent Moore. “We have built a solid foundation for the future of this district and its teachers,” Freeland told the School Board during the Feb. 9 business meeting. “Putting this contract together was a herculean effort for all involved,” Freeland said. “It has been hours of ongoing dialogue and some ruffled feathers. We are now one of the state models. [Our efforts] did not fall apart when those of counties around us have.” READ FULL STORY


New COVID cases trend downward, but less so on island
week of February 11, 2021

As Indian River County surpassed the 10,000 COVID-19 case mark last weekend, the number of new cases here is steadily declining, but new infections on the barrier island held at near record highs. For the first week since Christmas, the countywide case numbers were lower than reports seen during the “summer surge” in July, with the average daily new cases dropping to 47, down from a high of more than 120 cases per day in January. Thirty-four 32963 residents tested positive for the coronavirus this week, accounting for 10 percent of the county’s new cases. That’s down just slightly from the record high of 38 island cases in one week. A total of 654 island residents have reportedly been infected, according to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard. A total of 244 Indian River County residents have died from complications of COVID-19 since March. Deaths remained fairly high this week with 17 new deaths reported in the seven days leading up to Monday press time – not a total surprise after current hospitalization numbers in January frequently reached the high 40s and even into the 50s. READ FULL STORY


Vero Isles residents seek deal with City on canals
week of February 11, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council seems ready to make a deal to end complaints from Vero Isles property owners regarding rights and responsibilities for the submerged lands in canals in back of their homes. Almost all of the upscale, single-family homes in Vero Isles have some sort of dock, and since the community was developed in the 1960s, those aging docks need to be replaced or remodeled from time to time. When homeowners need a permit from the city to do the dock work, City Attorney John Turner said, Vero has them sign a license agreement governing the canal bottom under the dock area. Residents say those agreements are lopsided in favor of the city, that the city has only selectively enforced the license agreement requirement, and that the agreement could cause problems for owners when they sell their homes. “The license introduces new obligations/burdens on Vero Isles owners, but offers no new benefits in exchange,” stated a summary of concerns sent to the city from property owners. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club’s A1A tunnel idea not hit with all
week of February 11, 2021

Some members of The Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club Community Association are up in arms over the idea of the property owners group spending $2 million to build a tunnel beneath State Road A1A to provide safer golf cart, bicycle and pedestrian access to the beach and clubhouse. “There’s no need for it,” said longtime Orchid Island homeowner, Joe Scherpf. “Everyone I talk to is against it, including several members of the community association board itself.” But other members are in favor of the project, which is being considered by the board. The tunnel would be an alternative to a crosswalk warning signal the north island country club community has petitioned for without success. The plea for a warning signal at Orchid Island Way and A1A to make crossing the highway safer has been rejected by the Florida Department of Transportation because there is not enough traffic. A preliminary cost estimate for the tunnel listed $1.5 million for a waterproof precast culvert, $170,000 for engineering and Geotech services, and $330,000 for utilities relocation, foundation stabilization and water removal, according to a Jan. 19 newsletter. READ FULL STORY


Multimillion city marina makeover gets the OK
week of February 11, 2021

After years of complaints from boaters and residents about the dilapidated state of the Vero Beach Municipal Marina, a much-discussed, full-scale renovation of the aging facility finally has been approved by the City Council. The council last week voted unanimously to move ahead with “Marina Master Plan Permitting and Design Phase I,” a proposal submitted by Vero Beach coastal engineering firm Coastal Tech that is the first installment of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project meant to give Vero a modern, attractive marina. “I’m happy to see the council keep this moving along,” said Marina Director Sean Collins, adding that it’s time for the city to invest in a facility that is a key part of city infrastructure and has served the city and the citizens for many years. Phase I of the project – replacing the boat storage building and docks at the southern end of the marina property – will go out for bid in January 2022, with construction beginning in April and wrapping up in late October, according to Coastal Tech’s timeline. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island golfers bankroll teaching pro’s PGA dream
week of February 11, 2021

John’s Island assistant golf pro Tyler Collett doesn’t need to worry about his expenses as he prepares to compete later this month in the Puerto Rico Open, his first PGA Tour event. They’re already covered. Now-retired Sports Illustrated editor Mark Mulvoy made sure Collett wouldn’t need to spend his own money, after the 25-year-old West Virginia native played his way into the tournament by winning the South Florida PGA Professional Championship at Boca Raton’s Broken Sound Club in September. Mulvoy, an avid golfer, sent an email to a group of 90 of his fellow JI members, asking each of them to contribute at least $100 to help defray the costs of Collett’s dream-come-true trip. They call themselves the “Wednesday Warriors” – as many as 40 of them play every Wednesday – and they quickly ponied up the money. “He’s a great kid, and we want him to experience the real thing – stay where the other players are staying, bring a caddie he knows, feel like an established PGA Tour pro,” Mulvoy said last week. READ FULL STORY


Island brokers see 2021 shaping up as another phenomenal year
week of February 11, 2021

After a record-breaking year in 2020, the island real estate market has only gotten hotter so far in 2021. Top brokers and agents universally believe this year will be another great one – maybe even better than last – with homes drawing multiple offers and sometimes selling before they even hit the MLS. “This is going to be the best real estate season of my lifetime,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare, who has been in the business for decades. “The correspondence and calls I am getting from serious, determined buyers is unlike anything I have ever seen. People who plan to come in March or April or over the summer want to get the ball rolling now, beginning to research the market and putting me on notice of what they want. I am getting those calls and emails multiple times each day, some from people who say they have friends who will be contacting me as well. I have never seen anything like it.” READ FULL STORY


Buyer emerges for historic Patio restaurant downtown
week of February 11, 2021

The Patio, the iconic Vero Beach restaurant that was closed and put up for sale in May, is under contract, local commercial realtor Billy Moss said last week. However, Moss said he was not permitted to identify the potential buyer or publicly discuss the terms of the offer. “I can tell you the buyer wants it to remain a restaurant, but I can’t say much more,” said Moss, a Lambert Commercial Real Estate broker who specializes in the sale and leasing of restaurants and other businesses. “A lot of people are looking at that property, and I’ve got a waiting list if something happens and this deal doesn’t work out,” he added. “We’ve gotten more inquiries now that the vaccines are out there.” According to Lambert Commercial’s website, the 5,145-square-foot building, which sits on a two-thirds-of-an-acre parcel at the intersection of 21st Street and 11th Avenue, is listed for $995,000. The landmark restaurant was designed and built by Vero Beach pioneer Waldo Sexton more than 70 years ago, and for decades was a thriving eatery that attracted crowds of locals and visitors, including the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers during their annual spring-training stays here. READ FULL STORY


North island beach repair project hits new snag; needs more sand and funds
week of February 11, 2021

New surveys conducted over the past couple of months show recent storms have stripped more sand from North Beach, bumping the cost of the ongoing restoration of some 3.7 miles of beachfront from about $12 million to more than $14 million. The Indian River County Commission last week voted unanimously to spend an additional $675,000 from its beach restoration fund for Guettler Brothers Construction to add 77,000 cubic yards of sand to the 307,000 cubic yards already planned for the shore from Seaway subdivision south to Wabasso Beach Park. More than 200,000 native dune plants also will be planted. The county originally had budgeted $7.5 million in local funding for the project, with the remainder of the costs paid from federal and state grants. Now its local match will be about $8.2 million. Last summer, county staffers examined beach and dune conditions along all 22.4 miles of Indian River barrier island, and their observations were the basis of the north island beach restoration contract with Guettler. But since those surveys, the shoreline was hammered by waves from Tropical Storm Isaias, Hurricane Teddy, and Tropical Storm Eta, along with several unnamed nor’easters. READ FULL STORY


Islander expert in emergency management sees politics hampering COVID-19 relief
week of February 11, 2021

In his long career working as an emergency management consultant and first responder, Paul Seldes says he had never seen disaster management succumb to the forces of politics the way it has during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve just not seen that from 9/11 through hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes and what had you. I’ve never seen anything politicized to that degree before,” says Seldes. “And it’s costing lives, unfortunately.” Seldes has a deep history with emergency management and disaster response. He was a first responder at Ground Zero after 9/11 and helped in the search-and-rescue mission and clean-up for eight months. Just the year before, in 2000, his team had examined the damaged USS Cole in an effort to come up with changes to the Navy’s force protection training following a terrorist attack in Yemen that killed 17 crew members. In Vero, where Seldes and his wife, Paula Lerner, formed a new consultancy post-9/11, Seldes served as mass care officer for the Red Cross after the twin 2004 hurricanes, overseeing shelters in St. Lucie and Indian River counties. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 sets new records here during January
week of February 4, 2021

January was a rough month across the board here setting records for new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, deaths and barrier island cases. How bad was January? Both Indian River County and the barrier island saw a 43 percent increase in new infections – not a 43 percent increase month over month, but in the cumulative case count since the start of the pandemic. But there was a bit of encouragement to be found in the fact that more than 10 percent of local residents got vaccinated, with an average of 577 shots per day getting into the arms of locals (see also page 7). And fortunately, the numbers were headed in the right direction as February began. Indian River County ended 2020 with 6,875 cases; by the end of January that number had increased to 9,795. The 32963 ZIP code area ended 2020 with 430 cases, and the cumulative total was up to 618 cases at the end of January. READ FULL STORY


Media center assistant at Oslo Middle first school staffer to die here of COVID-19
week of February 4, 2021

An Oslo Middle School staff member, Sherrie Lynn McGary, died last week and a colleague attributed her death to a case of COVID-19 contracted on campus. McGary, 51, the school’s media center assistant, died Jan. 23. She was the first public school staff member to die from the virus in Indian River County. While the school officials said there is no way to confirm where McGary contracted the virus, School Superintendent David Moore fired off letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Health Department officials calling for educators to get a higher priority for COVID-19 vaccinations. “The loss of this staff member has reverberated throughout our school communities,” Moore said in a Jan. 27 letter to DeSantis. “I am respectfully requesting that provisions be made to swiftly prioritize educators in opportunities to be vaccinated against COVID-19.” READ FULL STORY


Judge Janet Croom to rule soon on school facemask policy
week of February 4, 2021

State Judge Janet Croom must decide whether to order the Indian River County School Board to make facemasks optional for students or go along with an earlier court ruling upholding mandatory facial coverings in public schools. Croom concluded an hourlong hearing on the matter last week by saying she wanted time to study related cases and mull over her decision because “it is a very important issue.” “I do want to cogitate on this a bit,” Croom said. “I want to really think about this and look at this and look at the law that has come out on it. I will be issuing a decision in the near future,” Croom said during the hearing conducted via Zoom from the Indian River County courthouse in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Hundreds get coronavirus vaccine here at pop-up clinics
week of February 4, 2021

Amidst the confusion and frustration of the vaccine rollout in Indian River County, there was a shot of good news last week as the vaccine was injected into hundreds of virus-vulnerable people who had been unable to secure vaccine appointments through the internet or by phone. Most of the recipients were contacted out of the blue by local nonprofit agencies like the Alzheimer-Parkinson Foundation and the Senior Resource Association and told that doses were available. Others were contacted by Treasure Coast Community Health or called or visited by community leaders and volunteers who knew they needed help. All ended up in getting vaccinated at one of three pop-up clinics, including one in a pine-shaded field off Oslo Road. The operation was set in motion when Treasure Coast Community Health – a government supported, independently run, low-cost community health center – got a large allotment of vaccine from the Health Department on Jan. 4. “Some community health centers were given allocation, and I guess we won the prize,” said CEO Vicki Soule. READ FULL STORY


Kids could be in line for vaccinations by summer
week of February 4, 2021

With nearly a year’s worth of COVID-19 case information, and vaccine safety and efficacy data rolling in, public health experts are trying to answer some big, important questions about the virus so leaders from Vero to Tallahassee to Washington, D.C. can make good decisions going forward. Kids have been a huge unknown in the race to slow the spread of COVID-19 and develop vaccines. Schools were opened based upon initial findings that kids were not at high risk for severe illness from the virus, and it was thought that younger kids did not shed the virus as much as adults. Recent studies have mostly borne out those conclusions but have also delved more deeply into how kids catch, present with, and spread COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health said last week that they are looking to the FDA to open up vaccinations to kids by late spring or early summer, so they will have some immunity built up before they go back to school in August. READ FULL STORY


Boat tie-ups at Vero’s city marina down 50 percent
week of February 4, 2021

The number of boats paying to tie up at the picturesque but dilapidated Vero Beach Municipal Marina is down a whopping 50 percent so far this season, according to Director Sean Collins. Possible reasons for the decline in usage – and revenue – include the ever-present pandemic, which has restricted travel and which Collins sees as the main culprit; a recent increase in mooring fees; the condition of the marina; and free mooring areas nearby that are being used this year by more boats than in past years. With 100 slips, mostly occupied by permanent or long-term customers, and a 57-buoy mooring field used mostly by transient boaters, the marina has room for 157 vessels in the water, along with a dry storage area. But Collins says many marina regulars – boaters who come down annually for part of the season – simply haven’t shown up this year. One marina resident said he has observed that mooring buoy traffic “is well below previous years for high season.” READ FULL STORY


New bridge off south island will be one of tallest in state
week of February 4, 2021

Starting next January, island residents heading south on A1A can expect four years of construction chaos when crossing to the mainland in Fort Pierce as the Florida Department of Transportation replaces the deteriorating 58-year-old drawbridge. Plans call for a new two-lane fixed bridge to be built stretching three quarters of a mile across the Indian River Lagoon with an 85-foot-high clearance above the Intracoastal Waterway navigation channel. “It’s going to be one of the tallest bridges on the East Coast of Florida,” said Peter Buchwald, executive director of the St. Lucie Transportation Planning Organization. Approximately 8,100 vehicles per day will continue using the 2,100-foot-long drawbridge while the new bridge is being constructed to the north. Marine traffic will also be maintained. READ FULL STORY


Will hidden-camera videos from prostitution-sting be destroyed?
week of February 4, 2021

Will a federal court’s order that hidden-camera videos taken of New England Patriots owner Robert Craft during a prostitution sting be destroyed lead to destruction of similar tapes of more than 100 men in Indian River County? Newly elected State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl doesn’t think U.S. District Judge Rodolfo Ruiz II’s destruction order in the case of Kraft and others arrested by Jupiter police will apply here. “The difference here is that we still have felony cases pending against the spa operators,” Bakkedahl said, “and they didn’t.” He contends the surveillance videos – despite being ruled inadmissible as evidence in misdemeanor prostitution cases – might be needed to prosecute the operators of the now-shuttered massage spas in Indian River County. But defense attorney Andrew Metcalf, who represented more than 30 of the men arrested here, said he will continue to seek the destruction of the videos that were surreptitiously recorded by local law enforcement agencies. READ FULL STORY


Graves donates land near Vero Beach High to school district for new running track
week of February 4, 2021

A modern running track and a community walking path are planned for the 16th Street Ballfields near Vero Beach High School in memory of the late Jimmy Graves, who died in a 2016 boating accident when he was a high school freshman. Joe and Carole Graves decided to donate the 11-acre parcel to the school district after a foundation they created was unable to create a commemorative sports facility at the site, and School Board President Brian Barefoot shared his ideas about how the property could be developed by the school district to benefit students and residents in perpetuity. A deal involving the School Board, the County Commission and the Jimmy Graves Foundation board set the stage for the donation of the ballfields to the school district. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council won’t include overhead or salaries in stormwater utility budget
week of February 4, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council has told staff that any tax earmarked for a potential stormwater utility should only cover capital costs – not overhead or salaries. The city currently spends between $600,000 and $700,000 per year on stormwater projects, paying for those out of the general fund with sales tax revenues. On top of that, typically $300,000 to $400,000 worth of projects go unfunded each year. Should a stormwater utility be established and billed on property tax assessments this fall, the council has directed the staff to use $1 million – representing the funded and unfunded stormwater projects added together – for a target budget as consultants determine how much to assess each property owner. The $600,000 to $700,000 in sales tax revenue currently spent on stormwater projects could then be allocated to road paving projects or other priorities. READ FULL STORY


Why don’t we see work being done on island road and bridge projects?
week of February 4, 2021

For weeks, Vero Beach 32963 readers have been phoning and emailing this newspaper asking why no work is being done on the highway A1A widening and resurfacing project that began in June. Readers see the orange barriers that divert traffic around construction zones throughout the $6.7 million project, which covers a 6.74-mile stretch from just north of the Vero Beach city line to Coco Plum Lane, north of Wabasso Beach, and they see construction equipment parked along the seaside highway. But they say they never see any workers – and haven’t since before Christmas. One reason, according to Florida Department of Transportation project spokesperson Kathleen Dempsey, is that, for the past couple of weeks, work on the road project has been done at night – between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday – to minimize impact on the island’s busy-season traffic flow. Prior to mid-January, work was limited, and even stalled, because of what FDOT described as “asphalt plant issues” that interrupted the delivery of material needed to pave the roadway. READ FULL STORY


Charges dropped against man arrested by deputy who later shot Teel
week of February 4, 2021

A prosecutor dropped all eight criminal charges – three felonies and five misdemeanors – against a suspect injured while being arrested by the sheriff’s deputy who, seven weeks later, fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in her home. Assistant State Attorney Steve Wilson said Monday he had concerns about the circumstances that led to the arrest of the suspect, Luciano Paternoster, who was taken to the hospital with a concussion after Deputy Jonathan Lozada forced him to the ground. Wilson said he reviewed the arrest reports and videos of the June 8, 2017 incident, and wasn’t convinced Lozada had the probable cause necessary to suspect Paternoster of DUI and stop him at the Wawa convenience store and gas station at the intersection of U.S. 1 and 12th Street in Vero Beach. “To stop someone for DUI, the law requires that a police officer have sufficient cause to believe the driver was in an accident or driving erratically,” Wilson said. “In this case, the evidence of DUI was very limited – the driving took place in a parking lot – which raised doubts about our ability to prove guilt.” READ FULL STORY


FBI agents seek to question former Mayor Jay Kramer
week of January 28, 2021

Former Vero Beach Mayor and current Indian River County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Jay Kramer said last week he refused to talk to FBI agents who wanted to question him about his activities while attending then-President Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. “Why should I?” Kramer told Vero Beach 32963. “It’s not my job to help them with their investigation, especially when they’re investigating me.” The FBI has been contacting, questioning and attempting to interview people who attended the rally in connection with its aftermath – the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a Trump-supporting mob that tried to prevent Congress from certifying the results of November’s presidential election. Kramer, who posted and then removed from a social-media site a photo of himself with the Capitol in the distant background, confirmed to this newspaper that he attended the rally. However, he said he “absolutely” did not participate in the violent and deadly insurrection, in which rioters stole and destroyed property in the United States Capitol Building while searching for elected officials they said they wanted to execute. Kramer claimed he “found out about the Capitol break-in while driving home” after the rally. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases down slightly, but death toll rises
week of January 28, 2021

It was a week of ups and downs in the battle against COVID-19 locally. After two weeks of double-digit positivity, day after day, among those tested here for COVID-19, the county’s rate of positive tests was above 10 percent only two of the last seven days leading up to Monday press time. That’s the more-or-less good news – a total of 569 new cases for the week, an improvement on the 591 new cases the previous week, and a big improvement on the 874 the week before. But 38 new barrier island residents tested positive for COVID-19, up from 32 the previous week, though only about half of the 72 testing positive the week ending Jan. 11. Not such good news: Current daily hospitalizations, which had been hovering in the mid to high 30s, are now in the low 40s, with 42 people hospitalized and only one-fourth of the county’s intensive-care unit beds still available at press time. The most discouraging indicator this week was that 22 more people tragically died here from complications of COVID-19, compared to 18 people the previous week and 16 people the week before. READ FULL STORY


Publix added to COVID-19 vaccine sites here
week of January 28, 2021

Three weeks after Publix began rolling out a program of providing COVID-19 vaccine shots at pharmacies in some of its Florida supermarkets, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference at Vero’s Miracle Mile Publix Tuesday to finally add Indian River County stores to the list of vaccine providers. Since early January, Publix – as part of a collaboration arranged by DeSantis with the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Emergency Management – has been administering 100 to 125 shots a day at a growing number of stores to customers who schedule a vaccination via the retailer’s online reservation system. Neither the state nor Publix have ever fully explained how the participating counties were chosen for this program. Meanwhile, a puzzling decline in COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Indian River County is adding to the woes of vaccine providers and would-be recipients here, even as a Biden administration spokeswoman said Monday that Florida had used only half of the vaccine allotted it by the federal government. Hospital District trustee Allen Jones said last week, regardless of whether faltering distribution is a federal, state or local problem, “it’s a human problem.” READ FULL STORY


Coronavirus poses new set of challenges for Mental Health Assn.
week of January 28, 2021

The Mental Health Association in Indian River County has a new CEO, and does he have his hands full. Philip Cromer, Ph.D., is taking over as head of the organization at a time when it is dealing with a pandemic-induced 30 percent increase in the number of people with new or worsening mental health issues who are seeking help, an upward trend that continues. “The next real pandemic is a mental health pandemic,” Cromer says. “There’s such an overwhelming need for services now, not just in our community, but all over the country.” Cromer said besides people who are having new mental health problems related to pandemic conditions, symptoms and incidences are considerably worsened for those already experiencing moderate to severe mental health issues. At the same time, there has been an increase in suicide risk. “Any symptom that might have been mild, COVID raises the symptomology to moderate or severe,” said Cromer, who joined the organization as chief clinical officer in 2020, at the start of the coronavirus shutdowns. Earlier this month, he replaced Dr. Nicholas Coppola as CEO and will serve in both roles for the time being. READ FULL STORY


Pandemic propels island real estate to a record year
week of January 28, 2021

The global pandemic that saw wealthy home-and-apartment owners flee big-city virus hotspots throughout 2020 propelled the barrier island real estate market to a record year, with brokers booking huge increases in sales. Most dramatically, Dale Sorensen Real Estate became the first Vero-based brokerage ever to smash through the billion-dollar barrier, selling $1,054,526,596 in property from its 12 locations in three counties, including some $700 million in Indian River County, according to managing partner Dale Sorensen Jr. The $1.05 billion in 2020 sales – a whopping 25 percent increase over the company’s 2019 sales – was a “surreal experience,” Sorensen said. “The demand for homes in our region is on a level we have never witnessed.” Sorensen said that in April when the pandemic was first taking hold, he would have “bet his life” the company wouldn’t come close to equaling its 2019 performance, let alone exceed it. But three other island brokerages belonging to regional companies also were part of billion-dollar-plus operations in 2020, with Premier Estate Properties selling $1.55 billion out of six offices in three counties – Broward, Palm Beach and Indian River. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach auto dealerships ended up having good year
week of January 28, 2021

While COVID-19 continues to put a strain on businesses throughout the Vero Beach area, the owners of local car dealerships say they ended 2020 with better bottom lines than they expected – in some cases surpassing their 2019 results. One such dealer, in fact, declined to speak publicly because he didn’t want to sound as if he was gloating while friends who owned other businesses here were struggling. “We did pretty well,” he said, “but I know people who are still having a tough time.” Local car dealers had a tough time, too, early in the pandemic – sales came to a stop in March and April, they said – but as the Florida economy reopened, buyers returned to their lots. Sales increased throughout the second half of the year and surged in the fourth quarter, especially in December, as buyers took advantage of manufacturers’ incentives, higher trade-in values and low interest rates. “It was the perfect storm for buyers,” said Jared Saunders, general manager and part owner of the Toyota and Kia dealerships in Vero Beach. “Some people came in for service and drove out with a new car.” READ FULL STORY


Season off to strong start at Village Shops in the Shores
week of January 28, 2021

Vero’s winter season is off to a bustling start at the Village Shops in Indian River Shores. “I judge how things are going by the number of cars in the parking lot and the foot traffic that I see as I walk around,” says Jay McLaughlin, Village Shops owner and proprietor of two businesses at the boutique shopping center – the high-end sportswear clothier J. McLaughlin, and Citron Bistro, a fine-dining establishment. “A lot of times recently there haven’t been any empty parking spaces. It’s a little early in the year for that to happen, which indicates to me that we are going to have a very good rest of the year,” says McLaughlin. The open-air venue, which boasts about 20 stores and a restaurant, is custom made for pandemic shopping, with beautifully landscaped courtyards and outdoor dining. Also fueling the center’s success is the fact that many seasonal visitors who typically don’t take up residence here until January chose to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas at their island homes this year. READ FULL STORY


Utilities Commission urged to phase out septic within Vero city limits on island
week of January 28, 2021

A New Year’s Eve deadline forced hundreds of island property owners in the City of Vero Beach to have their septic tanks pumped out and inspected and, if found to be faulty, hooked up to the city’s hybrid STEP sewer system. Now, at least one outspoken member of the Vero Utilities Commission wants to phase out island septic systems completely within city limits. At its most recent meeting, members of the volunteer board that advises the Vero Beach City Council on utility matters weighed the pros and cons of asking the council to take a much tougher look at the future of septic systems and lagoon health. Vero has roughly 1,300 properties on septic, including 900 on the barrier island. Nearly half of the island systems have already been connected to city sewers via Septic Tank Effluent Pump (STEP) setups – most voluntarily, others because their septic systems failed inspection. “The inspection program ... so far has a 22 percent failure rate, but I want you to understand that that doesn’t mean that the other 78 percent of septic systems are OK,” commission member Judy Orcutt said. READ FULL STORY


Vero: The Shores lacks standing to sue over reuse water rates
week of January 28, 2021

Vero Beach has asked a court to rule in the city’s favor in a civil suit filed by the Town of Indian River Shores over utility rates, saying the town lacks standing to sue for damages. Indian River Shores in September filed a breach of contract lawsuit that claims Vero violated the terms of an agreement to match Indian River County rates for reuse irrigation water. But Vero counters that the city was well within its rights under a 2012 franchise agreement to not reduce rates when the county drastically cut its own rates at the close of 2018 from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. Vero says its customer class in the Shores that buys “pressurized reuse” water does not exist as a customer class of Indian River County Utilities, so the price-match agreement does not apply. Vero claims it has broad rate-making powers and the right to set up “reasonable classifications” of customers. The Shores wants the lower rates going forward, and retroactive to March 1, 2019 when the revised county rates took effect – along with interest should the court deem that appropriate. READ FULL STORY


Assisted living residents finally getting vaccine
week of January 21, 2021

Six weeks after long-term care facilities were given top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than a month after the first vaccines were authorized for use, residents and staff of Indian River County assisted living facilities are finally getting inoculated in significant numbers. Monday morning, a team from Walgreens arrived for the first of three vaccination clinics scheduled at Pelican Landing Assisted Living and Memory Care, a 100-bed facility on U.S. 1 in Sebastian. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said the community’s executive director, Kim Sviben. Sonata Senior Living in Vero was also getting vaccines Monday, with follow-up clinics on Feb. 8 and March 1. Sonata runs more than 20 facilities in the state and has partnered with both CVS and Walgreens to deliver the vaccines. In Vero, it was Walgreens giving the jabs this week. “For the amount of residents we have, it’s moving really good,” said Sonata’s concierge, Savannah Brown. “All the residents have been coming down, everything’s going really smooth and everybody’s doing good.” READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases here lowest since New Year’s
week of January 21, 2021

New COVID-19 cases in the county were down significantly last week from the previous two weeks and the daily hospitalization rate remained stable in the mid to high 30s, with more than one-third of the beds in intensive-care units available. The daily positivity rate of COVID-19 testing here was below 10 percent five out of the past seven days – the lowest it has been since New Year’s. The good news, however, was offset by a puzzling spike in the number of cases in the public schools. No school officials could be reached by phone, text or email for comment on the surge because of the Martin Luther King holiday. Meanwhile, the barrier island saw an uptick in cases as 32 more 32963 residents tested positive, bringing the total of island dwellers who have had the virus to 568. Countywide, 8,768 people have tested positive since last March and 564 have been hospitalized. Deaths from complications of COVID-19 exceeded last week’s record of 16, with 18 newly reported in the seven days prior to press time Monday, bringing the county’s coronavirus death toll to 196. READ FULL STORY


Public schools here experience worst week since start of pandemic with 50 new cases
week of January 21, 2021

A student and a staff member at Beachland Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 and 10 students quarantined as Indian River County public schools experienced their worst week of the pandemic with 50 new cases. Countywide, 37 students and 13 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14, the last day the school district posted an update on its website. The 50 cases overall during the seven-day period doubled the previous high of 25 during the week of Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, district records show. Another 370 students and five staff members were directed to quarantine between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14 after coming in close contact with people who tested positive. COVID-19 cases spiked at Sebastian River High School, where 13 students tested positive for the virus and 120 students were directed to quarantine. That compares to 20 cases during the entire first half of the school year. The number of COVID-19 cases at Rosewood Magnet School more than doubled between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14 as six students and three staff members tested positive for the virus. Another 78 students and one staff member quarantined. READ FULL STORY


Not going to see this racing through Vero before 2023
week of January 21, 2021

Indian River County residents won’t face any danger or inconvenience posed by Brightline’s high-speed passenger trains until at least 2023. Confirming what has seemed obvious to many observers, Brightline says it will not be able to meet its goal of starting train service between West Palm and Orlando in 2022. The company now hopes to complete track construction and start test runs by late 2022 and begin service sometime in 2023. Brightline has completed nearly half the work on 170 miles of new high-speed tracks between Orlando and West Palm Beach, railroad spokeswoman Katie Mitzner said Friday. “We are looking to complete the tracks in the last quarter of 2022,” Mitzner told the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. “We will then begin the Federal Railroad Administration testing and expect to have regular service starting in 2023.” Brightline began service between Miami and West Palm in 2018 but shut that route down last March at the onset of the pandemic. The company’s passenger trains have not operated since then. READ FULL STORY


Deputy, fired here for pepper-spraying inmate, once handcuffed Mike Wallace after traffic stop
week of January 21, 2021

The corrections deputy arrested and fired by the Sheriff’s Office last week for pepper-spraying an inmate three times during a December dispute at the county jail lost his first law-enforcement job after a headline-grabbing incident in 2004 in New York. While working as an inspector for New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, Keefe Roman arrested and handcuffed CBS News icon Mike Wallace – of “60 Minutes” fame – after a traffic stop outside a Manhattan restaurant. The commission dropped a disorderly conduct charge against Wallace, then 86, after an in-house investigation determined the two inspectors on the scene made errors in judgment and that Roman hadn’t yet been authorized by the New York Police Department to make arrests and write summonses. After issuing an apology to Wallace for its agents acting “somewhat overzealously,” a commission spokesman told the New York Times that Roman and his partner, veteran inspector Richard Mattaliano, “could have chosen other better options.” Roman, a 23-year-old rookie inspector with only “provisional” status at the time, was taken off the streets, assigned to a communications dispatch position and, according to the New York Post, was promised by his supervisors that his job was safe. READ FULL STORY


Vero seeks development pitches for riverfront project
week of January 21, 2021

After meeting informally with developers since October, the City of Vero Beach will issue a Request for Qualifications so that anyone hoping to develop portions of the riverfront utility sites frequently referred to as the “Three Corners” can make their pitch. Different from a Request for Proposals, the applicants will not compete in a bidding process, but should demonstrate the experience, resources and references to show they could credibly tackle developing all or a portion of the 38-acre riverfront parcels. City Manager Monte Falls also said the project needs a much better name than Three Corners, so hopefully casting for proposals will net a winner. Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee has spent the last few months narrowing down what it wants included in the development, working from a version of the master plan designed by consultant Andres Duany of DPZ Co. in June 2020. Duany scaled down his maximum-development master concept plan somewhat, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the local economy and the hotel industry, as well as on large-group activities and indoor dining and drinking establishments. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores says it likely will leave Vero water-sewer utility in 2027
week of January 21, 2021

Indian River Shores Councilman John McCord told Vero Beach officials last week that the town will likely leave the Vero water-sewer utility in 2027, potentially crippling plans to move the sewer plant off the river. McCord recommended a solution to this threat of losing a sizable chunk of the city’s customer base and revenues – merge with Indian River County Utilities. But Vero says consolidation is a non-starter and would cost more than relocating wastewater treatment operations to the Vero Beach Regional Airport. This discussion takes place amid a pending breach of contract suit between the Shores and Vero over utility rates. McCord, who joined the Shores town council in November, is a retired energy executive with decades of high-level experience in utility regulatory matters. He was recruited to run for office to help negotiate the water-sewer dispute with Vero. The Shores could be serious about terminating the franchise, or it could be angling to cut a deal – like it did in 2012 when the town council chose Vero over Indian River County Utilities in exchange for major rate reductions. READ FULL STORY


Vaccine or placebo? Pfizer trial participant waits to find out
week of January 14, 2021

Janet Hornreich Winikoff, like thousands of other residents of our county, is waiting to find out her status regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. For her, though, the big question is not when she will be able to get vaccinated – but whether she already has been. Sometime between now and March 1, Winikoff, who volunteered for the clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, expects to find out whether the shots she got last summer were syringes full of vaccine or only salt water. If it was the vaccine, Winikoff may be the first person in Indian River County to have gained immunity against COVID-19 without contracting the disease. So far, all she knows for sure is that a needle was jabbed into her arm – twice. The first time was in August. She got up that morning at 4 a.m. and drove two hours north to DeLand, where staff with a firm called Accel Research Sites spent an hour asking questions, taking her vitals, giving her a blood test and swabbing her for COVID-19. They explained how to log into a COVID-19 diary app once a week and report how she was feeling and whether she had any symptoms. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases shatter pandemic records for county
week of January 14, 2021

The past week saw more pandemic records shattered here with 874 new coronavirus cases – including 71 new cases on the barrier island –and 16 deaths from complications of COVID-19. With an average of 125 new infections daily, the weekly case total was 8.7 percent higher than the previous week. For comparison, an average of 55 people per day tested positive during the surge in July. Hospitalizations eased slightly, but still ranged from 38 to 46 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, topping peak summer surge numbers. Local seniors continued to struggle for vaccine appointments and did not mind lining up to get the shot at the Indian River County Fairgrounds, and at Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s vaccine distribution centers. Steward Sebastian River Medical Center got its first shipment of vaccine last week for its frontline caregivers, according to Florida Department of Health vaccine distribution reports. State reports show that nearly 5,000 Indian River County residents have been vaccinated, so roughly one in 30 locals. More than 5,000 shots actually have been given here, but the report only captures permanent residents. READ FULL STORY


Antibody treatment available here for high-risk patients
week of January 14, 2021

A COVID-19 treatment that may help high-risk patients avoid having to go to the hospital has arrived in Vero Beach just as hospitalizations are approaching record levels in the county. The monoclonal antibody treatment with a tongue-twister name – bamlanivimab – is now available in Indian River County through a Vero clinic that participated in a trial of the drug. The FDA granted bamlanivimab emergency use authorization for high-risk patients who are at early stages of the disease. Whole Family Health Center, believed to be the only site in the county to offer the drug, has given six COVID-19 patients infusions of the drug since the emergency authorization and another 14 before that as part of the study, according to Dr. Gerald Pierone, an infectious disease doctor who oversaw the clinical trial. “I expect to be doing three daily soon,” he said. Pierone received an initial shipment of 14 vials through the state’s pharmacy in the first week of January, and is scheduled for regular weekly shipments, he said. “We should have enough doses to meet the demand,” he said. “We’re trying to build up to be able to treat two or three people per day if necessary.” READ FULL STORY


Keeping seniors out of hospital best way to fight COVID-19
week of January 14, 2021

The most important reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of barrier island seniors as swiftly and efficiently as possible is that, of all the tools available in the fight against the virus, vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness and death. Local residents age 65 and older make up only 23 percent of total positive COVID-19 countywide cases, but those same patients account for 65 percent of hospitalizations and 84 percent of deaths. Fewer than 5,000 Indian River County residents have been vaccinated so far, but every person who does not land in the emergency room or the ICU helps relieve pressure on the county’s two hospitals. During the summer COVID-19 surge, the daily count of hospitalizations here fluctuated from the mid-teens to the mid-20s. On Dec. 30, that number topped out at 55 current hospitalizations – with 34 of those patients in the two COVID-19 units at Cleveland Clinic Indian River. Even with those high numbers, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesman Scott Samples said “we continue to have capacity to admit COVID-19 patients.” READ FULL STORY


No post-holiday COVID-19 spike, so far, at public schools
week of January 14, 2021

Holiday travel and gatherings during the two-week winter recess so far have not caused a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Indian River County public schools. In fact, the first week back saw the fewest number of new COVID-19 cases since October, with just five students and one staff member testing positive for COVID-19 so far in 2021. Another 50 students were directed to quarantine because they had been in close contact with people diagnosed with the virus, the district says. Approximately 200 additional students returned to class in person last week for the second semester, joining some 10,000 students already studying in district classrooms, according to School Superintendent David Moore. But the district doesn’t expect many more students to return from the virtual schooling programs this year, Moore said. “At this point in the year, it’s pretty safe to say if they’re not already back, they’re going to want to stay there,” Moore said about the students taking classes via computer. Two students at Fellsmere Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 and 11 students were quarantined last Thursday, according to the school district. READ FULL STORY


Major golf and tennis charity events here altered in response to pandemic
week of January 14, 2021

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases locally has prompted organizers of three of Vero’s popular annual, sports-related fundraising events to change their plans – but only the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation golf outing has been canceled. Tom Fish, president of his son Mardy’s foundation, said last week the organization decided to scrap this year’s event, which was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18 at Windsor, for public-safety reasons. “It was a difficult decision, because the golf event is our second-biggest fundraiser,” Fish said, “but considering what’s going on, we didn’t want to risk the health and safety everyone involved – our sponsors, the players, volunteers – or the community at large.” Mardy Fish, the former top-10 tennis player and current U.S. Davis Cup captain who created the Vero Beach-based foundation, will be returning to town, anyway, to prepare for next weekend’s Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity golf tournament in Lake Buena Vista. One of the world’s top celebrity golfers, Mardy Fish won the tournament in 2018, and there were concerns he might not be able to play this year if he became infected during his foundation’s event. READ FULL STORY


Royal Palm Pointe businesses ‘on an upswing’ after 2020 lull
week of January 14, 2021

Royal Palm Pointe businesses say things are finally picking up after a lull that began along with the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The former causeway and bridgehead to the barrier island has become a popular shopping and dining locale with a mix of restaurants, retail shops, single-family homes and businesses. Its location puts it in close proximity to both beachside and downtown destinations. But the ordinarily bustling corridor was a ghost town immediately following the COVID-19-related closures last spring, with “traffic” reduced to walkers and their four-legged friends out for some fresh air. Fortunately, most business owners along the chic spit of land soon got their sea legs and figured out how to meet their customers’ needs while keeping them safe. Royal Palm Framing owner Jessica Myers says the shop has been in its current location for close to 40 years, and while they’ve seen a slight decrease in business, they’ve also had quite a few customers come in to frame their COVID art – paintings, puzzles and needlepoint created while quarantining or sheltering at home to avoid infection. READ FULL STORY


Frustration as thousands here seek scarce vaccinations
week of January 7, 2021

Forget vaccine clinics. What the county’s 65-and-over population really needs now are blood pressure clinics, after last week’s first public offering of the COVID-19 vaccine turned into a frenzy of futile phone calls – at a rate of several thousand per hour – to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s vaccine appointment line. The deluge of calls along with a short supply of the vaccine ended up frustrating or even infuriating hundreds if not thousands of Vero Beach seniors seeking protection from the virus. At the same time, there were tears of joy at the Indian River County fairgrounds Saturday as, one by one, the fortunate 500 people who did manage to sign up to be vaccinated by a team from Treasure Coast Community Health pulled over and parked next to idling ambulances in case they had a reaction to the vaccine. The required 15-minute wait gave them a chance to absorb not just the vaccine, but a first ray of hope that the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases set another record here
week of January 7, 2021

Indian River County did not start off 2021 on the right foot in terms of COVID-19 statistics, setting new weekly records as 804 additional people tested positive for the coronavirus, including 56 on the barrier island. The county’s average daily case count of 114 over the past week was more than double the average of 55 cases per day during the July summer surge. The rate of positives discovered among those tested for the virus last week ranged as high as a whopping 26.42 percent on Dec. 28, with the typical day reporting between 14 percent and 15 percent positive. For a span of several months, that number had almost never reached double digits. Thirty-seven people were newly hospitalized in the week before press time Monday, and the daily count of people hospitalized crept up past 50 at times and hovered in the mid-40s much of the week. Tragically, the deaths of six people from complications of COVID-19 were reported. READ FULL STORY


What you need to know about rollout of COVID vaccines
week of January 7, 2021

Confused, or even frustrated about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout? You are not alone. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it became the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s job to educate healthcare workers about every aspect of the vaccines – from a rundown of what’s in them and how they work, to practical handling instructions, side-effect tracking and follow-up care. In addition to the CDC’s online training courses for those administering the two vaccines, the agency holds Zoom seminars and fields questions from doctors, nurses and caregivers from all over the country – and even these professionals have lots and lots of questions. Vero Beach 32963 staffers have been taking these online training courses and listening in to the Zoom seminars to learn what our readers need to know. READ FULL STORY


45 new COVID-19 cases reported in county schools despite holiday break
week of January 7, 2021

A holiday break provided no respite from the spread of COVID-19 to students and educators at schools throughout Indian River County as the state Health Department reported 45 new cases last week. A total of 32 students, one staff member and 12 unknown people associated with 20 public and private schools in the county tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26. That compared to 47 cases involving 41 students, three staff members and three unknown people during the week of Dec. 13 through Dec. 19, the last week before winter recess. Overall, there have been 355 cases of COVID-19 in 33 public and private schools in Indian River County during the first half of the school year, according to the report. The virus has infected 277 students, 23 staff members and 55 unknown people. A student at St. Edward’s School tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of Dec. 20 to Dec. 26, bringing the total number of cases at the barrier island prep school to 12, the report shows. READ FULL STORY


Hawk’s Nest golf course now ranked one of Florida’s best
week of January 7, 2021

For the first time since The Moorings acquired financially troubled Hawk’s Nest in 2015, the mainland golf course ranks among the best in the state of Florida, according to at least one influential golf industry website. Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings was No. 30 in Top100GolfCourses.com’s recently released, biennial rankings of Florida’s 1,300 courses. “Without question, the Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings is the best course in Florida I had never heard of,” wrote Marc Bender, who runs three golf-related businesses in the state and serves as a rater on Top100’s course review team. “I was shocked at what a solid and balanced test of golf this wonderful Florida course represents.” The Moorings Golf Director Bob Gruber said Bender’s reaction was typical of golfers who play the 18-hole, championship-caliber Hawk’s Nest course for the first time. Indeed, he said he fully expects the course, which has been refurbished but not redesigned since becoming a part of The Moorings Yacht & Country Club, to start appearing in other golf publications’ rankings. READ FULL STORY


High-ranking Sheriff’s Office official, cleared of criminal wrongdoing, retires
week of January 7, 2021

A report from the state attorney's office last month revealed that then Undersheriff Jim Harpring was investigated in late 2020 for possible criminal wrongdoing after he intervened to let a “family friend” change an answer about his drug use on an application for a deputy's job. Harpring, who has since left the Sheriff's Office, insisted administrative personnel let deputy candidate Tanner Glass change his application to state that he had used drugs less often and not as recently as he originally stated, allowing his application to be approved. Glass was conditionally hired by the Sheriff’s Office and is attending the law enforcement academy at Eastern Florida State College in Brevard County. Sheriff-elect – now sheriff – Eric Flowers referred the matter to state prosecutors, who cleared Harpring of criminal wrongdoing but painted a troubling portrait of the incident in their report, raising questions about Harping’s tactics and the extent to which he intervened in the matter. READ FULL STORY


Brightline restarts work on high-speed rail tracks here
week of January 7, 2021

Brightline contractors resumed work Monday clearing brush near the 49th Street railroad crossing in Gifford after taking a holiday break since Christmas Eve. HSR Constructors deployed a John Deere 245G LC mid-size excavator in the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way as Brightline prepares to upgrade the tracks to handle high-speed passenger trains. Brightline envisions running as many as 34 passenger trains per day on dual tracks through Indian River County at speeds of up to 110 mph by late 2022. The 170-mile-long project involves 925 construction workers building new high-speed tracks from Orlando to Cocoa and upgrading the FECR tracks from Cocoa to West Palm Beach. The extension includes the construction of a new $1 million concrete railroad bridge across the South Canal near the 4th Street railroad crossing in South Vero. HSR Constructors is using a massive crane whose boom towers above the Woodlawn Manor mobile home park to install a temporary work trestle for cranes on the east side of the FECR bridge. READ FULL STORY