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Is School Board ready to comply with deseg order?
week of October 17, 2019

Is it possible that the county finally has a School Board eager to comply with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order, and willing to spend millions of dollars to do it? That’s the message School Board members gave the district’s Equity Committee at an Oct. 8 meeting, declaring they are eager to press forward with a costly program for recruiting and hiring more African-American teachers and implementing programs to help African-American students improve academically. “If we’re going to do this right as a district, we need to put resources behind it,” said Board member Teri Barenborg, whose comments were echoed by other board members. “We need to reach out as never before.” Board member Jacqueline Rosario questioned aloud why it has taken the district 52 years to comply with the order. “Why has this taken so long,” Rosario said. “It’s common sense. We just need to do it.” READ FULL STORY

If this bridge closes, what happens then?
week of October 17, 2019

Will the heavily used Sebastian Inlet bridge connecting Brevard and Indian River counties close while the 55-year-old structure is being replaced by a new span in 2026? If so, how long will northbound and/or southbound traffic on A1A be interrupted? Months? Years? What will the 3,000-plus cars that use the A1A bridge each day to get from Brevard County to Indian River County or vice versa do when the closest alternative routes require crossing the lagoon many miles to the south or north? And what will the financial impact of a bridge closure be on residents? Small businesses? For that matter, on Sebastian Inlet State Park? Those at the moment are million-dollar questions for engineering consultants to answer, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials. “I couldn’t answer any of those things until we get those people on board, they do some analysis, start looking what type of structure, how much property do we own in the area,” said Gerry O’Reilly, FDOT’s South Florida district secretary. “That’s why we do the studies,” O’Reilly said during an interview with Vero Beach 32963 following the Oct. 9 Indian River County Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting. READ FULL STORY

Defense disputing everything in trial of Michael Jones for strangulation murder of girlfriend
week of October 17, 2019

The defense will make no concessions. Everything the prosecution says will be in dispute. Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann made that clear right from the opening Monday of the first-degree murder trial of Michael David Jones, 32, who is accused of the premeditated manual strangulation of his girlfriend Diana Duve. “The issue of the cause of death is in dispute in this case,” Naumann said, announcing that the defense will be bringing in a retired coroner who has a different theory about how Duve died in June 2014. For the prosecution’s opening salvo, Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman told jurors in detail about Duve’s death. Workman revealed the brutality of the alleged crime, that the young nurse’s body and face were bruised, her eye swollen and hemorrhaging and bones in her neck broken and fractured from the force with which she was strangled. Workman explained that Jones would have had to choke Duve for 20 seconds or so while she fought back until losing consciousness, and then strangle her for another four minutes until she died. READ FULL STORY

Ocean Grill eases dress code for lunch, but not for dinner
week of October 17, 2019

If you’ve gone to the Ocean Grill for lunch the past couple of years, you might’ve noticed men wearing tank tops or baseball caps while seated at tables and wondered: Doesn’t this place have a dress code? In fact, the iconic beachside restaurant’s website clearly states: “We ask that our guests refrain from wearing tank tops and beachwear.” The website, though, needs to be updated – because Ocean Grill owner Charley Replogle said last week the restaurant now allows men to wear tank tops at lunchtime. “We don’t allow it for dinner,” Replogle said. “And, frankly, we don’t get very many guys here in tank tops, anyway. They usually go to Mulligan’s. But we do occasionally get people who come in off the beach for lunch, and we didn’t want to keep turning them away.” So Replogle’s son, Joey, who manages the upscale restaurant, decided more than a year ago to ease the lunch-hour dress code to allow men to dine in tank tops and even wear baseball-style caps. When tank-top wearers do come in, Replogle said, it’s usually on weekends, particularly on Saturdays. READ FULL STORY

Students of all ages spend day immersed in ‘Lagoon 101’
week of October 17, 2019

Seventh-grader Walter Lloyd waded waist-deep into the water at Vero Beach's MacWilliams boat ramp last Thursday holding part of a seine net while several classmates helped. When they hauled the net onto the beach, they found anchovies, glass minnows and a baby snook in the mesh. The students carefully recorded each creature they collected on log sheets, then released the minnows back into the Indian River Lagoon alive. It was Walter – an avid fisherman and scuba diver – who identified the snook among the other little fish. "I could tell by the black line and the way the mouth looked," he explained, referring to the lateral line running the length of the little snook's body. Walter, a student at Gifford Middle School, was among some 1,600 elementary, middle and high school students from Volusia County south to Jupiter who spent last Thursday morning collecting water and sediment samples, measuring tide height and current speed, and counting fish along the entire 156-mile-long lagoon. All were working as citizen scientists in the second annual "A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon" – mentored by their teachers and a few hundred volunteer resource managers, scientists and environmental educators. READ FULL STORY

Eight running for Vero Council agree on need for public input
week of October 17, 2019

The two candidates elected to the Vero Beach City Council next month may well be in a position to cast decisive votes on some of the biggest development decisions that have ever faced the municipality. The eight vying for two open seats being vacated by Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle largely share similar stances on the process the city should use to redevelop the deteriorating Vero Beach Municipal Marina and the 35-acre riverfront property on 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard commonly known as Centennial Place. All agree public input is vital to the future of both projects, regardless of their own preferences. “It could be the crown jewel of the city and my intention is that it shall be,” Rey Neville, a barrier island resident and retired Air Force colonel, said of Centennial Place. “And the way we’ll arrive at that is through a disciplined and vigorous inquiry of the city of Vero Beach to identify what they think should be done with this wonderful location.” Prominent local attorney and island resident Joe Graves agrees the public must be involved in the planning process. READ FULL STORY

City and county urged to explore wastewater partnership
week of October 17, 2019

Would consolidating Vero Beach’s municipal wastewater operations with those of Indian River County be the most cost effective and best option for taxpayers? The Vero Beach Utilities Commission has pressed city staff to leave no stone unturned in exploring a partnering option before building and independently operating a new multi-million-dollar inland site away from the lagoon. The vote came nearly a month after the Vero Beach City Council issued a similar unanimous policy directive explicitly expressing its desire to relocate the city’s unsightly wastewater treatment plant from the Indian River Lagoon as soon as possible, following speculation city staff was looking for ways to renovate the aging facility. The council also asked staff to open a dialogue with the county to gauge if that jurisdiction is interested in taking over the city’s wastewater operation at an inland site. “It has to be fully vetted in an objective manner,” commission Vice Chairman Robert Auwaerter said. To hammer home the importance of properly examining partnering with the county, Auwaerter presented the commission with three studies that outlined the benefits other jurisdictions experienced from making such a move. READ FULL STORY

Could a lifeguard on duty have saved latest drowning victim?
week of October 17, 2019

Might 25-year-old Bogyu Choe, the South Korean flight student who drowned near South Beach Park on Sept. 30, still be alive if lifeguards had been on duty? “That’s a very good question, but I’d like to think so,” Vero Beach Lifeguard Association president Erik Toomsoo said last week. “There’s no way to know for sure because, based on what I’ve been told, he went down quickly. “But he definitely would’ve stood a chance.” For the first time this summer – from Memorial Day through Labor Day – lifeguards protected the city’s beaches from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., two hours beyond the 5 p.m. cutoff the rest of the year. Choe drowned at about 6:45 p.m., nearly two hours after the lifeguards went off duty at nearby South Beach Park. Toomsoo said lifeguards surely would’ve seen Choe and his friends, who were on the beach south of the park, and probably would’ve noticed that Choe wasn’t comfortable entering the dangerously rough surf. According to a Vero Beach Police report, in fact, one of Choe’s “close friends” on the scene described him as a “weak swimmer” who “should not have gone out that far.” READ FULL STORY

Sebastian Inlet Park may drop its fees for some
week of October 10, 2019

Beginning next year, more than 20,000 residents of the northern part of Indian River County may be able to fish from or visit the Sebastian Inlet State Park free or for a reduced charge. A proposal to lower or eliminate fees for people who live in the Sebastian Inlet District – most of them in Brevard County, but some in Indian River – is in a bill state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach) is filing for the Legislature’s 2020 session. The Indian River County portion of the Inlet District includes the barrier island north of Old Winter Beach Road and some unincorporated county plus the City of Sebastian on the mainland. The bill, after expected modifications, would either eliminate or discount the park’s $8-per-carload admission fee – as well as the lesser fees for bicyclists, pedestrians and single-occupant cars – for Inlet District residents. How to make the proposed change work, since the Inlet District doesn’t own the state park, will be a challenge for the legislative staff and committees before it ever reaches the House or Senate floor. READ FULL STORY

Jones’ murder defense: Hard to understand?
week of October 10, 2019

Over the past five years, readers following the story of murdered 26-year-old Moorings resident Diana Duve and the protracted criminal proceedings against accused killer and former PNC Wealth Management advisor Michael David Jones have been swamped with information. What’s out there includes graphic details, crime scene photos and now, from one media outlet, 14 Twitter updates per day on the rather boring minutiae of the past week and a half of jury selection. But despite all that reporting, if you want to know what it’s really like to sit in the courtroom where Jones is scheduled to be tried for first-degree murder this month, you need to know one thing that no one mentions. Jones’ lead defense attorney is very hard to understand. It’s probably not politically correct to write about this, but it’s a rather unique – and important – element of this high-stakes capital murder trial. Assistant Public Defender Stanley Glenn, 44, was born partially deaf in both ears. His father, a Negro League baseball pitcher, related in a book he wrote in 2006 how his son as a boy struggled in public school, but did great in a Catholic school with small classes. He subsequently earned an undergraduate degree from Virginia Wesleyan College in 1997, a Juris Doctorate degree from Catholic University in 2000, according to Martindale-Hubbell, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2001. READ FULL STORY

Home split between counties may finally go to Indian River
week of October 10, 2019

The borderline separating Indian River and St. Lucie counties runs right through neurosurgeon Oszkar Szentirmai’s oceanfront home. He steps back and forth across the border many times each day. Coincidently, an unfinished subdivision across State Road A1A, Round Island Plantation, features six lots in Indian River County and 25 lots in St. Lucie County. So, when Dr. Szentirmai asked for the St. Lucie County portion of his lot to be moved into Indian River County, officials proposed shifting the six Round Island Plantation lots into St. Lucie County. “It just kind of made sense,” said Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown. “The taxable values are pretty similar right now. All of the property owners are in agreement.” Indian River County commissioners were set to vote this week on a resolution to support the boundary change. Commissioners gave preliminary approval on Sept. 17. St. Lucie County commissioners approved a similar resolution Oct. 1 and included the boundary change in their 2020 state legislative priorities. READ FULL STORY

Central Beach sand replenishment hits snag
week of October 10, 2019

A major sand replenishment project in the critically eroded Central Beach area could be compromised if the Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa and a handful of other property owners refuse to let county contractors place sand on their oceanfront property. The county has plans for a $6 million project slated to begin in November that will place 205,000 cubic yards of sand from Tracking Station Park to Castaway Cove – a stretch known as Sector 5 – but the project could be undermined if oceanfront property owners and homeowners associations refuse to sign an agreement allowing the county to place sand above the mean high tide line on their private property. So far, the county has received a green light from 63 property owners and is still waiting to hear back from 8 others. Four oceanfront properties, including Costa d’Este, have rejected the agreement. The standoff comes in the wake of a state law that went into effect a year ago that took away local governments’ power to simply declare beaches public through the ‘customary use doctrine,’ putting in place a requirement for a court ruling to settle disputes about public access to privately-owned beach above the high tide line. READ FULL STORY

Vero marina expansion seen as a 10- to 20-year project
week of October 10, 2019

The City Council has decided to move forward with a major revamp and expansion of the deteriorating Vero Beach Municipal Marina that could take up to two decades to complete. The board in a 4-1 vote last week chose the most dramatic among several possible facelifts for the dilapidated facility, which will include new dockage along the southern shoreline, a one-way drive with angled parking near the dog park, an expanded mooring field and a pedestrian bridge from the marina to Riverside Park. The project – which Councilman Robert Brackett anticipates could take 10 to 20 years to compete – also calls for the replacement of the northern dock to relocate it farther north; demolition of what’s known as the lagoon dock and an increase in the number of slips on that dock; repair or replacement of the floating dock; additional vehicle parking; repair or replacement of the dry storage building; and dredging near docks to open moorings for larger boats. An office building on the property formerly occupied by the Waddell Insurance agency is in good condition and could be rented out to a new tenant if the city so desires, or demolished to create more parking. READ FULL STORY

29 Virgin Trains deaths fuel push for new safety regulations
week of October 10, 2019

Efforts to establish state safety regulations for Virgin Trains USA passenger rail service are gaining momentum as deaths mount, track construction accelerates and passenger rail projects progress throughout Florida. Virgin Trains and its predecessor company Brightline killed 22 people from Jan. 1, 2018, through May 31, 2019, federal records show. Since then, media reports attributed seven more deaths to the passenger train. While some of these were suicides, the total number of deaths has attracted legislative attention. The body count, along with increased media focus on passenger rail and a consultant’s report identifying holes in state and federal train safety regulations, is providing a power boost to state Sen. Debbie Mayfield and others campaigning to enhance rail safety. “The legislation I’m going to introduce next year is going to be directly related to the findings [of the consultant’s report] to ensure we have the safety of our citizens in mind,” Mayfield said at a press conference last month. Florida has no regulations for when fencing should be installed along railroad tracks or who should be responsible for the costs, according to an Oct. 31, 2018 report by CPCS Transcom Inc., of Ottawa. READ FULL STORY

Shores v. Vero water battle to resume with mediation scheduled for October 25th
week of October 10, 2019

Postponed by Vero officials due to preparations for Hurricane Dorian, a mediation session in the utility dispute between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach is now scheduled for Oct. 25. Indian River Shores claims Vero breached its 2012 water-sewer utility franchise agreement with the town when Vero refused to reduce Shores’ residents’ reuse irrigation water rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents in January after Indian River County reduced utility customers’ reuse rates to 21 cents. The franchise agreement ties Shores’ rates to county rates, but Vero officials say the type of reuse water delivery the Shores receives is different from any service the county offers, and therefore the rate restriction does not apply. The Shores Town Council also takes issue with the manner in which Vero has maintained, or failed to maintain, aging water lines within the oldest parts of the town and especially in John’s Island. Vero’s attorney John Turner, when asked to clarify whether the session would be a mediation, or what is being termed a settlement meeting, said, “It’s a mediation under the terms of the franchise agreement. Whether it settles or not is anyone’s guess, and any settlement would have to approved by City Council at a public meeting.” READ FULL STORY

Crab Stop restaurant moving to location of the former Cajun Cove
week of October 10, 2019

The Crab Stop is on the move, leaving its 14th Avenue location in downtown Vero Beach this week and reopening next week at Royal Palm Pointe – on the site of the now-closed Cajun Cove. Crab Stop co-owner Ellis Buckner said the new location provides a back patio in a more-enticing waterfront setting, where the wildly popular restaurant will expand its offerings to include a full liquor bar and dinner service until at least 9:30 p.m. “The move has a lot of advantages for us, but the key is the location,” said Buckner, who, along with his wife Brandy, opened the Crab Stop five-plus years ago, after a heart attack forced him to retire after 25 years as a county firefighter and paramedic. “People like eating crabs on the water, so that back patio should be a big draw,” he added. “We’ll also have parking available all around us. With the appearance and size of the building, it’s a better fit in every way.” Local commercial real-estate broker Billy Moss said he suggested six weeks ago that the Buckners look at the Royal Palm Pointe property. The deal to purchase the Cajun Cove’s equipment, furnishings and liquor license – as well as to lease the building – was finalized in late September. READ FULL STORY

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in dolphins in lagoon
week of October 10, 2019

Scientists have found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a high percentage of bottlenose dolphins living in the Indian River Lagoon, raising concerns of an increased risk to humans who eat fish from the lagoon or come in contact with the water. Researchers from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and collaborators from other research groups tested bacteria samples collected from the blowholes, gastric fluids and feces of 171 bottlenose dolphins in the lagoon between 2003 and 2015. Harbor Branch epidemiologist Dr. Adam Schaefer, the study’s lead author, said they found a “significant increase” in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals over that period of time. “The dolphins are acting as a sentinel of what’s in the environment,” Schaefer said. “It’s an early warning system for human health threats in the lagoon. The patterns we see in dolphins mirror patterns we’re seeing in human health.” Schaefer said antibiotics themselves or the bacteria that have mutated to resist them are making their way into the lagoon through wastewater discharges, drainage canals or septic tanks. He said sewage treatment doesn’t necessarily break down these medications. READ FULL STORY

Will Jones be star witness at own murder trial?
week of October 3, 2019

The trial of Michael David Jones is historic for Vero Beach in its scope and impact. Not since the Ira Hatch racketeering trial of 2010 has such a cast of local witnesses been assembled as up to 152 people could be called to testify over the next four weeks as Jones faces first-degree murder charges – finally after five years of delays – for a June 2014 crime. Courts were closed Monday for the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashanah, but potential jurors were to begin reporting for duty in batches of 25 to 50 people twice a day, morning and afternoon for a process called voir dire. Loosely translated from French, the legal term means “to speak the truth,” and that truth is what attorneys for the prosecution and the defense hope to get out of the pool of roughly 200 people this week. READ FULL STORY

It’s dumb. It’s against law. But few get a ticket
week of October 3, 2019

Three months after Florida passed its new law allowing police to stop motorists for texting while driving, you’ll still see dozens of drivers taking their eyes off the road to tap out messages on their mobile phones. That’s not likely to change. Since the new statute went into effect July 1, local law enforcement agencies had written only nine texting-and-driving citations as of Sept. 27 – eight by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and one by the Sebastian Police Department, which also had issued six warnings. The Vero Beach Police Department had issued only one warning. Neither the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department nor the Fellsmere Police Department had stopped even one motorist for texting and driving. That’s not even one citation a week in Indian River County. The reason for so few stops, local law enforcement officials say, is that the language of the law makes it difficult to enforce. READ FULL STORY

Wabasso bridge is named after person who never existed
week of October 3, 2019

A local bridge that was supposed to be named after an island citrus pioneer was accidently dedicated to a fictitious person and the mistake remained enshrined in state records for more than 50 years. Now it may get corrected. When descendants of famed island citrus grower A.B. Michael recently learned the bridge connecting the barrier Island to the mainland in Wabasso had been named in honor of A.B. Mitchell – apparently a non-existent person – instead of their prominent relative, they were shocked, as were county officials. The error was made so long ago that no one can quite figure out how it happened, but the county commission has a fix in the works. In September, commissioners passed a resolution requesting the Florida Legislature enact legislation designating the arched concrete structure as the “A.B. Michael Bridge,” in addition to erecting markers on the bridge with that name. County officials expect State Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-District 17) to enter a bill next legislative session to accomplish the change. READ FULL STORY

Panel sees busing as way to promote racial equity in schools here
week of October 3, 2019

Remember the battles in cities around the country in the ’60s and ’70s over court-ordered busing of students to desegregate public schools? Well, Vero may be headed for a reprise of those battles a half century later. The School District Equity Committee – which is charged with making sure Indian River County complies with a federally-mandated desegregation order – is recommending the district be rezoned, with some students bused to different schools than they now attend, so that schools will be more racially integrated. The five-person Equity Committee plans to make the recommendation, along with others, to the School Board at the board’s Oct. 8 work session. “I’m for it, if it achieves the needed results,” said Tony Brown, a member of the Equity Committee, referring to adjusting the geographical areas from which individual schools draw students. “But believe me, when we bring up rezoning, there’s going to be an uproar in the community. READ FULL STORY

Innovative oyster mats filter millions of gallons of polluted lagoon water
week of October 3, 2019

Scientists and engineers from around the U.S. spent last Friday proposing and demonstrating innovative technology for restoring the ailing Indian River Lagoon at an event hosted by Florida Tech’s Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. The daylong event featured presentations on everything from muck removal to new steel oyster mats intended to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. With plastic becoming a growing concern, Dr. Kelli Hunsucker and her graduate students have been experimenting with replacing plastic oyster mats with steel mats and running electrical currents through them – a technique used successfully to spur coral growth for reef restoration. Hunsucker said an eight-month pilot study showed about the same amount of oyster settlement on both plastic and steel mats. Dr. Robert Weaver said the oyster mats can be attached to existing docks and fastened near the water’s surface. That way, the oyster mats require almost no maintenance, he added. READ FULL STORY

Social media may be factor in choice of jurors for Jones
week of September 26, 2019

While accused killer Michael David Jones waits for his first-degree murder trial to begin next month for the 2014 death of 26-year-old Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve, attorneys now focus on seating an impartial jury. One-hundred potential jurors were summoned to the Indian River County Courthouse on Tuesday, then another hundred on Wednesday and more on Thursday. Waiting at the courthouse for those citizens will be a detailed, three-page questionnaire that the defense and prosecution will use to start learning about the potential jurors as they begin the process of picking a panel of 12 who will judge the innocence or guilt of Jones. The first page of the questionnaire covers the basics: Name, age, etc. It’s not until midway through the second page that potential jurors find out the defendant is Michael Jones and that he’s charged with first-degree murder in the death of Diana Duve. That section’s questions are designed to determine the potential juror’s knowledge about the details of the case and those involved in it. Those questions continue to the third page, which concludes with a survey of sorts about the death penalty asking when, if ever, the person responding feels the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. READ FULL STORY

Ocean Drive gets new bar, new Bottle Shop owner
week of September 26, 2019

The island this month not only gained a new beachside bar, but new ownership of what was once many 32963 residents’ favorite liquor store, the Bottle Shop. The two are located side-by-side on Ocean Drive, in the space once occupied by Treasure Coast Sotheby’s between Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge and the Holiday Inn. Both the liquor store and the bar, named The Boiler, are now owned by Jared Smith, his wife Billie Jean, his cousin Brian Smith, and Brian’s wife Kelley. Jared Smith has owned The Stamp bar in Vero’s downtown for nine years, and has been a co-owner of The Grove bar, with fellow St. Edward’s graduate Andy Capak, for seven years. Billie Jean Smith said the family group wasn’t looking to buy and operate a liquor store – just a bar. However, local commercial realtor Billy Moss presented them with the possibility of doing both and, as she put it, “Everything just fell into place.” The Bottle Shop, the island’s only full-service liquor store, prospered for years when it was located in Pelican Plaza. But after John Feuerstein sold it four years ago, it struggled and the new owners – blaming the location – moved it to Ocean Drive. READ FULL STORY

Special playground equipment makes recess better for students with physical disabilities
week of September 26, 2019

Thanks to new technology and innovative thinking by county school officials, students with physical disabilities no longer sit on the sidelines while their peers play on swings, slides and other playground equipment during school recess. Noah Fleming, a fifth grader at Rosewood Magnet School, lacks muscle control and is unable to speak, due to cerebral palsy, but he is mentally capable and cognizant of everybody around him, according to his father, Mark Fleming. “School officials wanted to lay Noah on a slab of cement under a pavilion during recess while the other children played,” Mark Fleming says. “That’s when I stepped in and asked the district if they could come up with something that would allow my son to enjoy recess also.” After a little investigating, Jon Teske, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations, discovered a wheel-chair platform that attaches to a regular swing set, allowing Noah and other children who don’t have physical disabilities to swing side-by-side. One day last week, Noah was enjoying the special equipment, grinning broadly as teaching assistant Dee Adams gently pushed the large swinging platform that holds Noah’s wheelchair in place. READ FULL STORY

Virgin Trains won’t start laying tracks here until summer
week of September 26, 2019

Virgin Trains USA has now postponed start of new track construction in Indian River County until next summer. Virgin Trains also plans to install so many safety measures at its railroad crossings on the Treasure and Space coasts that train engineers would not be required to blow their warning horns. The latest plans for higher-speed passenger rail service between Orlando and Miami were discussed Friday by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, a group of 25 local government leaders. “We know that the Indian River County portion of construction is delayed versus that that’s happening in Palm Beach County,” said Kim DeLaney, the council’s director of strategic development and policy. Virgin Trains plans to construct new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando to handle 34 passenger trains per day, which are projected to start running in summer 2022. Trains would travel up to 110 mph along the Treasure and Space coasts. The company started providing service between Miami and West Palm Beach in May 2018. The trains operate from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. at speeds of up to 79 mph. READ FULL STORY

Work again proceeding on Blue at 8050 Ocean condos
week of September 26, 2019

The investigation into the origins of skeletal remains found on a construction site in Indian River Shores in June continues, with archaeologists testing a theory about the bones being Native American. But developer Yane Zana said he’s proceeding with his luxury condo project on schedule and plans to “go vertical” with buildings sometime in October. The side walls and entrance to the development have been constructed, and crews will begin installing underground utilities next week. Auger pilings will be sunk soon. Zana said he has zero qualms about proceeding with construction, based on what he’s been told by state officials. “I had a long conversation with Kathryn Miyar from the state archaeologist office and she told me that her work at the state level on the remains will continue, but that the part involving my land is over,” Zana said Monday of the Blue at 8050 Ocean property. “She said the report shows the bones have Asian characteristics and that they may be Native American but that she’s not convinced of that so she’s going to go to examine the remains herself,” said Zana. “If the remains are Native American, Kathryn said her main concern would be contacting the tribes to handle the remains properly.” READ FULL STORY

Dorian damage to sea turtle nests not as bad as was feared
week of September 26, 2019

Damage to sea turtle nests along Indian River County beaches from Hurricane Dorian's early September tidal surge was not as bad as first feared. While many beachgoers were horrified to see exposed nests, broken eggshells and dead hatchlings scattered in the sand following Dorian's passage, Quintin Bergman – the county's sea turtle coordinator – said the storm destroyed only about 18 percent of turtle nests laid on 32963’s more than 22 miles of sandy beaches. And that percentage could go down if green turtles continue their brisk nesting pace through the season's official end Oct. 31, a pace that is steadily upping the overall number of nests for the year. As of last Friday, the county's sea turtle team estimated 1,613 nests were lost to Dorian while 1,488 remained in the storm's wake. More than 5,400 were estimated to have hatched before Dorian's arrival. Total nests counted since the season began in April: 6,159 loggerheads; 2,366 green (47 since Dorian's departure); and 37 leatherbacks. Bergman said it's been a banner season for the green turtles which are known to be late nesters on our beaches. READ FULL STORY

Beach path by Surfsedge moves ahead; completion expected in November
week of September 26, 2019

A 5-foot-wide public beach access that caused a great deal of controversy when the Town of Indian River Shores wanted to sell a 5-acre overgrown oceanside parcel to a private developer is now quietly coming to fruition on the construction site of the Surfsedge community on A1A. The town has approved about $11,000 for the $24,000 project; the remaining cost will be split between the Lutgert Companies, which is building Surfsedge, and residents of Pebble Beach Villas, a condo complex immediately south of Surfsedge. Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin said it should take roughly six weeks to complete the walled coquina rock path. The thick forest of invasive Brazilian pepper trees that covered much of the property has been torn down and mulched, and the land cleared, according to Lutgert project manager Mike Hoyt. “The path is started with the coquina already installed. The fence on the south side of the path will go in the next couple of weeks, then the last piece will be the site wall on the north side of the path,” Hoyt said. “That is about six weeks out. We will be able to open it up to the public after the wall is in place.” READ FULL STORY

Nonprofits seek updated data on area social needs
week of September 19, 2019

The United Way of Indian River County and other groups are launching a Community Needs Assessment to get a handle on the scale of poverty and social need in an area that is very near the top of a national list that calculates income inequality. Although Vero Beach is renowned for its beachside beauty and the affluence of its island residents, there is another side to the story. According to the United Way, 51 percent of Indian River County households struggle to pay for such basic necessities as food, housing and childcare. That was the finding of the group’s February 2019 ALICE report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). Meanwhile, a July 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows the Vero-Sebastian metro area has the fourth most extreme income inequality in the country, with the top 1 percent of households having an average income of $2,519,981 while the remaining 99 percent average just $39,710. The purpose of the first comprehensive Community Needs Assessment done here since 2008 is to pinpoint unmet needs, identify community strengths and assets available to meet the needs, eliminate some duplication of services and help foundations better allocate their resources so they have the most impact on people’s lives. READ FULL STORY

Vero’s effort to provide hurricane relief to Bahamas continues to grow
week of September 19, 2019

Local attorney and avid fisherman Brian Connelly isn’t surprised by the generous and caring way Vero Beach has responded to the humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas – especially the Abaco Islands, particularly Grand Cay – in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. “Not at all,” Connelly said. “Grand Cay isn’t a resort area where you see a lot of crowds. It’s a fishing village. I’ve been going there for 15 years, and we go because it’s some of the best fishing and diving in the islands. But because it’s so small, you get to know the people there. That’s the case for most of us who go there on a regular basis,” he added. “Over the years, we’ve developed friendships with some wonderful people there. I have the phone numbers of a half-dozen of them, and we’ll call before we come over to ask if they need anything. Even in good times, they don’t have a lot, so there’s always a need.” Grand Cay, affectionately known as “Little Grand,” is at the far northern end of the Abaco Islands, but it didn’t escape Dorian’s devastation – the destruction of homes, businesses, the power grid and water system. READ FULL STORY

Accused slayer Jones files last-minute pretrial motions
week of September 19, 2019

Everything but the kitchen sink. That’s the non-technical term for what defense lawyers are throwing into the legal mix two weeks before jury selection is set to begin for the murder trial of Michael David Jones. It’s unclear who has been steering Jones’ defense team since the accused slayer of nurse Diana Duve petitioned Judge Dan Vaughn to fire his three lawyers last month, but the pre-trial motions have been flying like crazy. The motions force prosecutors to respond, eating up time needed to finalize their preparations for what’s expected to be a four-week trial with more than 100 witnesses, including an impressive gaggle of medical and behavioral experts. Nearly 200 new pages of documents prompted by last-minute defense motions have come out just in the past week, on top of the more than 5,000 pages of pleadings and discovery accumulated since Jones arrest in the summer of 2014. Among the 11th-hour wrinkles the defense is fighting for is the right to show everyone in the jury pool graphic photos of the crime scene where Duve was found dead, an autopsy photo and photos of the attractive 26-year-old Sebastian River Medical Center nurse enjoying life before her murder in June 2014. READ FULL STORY

Council members reaffirm desire to move sewer plant off lagoon
week of September 19, 2019

Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle have only a couple of months left on the City Council before their terms end, but both said they will take action to lay groundwork for the City of Vero Beach to get its aging sewer plant off the Indian River Lagoon. Two weeks ago, Vero Beach 32963 reported that city staff and hired consultants were still spending significant time, effort and money studying ways to refurbish and keep the sewer plant on the river, which contradicts long-standing direction given by previous city councils going back to 2011 and 2012 that the plant needs to be moved. Zudans said he felt it was prudent to price out all the options for comparison, but he wants to make it clear that he has always envisioned Vero’s riverfront with the sewer plant gone as soon as possible, and said he resents any accusation he’s hedging on getting the sewage processing plant off the river. READ FULL STORY

Riding the rails: A view of the future from a locomotive
week of September 19, 2019

ABOARD LOCOMOTIVE 101 – As our freight train rumbled down the Florida East Coast Railways track last Tuesday, up ahead I watched a bicyclist ignore the flashing lights, zig zag around the closed crossing gates, and pedal across in front of us. How many will try this, I wondered, when instead of a freight lumbering down the track at 45 miles an hour, it’s a Virgin Trains USA passenger locomotive racing toward them at 110 mph? An hour or so later, we came upon a white SUV stopped on the wrong side of the downed gate at the Main Street crossing in Sebastian, a couple of feet away from our passing locomotive. How had that happened? A vehicle collided with a train at that crossing on Feb. 8. Those were the major safety concerns I observed on a run south from Jacksonville to Miami September 10th aboard a red and yellow FECR locomotive. But this was just one trip! READ FULL STORY

Equity Committee hoping School Board will set more specific desegregation goals
week of September 19, 2019

Representatives from the NAACP and school district agree the School Board needs to set more specific desegregation goals and be accountable for hiring more African-American teachers and improving retention and graduation rates of African-American students. Those are among the recommendations that the five-person Equity Committee plans to make to the board in October when it submits its review of what is needed to bring the school district into compliance with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order. Along with recommendations, several committee members had complaints about school district officials. They said some officials spent most of the year trying to sabotage the committee’s efforts, but added that things have improved recently, since Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley took over. “I don’t feel that school officials have been taking this seriously enough [up till now],” Merchon Green, the group’s chairman, said during a committee meeting in late August. “The goal of this committee is to hold the district accountable and see what the district is doing to reach its goals. READ FULL STORY

Community forums create profile of ideal Indian River School superintendent
week of September 19, 2019

The next superintendent of the Indian River County School District needs to be able to unite the community, be a champion for civil rights and create a climate of trust in the district. Those are the top qualities cited by educators, administrators, students, parents and community leaders who participated in forums this past week organized by the firm that is conducting the search for a new superintendent. "The School Board will use the citizen input to create a profile for the kind of superintendent the district is looking for," said Monica Browne of Hazard, Young, Attea Associates. The board is scheduled to review and discuss citizen comments during a special board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24, Browne said. Once the board agrees on what they think are the top attributes a new superintendent must have, Hazard, Young, Attea Associates will launch a national advertising effort and begin actively recruiting candidates. The School Board’s goal is to hire a new superintendent by January. READ FULL STORY

Vero man details horror of Dorian’s Bahamian blitz
week of September 19, 2019

“I’m still having nightmares. Every time I close my eyes, I hear the roar,” says Bobby Childs, who experienced Hurricane Dorian’s wrath first-hand. “But people were awesome; they were all so loving and helpful. I saw the best in people and I saw the worst in people.” Childs and wife Elizabeth (Liz) are among the lucky ones. He survived and they own a condo in Vero’s South Beach area, where they can regroup. It will be a while, however, before they’ll know the full extent of the damage to what was once their lovely waterfront home on Lubbers Quarters Cay, a tiny 2-mile-by-half-mile island in the Abacos, accessible only by boat. Or for that matter, the boat and car they stored in nearby marinas. When Dorian became a named storm, Childs, who after selling his collision repair businesses became a yacht delivery skipper, went down to shore up the house. Liz, a representative for Pantaenius Yacht Insurance, was at a Newport boat show, so first mate/chef Karen Svea Grahne volunteered to assist him. Childs was still recovering from a mid-August wrist operation to correct a decades-old navicular fracture. READ FULL STORY

Still time to sign up for Saturday’s Coastal Cleanup
week of September 19, 2019

If you want to do something to help the Indian River Lagoon, there's still time to sign up for the Indian River County edition of the world's largest volunteer trash pick-up – the 34th annual International Coastal Cleanup – set for this Saturday. More than 500 have registered at to collect trash on foot, underwater, from kayaks and boats at some 20 sites along the county's lagoon and ocean beaches. Keep Indian River Beautiful executive director Daisy Packer says she can always use more volunteers – especially at four lagoon sites managed by the Indian River Land Trust. "There's not as much trash on [ocean] beaches since the king tide has taken everything," Packer said,"[but] the trash that washes into the lagoon is just stuck there." Packer added that more trash could still show up along the ocean, as debris pushed across from the devastation in the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island earlier this month washes ashore. Keep Indian River Beautiful will supply volunteers with gloves, trash bags, data cards, pens and – while they last – tee shirts. Late registrants are asked to call 772-226-7738 to secure a site. READ FULL STORY