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Mandate may help get staff vaccinated at nursing homes
week of October 7, 2021

At Consulate Health Care of Vero Beach, a 159-bed skilled nursing facility where the staff intimately cares for the frailest of patients, only one-quarter of the workers are vaccinated against COVID-19. Sea Breeze’s current staff vaccination rate hasn’t improved at all since emergence of the aggressive Delta variant, and stands only slightly better than Consulate’s, at 28 percent. At Orchid Cove, the nursing home and rehab center that used to be Grace Rehab, the staff vaccination rate of 25.9 percent is even lower than pre-Delta, by 2 percent. The Delta surge, which has seen COVID-19 kill 27 patients in long-term care facilities located in Indian River County during the six-week period ending Sept. 25, appears to have barely fazed vaccine-hesitant workers at these three of the area’s seven nursing homes. Now, the federal government – with the full backing of leaders of Florida’s long-term care industry – proposes to make vaccination a condition of employment not just in nursing homes, but in all of health care. READ FULL STORY


Beachland rank in pandemic year termed aberration
week of October 7, 2021

Beachland Elementary School’s decline in academic performance during the pandemic afflicted 2020-2021 school year was seen as an aberration by administrators and parents interviewed last week. Long a pacesetter among the county’s 13 public elementary schools, Beachland dropped to seventh in overall performance in 2020-2021 compared to 2018-2019, when it was No. 1. Beachland Elementary had received three A’s and two B’s from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017, state Education Department records show. A dip occurred in 2017-2018 when the school got a C, but it bounced back the following year to score another A. No grades were given out in 2019-2020. Richard Myhre, the school district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said Beachland’s scores for 2020-2021 were dragged down by the test results of the lowest quartile of the school’s 81 fifth-graders. “It was a unique circumstance with the fifth-grade cohort,” Myers said. READ FULL STORY


Island restaurants optimistic about upcoming season
week of October 7, 2021

Local restaurateurs this fall are looking forward to a busy upcoming season as they (hopefully) leave behind the roller coaster ride the pandemic has taken them on since March 2020. A lack of diners isn’t the issue on Vero’s barrier island and downtown. Things are going pretty well compared to what is happening in the rest of the country. In addition to rising costs for products, lack of staffing and supply difficulties, many out-of-state restaurants face challenges posed by vaccine mandates for staff and patrons. ot so here. But like businesses nationwide, short-staffed local restaurants are finding job applicants hard to come by. On Sept. 6 – Labor Day, ironically – supplemental federal unemployment benefits under the CARES Act that carried millions of people through the pandemic were halted, but local restaurants haven’t seen the increase in job applicants one might have expected after those payments ran dry. READ FULL STORY


Vero mounts case for permanent water-sewer service territory
week of October 7, 2021

In the lead-up to this Wednesday’s scheduled meeting with County Commissioners, the Vero Beach City Council heard its negotiating team defend its claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory which Vero says includes the unincorporated south barrier island and the Town of Indian River Shores. Vero’s City Attorney John Turner, hired in part for his skills as a litigator, and City Manager Monte Falls, who benefits from more than three decades of institutional knowledge of city business, did the majority of the talking last week during the City Council discussion. They are both confident that a 1989 territorial agreement signed by Vero and Indian River County will stand up to legal challenges. “The language of the contract is clear and unambiguous. It commits the county to refrain from providing utility service inside the city’s service area without the city’s consent. There are documents throughout the history of our service that speak to the permanence of our service territory,” Falls said. READ FULL STORY


Ruling could derail suits by men arrested in prostitution sting
week of October 7, 2021

A federal court judge’s ruling last month could derail attempts by the men arrested during a February 2019 prostitution sting to sue the Vero Beach Police Department and Indian River County Sheriff’s Office for violating their privacy rights during the hidden-camera surveillance. “The judge basically ruled that you don’t have any expectation of privacy when you go to a massage spa,” said Brad Jefferson, an attorney who represents more than a dozen men planning to file lawsuits against local law enforcement agencies. “His decisions all agreed with law enforcement’s claims,” he added, “So unless the ruling is successfully appealed – or we can figure out how to get our cases in front of a different judge – I’m not sure where we go.“ READ FULL STORY


Virtual building inspections now offered for certain minor projects
week of October 7, 2021

Several local governments including the Town of Orchid on the north barrier island now offer virtual building inspections for certain types of minor projects. Locally, Orchid, Sebastian and Indian River County have conducted several such inspections; Vero Beach inspections are performed by the county’s building department. Indian River Shores has not yet adopted the practice. Codifying a practice that began out of necessity during the pandemic, a new state law effective July 1 allows such inspections to continue in certain circumstances. HB 667 had been introduced by the Florida legislature earlier this year in the face of COVID-19, and was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 24. Virtual inspections can take several forms: photographs, videos, real-time communications such as Zoom and FaceTime, or through one of several apps designed for contractors, such as VuSpex, used by Martin County. Indian River County building official Scott McAdam said the county began offering virtual inspection options “around 2020 or so, during COVID.” Noting the state law “isn’t a mandate,” McAdam said that whether the project is commercial or residential, an owner or contractor can opt for a virtual inspection under the proper circumstances. READ FULL STORY


Covid infections, hospitalizations continue decline
week of September 30, 2021

The number of new COVID-19 infections here took another sharp move downward to close out September – falling 43 percent from the previous week – and the county’s case positivity rate briefly dipped into single digits for the first time in several months. Last week’s 330 cases amount to an average of 47 cases per day, roughly one quarter of the 1,300 logged during recent record-breaking weeks when the coronavirus Delta variant ran rampant. As of last Friday’s Florida Department of Health weekly report, 9.9 percent of people tested for the virus turned up positive. But by Monday, that number had nudged back up to 12.27 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seven-day rolling data tracker. New hospital admissions were down to 35 in the week leading up to press time Monday, from 51 the previous week, and the number of hospital beds and intensive-care beds being used to treat COVID patients continues to decline as well. Twenty-two more deaths were reported last week, bringing the countywide death toll from COVID-19 to 505 since the onset of the pandemic. READ FULL STORY


Beachland surrenders crown as top elementary school
week of September 30, 2021

The new school year has gotten off to a rough start at Beachland Elementary, which not only has had to fight off a COVID-19 surge but learned this past week that academically, it has lost its top position among Indian River County public elementary schools. Achievement on English Language Arts, Math and Science standardized tests all declined at the barrier island’s only public school during the 2020-2021 school year, according to Florida Department of Education accountability reports released last week. The result: Beachland went from being the highest rated of the county’s 12 public elementary schools during the 2018-2019 school year to seventh place in the most recent round of testing. COVID-19 wiped out standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. READ FULL STORY


Public schools ease quarantine and facemask rules for students
week of September 30, 2021

Just a couple of Indian River County public school students remained quarantined Monday (Sept. 27) for exposure to a COVID-19 patient under new state rules that went into effect last week. It’s now up to parents to decide whether to send their virus-exposed children to school, as long as the youngsters are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, School Superintendent David Moore said last Friday. The number of students quarantined declined to two as of Monday (Sept. 27), compared to a high of 87 on Sept. 14, school district records show. There were 27 students being quarantined here on Sept. 22 when the new Florida Department of Health rules regarding quarantining went into effect. “We called those 27 students, saying, ‘Hey parents, if you’re good and they’re not showing symptoms, feel free to send them back to school,’” Moore said. Under the new rules, a parent will be notified if their child came in close contact with a COVID-19 patient and offered the option of sending their child to school, or keeping them home, Moore said. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island making a big investment in irrigation water for golf courses and lawns
week of September 30, 2021

While the Shores, Vero and Indian River County continue to fight about the future of utility service on the barrier island, John’s Island is investing nearly $10 million to make sure its residents and two island golf courses have plenty of irrigation water. In July, the Vero Beach City Council approved a deal with John’s Island Water Management to pump irrigation water from the Indian River Farms Water Control District’s Main Relief Canal on the mainland. The city is building a $2.1 million plant with a capacity of 3 million gallons per day to treat the canal water as part of efforts to reduce freshwater and nutrients entering the Indian River Lagoon, with the help of a $1.5 million grant from the St. Johns River Water Management District. Another grant of $2.1 million will help construct the $9.7 million, 18-inch PVC irrigation water pipeline from the city’s plant to Bee Gum Point in Indian River Shores. The John’s Island Property Owners Association will cover the balance of the cost of the pipeline. READ FULL STORY


Seasonal rental rates for island properties skyrocket
week of September 30, 2021

In another measure of the barrier island’s ever-increasing cache, rental rates have skyrocketed this year, jumping as much as 50 percent, with visitors paying $50,000 a month and more for waterfront properties and nearly $200,000 for 4-month seasonal rentals. “Prices have increased dramatically, and it is difficult to find places for everyone who wants to come here,” says Angela Waldrop, who manages rentals for Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “A house in Central Beach recently rented for $4,500 that went for $3,000 last year. Another Central Beach house that was $2,750 last year rented this year for $4,000. “The highest price I have seen this year is $180,000 for a 4-month seasonal rental. Prices that high used to be outliers, but we have a dozen or more like that this year.” And price escalation is ongoing. READ FULL STORY


Contractor seeks permit to lay natural gas pipeline to barrier island
week of September 30, 2021

Peninsula Pipeline Company, a contractor working for Florida City Gas, has applied to Indian River County for a right-of-way permit to lay a 4-inch steel natural gas pipeline to bring gas service to the barrier island. The 3.3-mile planned pipeline project would run alongside County Road 510 in Wabasso starting just west of 58th Avenue, eastward under U.S. 1 and under the Indian River Lagoon to Highway A1A. “We expect it will take a year to complete the extension after permits are approved. The final project timeline will be determined by the permitting process,” said Danielle Mulligan, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications and Community Affairs for Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, which owns the Winter Haven-based Peninsula Pipeline Company. “Once construction begins, we anticipate minimal disruption of vehicle traffic and no disruption of marine traffic. Every effort will be taken to minimize impacts to the local communities,” Mulligan said. READ FULL STORY


Vero approves craft distilleries in both historic downtown and airport district
week of September 30, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council has unanimously voted to allow craft distilleries to do business in both the airport district and in the historic downtown business district. It was no surprise when a second and final public hearing last week for the land use change requested by the owners of 21st Amendment Distillery resulted in a resounding “yes” vote. No one has spoken out against the craft distilleries at several public meetings, there’s been little discussion prior to the votes except to voice support, and the city planning staff recommends approval. This summer, the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Board also voted unanimously in favor of allowing craft distilleries at both the airport complex and in the downtown district. “I have gotten a lot of great feedback from city and county officials on my Downtown Distillery location,” owner Jeff Palleschi said. Palleschi sees the two planned distilleries, his and Ray and Mandy Hooker’s Indian River Distillery moving into an airport property, as working in tandem to draw enthusiasts to Vero. READ FULL STORY


Vero, Shores to meet in bid to avoid court battle over water-sewer utility
week of September 30, 2021

Negotiating teams from the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach will meet in the coming weeks to try to avoid a federal court battle regarding Vero’s water-sewer utility, but talks aren’t likely to produce a settlement. After the town’s legal counsel filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the city over Vero’s claim of a permanent service territory on the island that runs from Indian River Shores south to the county line, the Shores Town Council last week voted to launch state-mandated dispute resolution talks often called the “Chapter 164” process. The number refers to chapter 164 of the Florida Statutes that forces municipalities or public agencies to try to resolve their differences out of court to save taxpayers money on legal fees. This is the same process that is underway with Vero and Indian River County in a separate but related disagreement about Vero’s utility service territory in the unincorporated southern part of the barrier island. READ FULL STORY


Natural gas may be coming soon to barrier island
week of September 23, 2021

Florida City Gas has decided to move forward with a major expansion of natural gas service to the entire barrier island from Windsor to the 17th Street Bridge over the next four years, but certain parts of 32963 may have gas available much sooner. The Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach have been approached by Florida City Gas, which is part of the Florida Power & Light company, about deploying temporary compressed natural gas (CNG) trailers to bring gas to residents while the main lines are under construction. Florida City Gas did not respond to a request for a photograph of what the temporary CNG trailers might look like. But Florida City Gas spokesperson Bianca Soriano told Vero Beach 32963 the company expected it would take a year for extension of its pipeline from the mainland to the barrier island, “and then the overall project build in the island will most likely take three years. READ FULL STORY


Vero forced to temporarily leave beach without lifeguards
week of September 23, 2021

During the past 18 months of the pandemic, Vero’s pristine public beaches became a highly sought-after place to escape. Most days, beachgoers can take a swim knowing that Vero Beach’s lifeguards have their back. On Sept. 8, however, messages were posted on social media notifying the public that there would not be a lifeguard on duty at Humiston Beach on Sept. 9 or 10. That initial closure extended through the weekend, with the lifeguards returning to the stand on Tuesday, Sept. 14, to fully staff all three public beaches within the city limits. “We had a bunch of people out sick and had to close one beach. We didn’t anticipate going that long, but we had callouts. Like every department here in the city, our department has had several COVID cases over the last several weeks,” said Jim O’Connell, COVB recreation director. According to O’Connell, while the pandemic added to the staffing problems, it was not all COVID-related. Between scheduled vacations and other sick days taken, O’Connell explained that they didn’t have enough lifeguards to guard all three beaches safely. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank, growing fast during pandemic, plans more expansion
week of September 23, 2021

Marine Bank is on a roll. It has been a record year for residential loan production, according to president and CEO Bill Penney, and the bank’s assets have grown dramatically since before the pandemic – up 74 percent from $287 million on Jan. 1, 2020 to $500 million today. The bank is opening a new, 5,000-square-foot operations center this week to keep up with growth and is undertaking a capital offering to raise $10 million that will be used, in part, to expand operations into St. Lucie County, where Penney plans to open two branch banks “as soon as possible – hopefully in the next six months or so.” Quail Valley COO Kevin Given, Marine Bank’s longest-serving board member, says he and the rest the board have been “tickled to death” by Penney’s performance as bank president. “It is a very exciting time for the bank,” Given said. READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary seems to finally have COVID-19 outbreak under control
week of September 23, 2021

Beachland Elementary School seemed to get its COVID-19 outbreak under control last week as a single student tested positive for the virus. But the Vero Beach barrier island’s only public school still has the dubious distinction of more than doubling its number of COVID-19 cases this school year compared to all of 2020-2021. A total of 41 students and teachers at Beachland Elementary have tested positive for the virus since the new school year started August 10, the school district reported Monday (Sept. 20). That’s a more than 250 percent increase compared to the last school year when 16 people at Beachland Elementary tested positive for COVID-19, according to Florida Department of Health records. However, eight students but no staff members have been diagnosed with the virus since Beachland Elementary reopened Sept. 7 after a two-week shutdown because a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than a quarter of the 51-member staff. READ FULL STORY


COVID cases, hospitalizations here down last week
week of September 23, 2021

New COVID-19 infections here fell nearly 16 percent over the last week, with 581 people testing positive and fewer people ending up in the hospital. The rolling seven-day hospitalization number this past week was 49, or an average of seven people admitted to the hospital per day. That’s down nearly 38 percent from the 71 people admitted to the hospital last week, and the well over 100 people admitted weekly in August. Indian River County’s positivity rate – the percentage of all the people tested at a clinic, pharmacy, hospital or other medical facility who tested positive for COVID infection – also fell again this week. The current positivity rate of 16.82 percent was down from nearly 3 percent from the previous week, but every county in Florida is still considered a high-transmission zone, as public health officials get concerned when the positivity rate approaches 10 percent or higher. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic Indian River nurses vote to keep union
week of September 23, 2021

Contract negotiations between Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and the union representing its registered nurses have intensified, as a Sept. 30 deadline for a new contract approaches, after an election that could have thrown the union out instead revealed overwhelming support. Among the issues still under negotiation at press time: whether to give RNs a more generous maternity and paternity leave plan, the same plan extended to the rest of the hospital staff in April of last year. Last week, the hospital told union negotiators they could not afford to include nurses in that benefit, according to the union. A spokesperson for the hospital, Scott Samples, said: “Because we are still in the negotiation process, it would not be appropriate to comment on specific details at this time.” Indian River is the only one of five Cleveland Clinic Florida hospitals to have unionized nurses. READ FULL STORY


County workers get raise and vax incentive
week of September 23, 2021

County employees who show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 will receive one additional day of vacation time in 2022. County Commissioners unanimously approved the incentive program last week, just minutes after they voted 5-0 to give county employees a 4 percent raise that takes effect on Oct. 1. County Administrator Jason Brown said he didn’t know how many of the county’s 900 employees were already vaccinated because its human resources department doesn’t track those numbers. “We hope this will encourage those who are on the fence about getting vaccinated,” Brown said, adding that the county currently does not track whether its employees are vaccinated. While the program’s “hard costs” are expected to be minimal – because, in most cases, the additional vacation days won’t require the county to pay for backup employees – Brown said there are positions that demand at least minimal staffing, such as Fire Rescue, lifeguards and water-plant operators. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Town Manager soap opera ends with Powers taking buyout
week of September 23, 2021

The summer soap opera that followed the announced resignation of Orchid Town Manager Noah Powers took a climatic turn Monday night when the Town Council, on a 4 to 1 vote, agreed to send him on his way this Friday with more than $50,000. The council agreed that current Town Clerk Cherry Stowe would take over as interim town manager, and could apply to permanently fill the position. Powers, as part of a settlement agreement, agreed to be available for consultation for 45 days following his formal departure, to not sue the town for anything, and in return will receive $19,261 in accrued vacation pay and a severance of $34,608. What turned into a “did-he-jump-or-was-he-pushed” drama began when Powers, obliquely referring to “recent events” with no elaboration, tendered his resignation on Aug. 9 effective the end of this month. But at a town council meeting Sept. 13, Powers said he had planned to stay in his job but felt he was being “forced out” after Mayor Bob Gibbons spoke to him about a transition plan for his retirement, suggesting that Town Clerk Stowe would make a suitable replacement. READ FULL STORY


Bob Auwaerter headed back to the Indian River Shores Town Council
week of September 23, 2021

With attorney Tom Tamoney removing his application from consideration, the Indian River Shores goes into its Thursday afternoon meeting to select a new councilmember to replace John McCord with only one applicant – former vice mayor Bob Auwaerter. Auwaerter served on council from 2016 to 2020 but did not run for re-election as his focus was competing in the Republican primary for a Board of County Commissioners seat, which was ultimately won by former Vero mayor Laura Moss. Tamoney was encouraged by his longtime friend, School Board member and former Shores mayor Brian Barefoot, to get involved in Tamoney’s new hometown of three years, but Barefoot said he did not know the John’s Island resident had applied for the council seat until after he turned in his paperwork. Barefoot had unofficially agreed to support Auwaerter, so the situation put him in a tight spot. Auwaerter, an Ocean Colony resident, had served on and even chaired the City of Vero Beach Utilities Commission as the town’s representative. He has been a key player in the town’s utility dispute with Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Backlash against Jay Kramer over GOP unit’s vote to censure Barefoot
week of September 23, 2021

School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot responded to the local Republican Executive Committee’s recent vote to censure him – for supporting a school mask mandate here in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order – with a question committee Chairman Jay Kramer couldn’t answer. After Kramer announced the Republican Executive Committee’s action during the public-comment segment of last week’s School Board meeting, Barefoot asked: “Mr. Kramer, before you leave, could you explain to me what censuring me means?” Kramer couldn’t. Obviously caught off-guard by Barefoot’s question, Kramer stammered a bit, saying, “That would be a definition to the membership of the REC. … If you would like, the next meeting, I will ask them that question.” Barefoot, though, wasn’t done. He continued his counterattack, mocking the committee’s vote by asking Kramer a second question: “Do I get a plaque or something, now that I’ve been censured? I ought to get something.” READ FULL STORY


Trial in malpractice suit postponed until February
week of September 16, 2021

What may well be the largest medical malpractice suit ever tried in Vero was continued until February, after 19th Circuit Judge Janet Croom gave defendant Indian River Medical Center, now Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, more time to find a new expert witness. Plaintiffs’ attorney David Carter says more than $100 million in damages may be at stake in the trial, an amount the lead attorney for Indian River, June Hoffman, said could “bankrupt” the hospital. Hoffman earlier had asked for postponement of a jury trial because of Covid – a motion Croom had denied – but she granted a continuance after being informed that a separate settlement with anesthesiologist Dr. Donnie Konovsky included the withdrawal of an expert witness that the hospital was also intending to use. The suit involves a June 2017 incident for which the hospital has already admitted liability. That event left 42-year-old Toshuua Hughes permanently and severely disabled in a state known as unresponsive wakefulness, after she failed to regain consciousness following a hysterectomy and stopped breathing. READ FULL STORY


Death toll since Covid surge now up to 128 here
week of September 16, 2021

Another 18 people have died of COVID-19 in Indian River County, according to the county health department’s latest tally, dated Sept. 11. Combined with the previous week’s reported 29 deaths, the total lost locally in the Delta surge rises to 128. That is a horrifying number – 30 more fatalities than the number of people lost in the collapse of the condo tower in Surfside in June. Yet while what death toll reverberated around the world, an even greater loss of life over six weeks in a county of 160,000 did not warrant public mention by government officials at the state or local level. While the CDC is now showing deaths on the “county view” page of its COVID data tracker, the figure does not correspond to the figure privately released by the local health department. That death count – along with deaths in long-term care facilities, case counts and testing numbers – goes only to a select group of physicians, pharmacists and clinics, as well as the county’s two hospitals. A note on the report asks that the document not be forwarded. READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary open again, and masks may be gone by end of the month
week of September 16, 2021

Beachland Elementary students tried to get back to their normal routine last week after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined more than a quarter of the staff and shut down the school for two weeks, and if the downward trend in new cases continues, school officials say normal could mean no masks by month’s end. The barrier island’s only public school reopened Sept. 7 and no staff members have tested positive for the virus since Sept. 2, school district records show. “So far, so good this week,” said Stacy Hazell, whose daughter attends fourth grade at Beachland Elementary. “It was business as usual, it seemed to me. We haven’t had any problems. My child’s not been quarantined.” “She did say there were seven children out from her class in a class of 20, so there were only 13 in her class,” Hazell said Friday afternoon. “The children were wearing the masks. It was not a problem at all.” READ FULL STORY


New home boom pushes south on the barrier island
week of September 16, 2021

A new-home building boom is ramping up on the barrier island south of the county line, where 76 homes are coming in four subdivisions, including 40 luxury oceanfront houses and condos. Another 70 units are approved in a fifth subdivision now under contract. The incoming developer is slated to close on the purchase this month. On top of that, land deals are happening up and down the surf-fringed stretch of A1A that extends south from Indian River County to the Fort Pierce Inlet, including one transaction that closed last week on a 31-acre piece of property zoned for 270 units. Driving this burst of activity are the high prices and low inventory in 32963, which are causing island brokers and buyers to look south where prices are lower. For years, Vero buyers have looked slightly askance at anything south of the county line, but local buyers are running out of options and out-of-town buyers, who are purchasing a majority of the new units, don’t have the same reluctance. READ FULL STORY


Complaints halt the construction of new Wabasso bridge fence
week of September 16, 2021

The Florida Department of Transportation has halted installation of a 3-foot-high chain link safety fence along both perimeters of the Wabasso Causeway high bridge after posts for the new barrier had already been installed – and it is now searching for a more aesthetically pleasing alternative. Following a Vero Beach 32963 report about the project last month, many Orchid residents expressed dismay that the planned galvanized steel chain link fencing would obstruct views of the lagoon below and would have what Mayor Bob Gibbons termed “a significantly adverse visual impact.” The long-delayed project, which was started in mid-summer, followed years of urging from cyclists and the Indian River County Municipal Planning Organization Bicycle Advisory Committee to make the bridge safer for bikers and pedestrians. The bridge’s narrow bike lanes, separated by a less-than-3-foot concrete barrier from a 60-foot drop to the lagoon, had caused it to be considered one of the most dangerous for bikers in the state. READ FULL STORY


Vero and county make no progress in dispute over utility service territory
week of September 16, 2021

NEWS ANALYSIS | Vero Beach and Indian River County elected officials made zero progress last week on resolving a pending water-sewer utility dispute, with the parties unable to even agree why they were meeting. Vero’s City Council hoped Indian River County would agree that Vero has the sole, permanent right to provide water and sewer service to the barrier island from Indian River Shores to the south county line, as Vero says a 1989 agreement dictates. But County Commission members were hoping to re-open talks about a settlement offer made by County Administrator Jason Brown. That offer would control water-sewer rates for south barrier island customers of Vero Beach Utilities for 10 years. In exchange, the county would not challenge Vero’s claim of a permanent service territory. Vero rejected that offer in July, and instead announced it would shift all water-sewer customers to new rates in 2022 to recapture the cost of building a $70 million sewer plant plus the cost of complying with new environmental mandates. READ FULL STORY


Two apply for seat on Shores Town Council
week of September 16, 2021

Next week the Indian River Shores Town Council will choose one of two men who applied to fill a seat on the town council left open after John McCord resigned last month. McCord only served 10 months of his four-year term, so the person selected by the remaining four members will serve until November 2024. One applicant is a John’s Island resident, a well-qualified corporate attorney but a newcomer to town politics. The other is a highly regarded former vice mayor who, while serving four years on council from 2016 to 2020 and as the town’s representative on the Vero Beach Utilities Commission, immersed himself in the town’s finances and in the Shores’ complex utility issues with Vero and Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Mardy Fish shares story of his battle with anxiety disorder in documentary on Netflix
week of September 16, 2021

On the first day of the 2015 U.S. Open, Mardy Fish went public with his battle with a severe anxiety disorder that derailed his tennis career. Six years later, Vero Beach’s home-grown tennis star is sharing his story again – in greater detail, with more depth and perspective, summoning input from family and friends – on film. The fifth and final episode of the sports documentary series “Untold: Breaking Point” made its global debut on Netflix last week. “The response has been overwhelming,” Fish said last weekend from his Los Angeles home. “People have reached out to me from all over the world to say they suffer from similar issues and found comfort in knowing they were not alone. “I’ve received thousands of messages on Twitter,” he added. “Not hundreds, but thousands. Some from people you’ve heard of, such as players and coaches from tennis and other sports, and many from people you’ve never heard of.” READ FULL STORY


New covid cases, hospitalizations here trend down
week of September 9, 2021

New COVID-19 infections here trended downward for the first time in 10 weeks, with cases down 14 percent this week, and more importantly, hospital admissions for COVID 31 percent lower than the previous week on top of a 9 percent decrease the week before. Still, 1,119 people tested positive in the week ending Sept. 2, an average of 160 per day. To put that into perspective, during last summer’s surge, cases topped out at 55 on the average day, fewer than 400 per week. Statewide numbers for new infections in Florida are on a similar downward trend, and roughly 2 percent of the state’s 21 million people are getting a vaccine shot each week in response to concern over the Delta variant, or requirements for travel, work, or college out of state. The soaring number of people getting ill from the virus and its Delta variant this summer has stressed the healthcare system, but pressure on hospitals has begun to ease – at least statistically – according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s county-level data tracker. READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary School reopening after Covid shutdown
week of September 9, 2021

Beachland and Treasure Coast elementary schools were set to reopen this week after being shuttered because too many staff members were out with COVID-19. Schools Superintendent David Moore said he expected Beachland Elementary to be at full staff Tuesday (Sept. 7) after the school closed down Aug. 27 because 14 educators had tested positive for the virus. “God willing they’re faring well, we believe they are, and will be ready to return after the long, extended (Labor Day) weekend we all have deserved,” Moore said Friday. “They’ll be up and running and ready to go. We’ll be at full staff.” A total of 16 out of the 51 staff members at Beachland Elementary had tested positive for the virus as of Sept. 2, the last day the school district’s COVID-19 statistics were updated. That’s about 31 percent of the staff. READ FULL STORY


Local restaurants doing OK, and new ones coming
week of September 9, 2021

Across the country, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the restaurant industry. But Vero’s restaurants have fared better than most. Only a small number have closed their doors permanently, while several new restaurants have emerged with a few more getting ready to open their doors. You won’t have to cross the bridge much longer to satisfy cravings for Asian food. Asian Fusion owner Dun Chau, who owns several restaurants in Orlando, is bringing his version of an Asian tapas-style restaurant to beachside Vero. The informal dining concept will be located in Pelican Plaza. Chau hopes to open on December 1 with a grand opening to follow on New Year’s Day. Patrons can eat onsite or take their meal to go. According to Chau, the menu will be light, with popular favorites, including egg rolls, gyoza, ramen, udon, fried rice, pad thai and sushi. READ FULL STORY


U.S. 1 shopping plaza getting a major upgrade
week of September 9, 2021

A new restaurant and retail plaza is coming to the Kmart center on U.S. 1 at the same time as impressive new tenants are being lined up for the old Kmart building itself, according to developer and landlord Michael Rechter. And those are just two of what Rechter calls “a laundry list” of upgrades and additions coming to his U.S. 1 retail properties, which include Majestic Plaza as well as Kmart Plaza and encompass 34 acres stretching from Linus Buick to 16th Place on the west side of the highway. A wine store that offers tasting events and a luxury salon brand are coming to Majestic Plaza; The Green Marlin is getting an expansive outdoor dining deck; and Rechter will close on the old Poinsettia Groves property in October, gaining space to add another brand that fits with his vision for his shopping centers. Plans for the new restaurant/retail development filed with the city of Vero Beach show two 4,500-square-foot buildings separated by a dining patio going in at the front of Kmart Plaza on the site of an old retention pond. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council race reminiscent of 2009
week of September 9, 2021

Talk about names from the past. Three candidates who were on the ballot for Vero Beach City Council in 2009 – Charlie Wilson, Brian Heady and Ken Daige – are trying again 12 years later. In 2009, Wilson and Heady won – victories that turned out to be short-lived for Wilson, and one-of-a-kind for perennial candidate Heady – on a wave of voter unhappiness about soaring electric rates. In one of their first official actions, the council took a vote to invite Florida Power & Light to a meeting to begin the conversation about FPL purchasing the city’s electric utility. The conventional wisdom said the sale couldn’t be done. But that dream finally became a reality a decade later and former Vero power customers now enjoy the lowest rates in the state. Daige, who had served on the council but was turned out in the 2009 election, fought the electric sale and still hasn’t made peace with the reality more than two years after the closing. READ FULL STORY


Noah Powers resigns as town manager of Orchid
week of September 9, 2021

After almost six years as Town Manager of the Town of Orchid, Noah Powers has tendered his resignation, to take effect Sept. 24. In a letter to the Town Council dated Aug. 9, Powers stated, in part, that “recent events have given me cause to re-evaluate my employment status with the Town of Orchid,” continuing: “Consequently, it is with great reluctance that I share with you my intention to resign my position of Town Manager.” Powers stated that he would like to complete the budgeting process “that I began back in May.” In a message to Orchid residents on the town’s website, Mayor Bob Gibbons said that while Powers’ contract is scheduled to terminate “at the end of this calendar year, he has tendered his resignation to coincide with the end of the town’s fiscal year” which begins Oct. 1. READ FULL STORY


St. Edward’s School drowning victim did not know how to swim
week of September 9, 2021

The St. Edward’s School senior who drowned after ceremoniously jumping off a campus dock last spring didn’t know how to swim and panicked almost immediately after entering the water, where he desperately attempted to grab onto two classmates before sinking to the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon. Those tragic details were among the findings of an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report released Friday, after detectives completed their investigation into the April 30 death of Bidensky “BT” Termidor. Detectives, who interviewed dozens of witnesses and watched videos of the incident, determined the drowning was an “unfortunate accident,” Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat White said, adding that no criminal charges would be filed. The report, which also referred to autopsy results that revealed Termidor had a blood-alcohol level above Florida’s legal-driving limit and evidence of marijuana use in his system, included statements from classmates who said a group of about 15 seniors left campus earlier that day and had been drinking alcoholic beverages on the beach. Termidor, 18, was among the group, witnesses said. READ FULL STORY


Judge Croom to hear arguments in Strunk Funeral Home lawsuit
week of September 9, 2021

With a jury trial set for Nov. 1, Circuit Judge Janet Croom will hear arguments next week on whether the Strunk Funeral Home must deposit into the court registry at least part of the $300,000-plus in back rent sought by the man who claims to own the local properties on which the longtime business operates. The funds would remain in the court’s custody until lawsuits filed by Glenn Strunk’s adult children and James Young Jr. – the nephew of Strunk’s wife, Dorothy, who bought the properties from her for $3.1 million in July – are resolved. Strunk, who owned the funeral home business since 1973 and ran it for 47 years, died in February 2020, sparking an ugly dispute between his children and their stepmother. Glenn and Dorothy Strunk were married for 41 years. READ FULL STORY


State funding to pay for street sweeper, body cameras
week of September 9, 2021

When Vero concluded its budget workshops, the city still had a wish list of needed items there was no money to pay for. But updated revenue numbers from the state will make two of the wished-for items a reality. The city already owns one street sweeper truck which collects debris to keep it from going into storm drains and eventually into the lagoon. A second street sweeper plus a driver, uniforms, fuel and maintenance were on the wish list. Funded by two different pots of money collected by the state and then shared with municipality, the new street sweeper should be on the road this fall. Mayor Robbie Brackett wanted the street sweeper placed as a high priority on the budget wish list, as he said it’s a cost-effective way to not add unwanted nutrients to the estuary, plus the city gets environmental credits for the debris collected and diverted from the lagoon. The whole council agreed. READ FULL STORY


Covid has claimed at least 81 here since July surge
week of September 2, 2021

As the state continues inexplicably to withhold weekly COVID death counts by county, Indian River County’s health department circulated weekly reports to select health professionals – but not the media – reporting another 16 COVID-19 related deaths in the county last week. More may have occurred, but have not yet been logged into state records. The latest report also shows an additional 13 deaths from July 24 to Aug. 21. When that update is added to last week’s count, the total number of people lost to COVID since the surge began in late July is 81. That number is expected to rise. In the past few weeks, the backlog in reporting has added around 20 percent more deaths each week. How many of those deaths involved long-term care facilities is unknown; the state no longer publishes data by county, nor does it publish cases by facility. But there is a record of long-term care deaths, again, withheld from the media but shared with certain clinics, hospitals, doctors and pharmacists. READ FULL STORY


Island clubs require that employees get Covid vaccine shots
week of September 2, 2021

Responding to the recent spike in COVID-19 infections locally and nationally, at least four of the island’s prominent clubs are requiring their employees be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. Most also are mandating masks be worn when indoors on the premises. The general managers at the John’s Island Club and Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club confirmed their policies, designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus cases. In addition, well-placed sources at Windsor and the Sea Oaks Beach & Tennis Club said the same protocols were being followed there. “By Oct. 15, all of our staff must be completely vaccinated – and the same applies to members and guests,” John’s Island General Manager Brian Kroh said this week. “Everybody who comes into the club has to be vaccinated, except for people making drop-offs and deliveries. “Even contractors who are doing work here must be vaccinated.” READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary becomes first school closed here by Covid surge
week of September 2, 2021

The closing of Beachland Elementary School until Sept. 7 amid a COVID-19 outbreak shows why students and educators must be required to wear a facemask on campus, several parents said. The school district shuttered Beachland Elementary School on Friday (Aug. 27) after 14 educators – more than a quarter of the staff – tested positive for the virus since the new school year started Aug. 10. By Monday (Aug. 30), a total of 15 staff members and 26 students at Beachland Elementary had tested positive for COVID-19, school district records show. The 41 COVID-19 cases so far this year amounted to more than twice the total at Beachland Elementary for the entire 2020-2021 school year, when Florida Department of Health reported 16 cases. The virus was spreading so rapidly at Beachland Elementary, some of the district officials assigned to substitute for ill teachers and administrators have also gotten sick, said School Superintendent David Moore. READ FULL STORY


Wolf Laurel: For a half century, Vero’s mystic mountain escape
week of September 2, 2021

High in the Appalachian rain forest, a nine-hour drive from Sexton Plaza, the mountain resort of Wolf Laurel has been a favorite escape for many of Vero’s leading real estate families for more than 50 years. Mention Wolf Laurel to Steve Schlitt, Linda Gonzalez, Buzz MacWilliam, Kay Brown or Cindy O’Dare and the smiles reflect memories of cool summer getaways and winter ski vacations. “I was involved from the very beginning,” says Brown, broker associate at Premier Estate Properties. “I’d put the kids in the car in the morning and drive straight through, talking to the truckers on my CB radio. My handle was Silver Streaker, and the truckers would let me ride in between two of them so I wouldn’t get arrested for speeding in some little southern town!” “Wolf Laurel is the first place I saw snow,” says Schlitt, who with his sister Linda Gonzalez runs Coldwell Banker Paradise. “My father Ed Schlitt and my uncle Frank Schlitt were early investors and we started going up there in the late 1960s when I was about 12, staying in one of the original cabins.” READ FULL STORY


Shores takes utility dispute with Vero to federal court
week of September 2, 2021

NEWS ANALYSIS | Indian River Shores has asked a federal court to strike down the City of Vero Beach’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory as null and void, to settle a dispute over whether or not the Shores must remain on Vero’s utility system after its water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero expires in 2027. Hand in hand with that petition, the town’s attorneys have also asked the court to prevent the City of Vero Beach from taking actions that violate federal antitrust law. Attorney Bruce May of the Tallahassee-based Holland and Knight law firm last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of the town in the Fort Pierce division of Florida’s Southern District federal court, triggering a conflict resolution process that gives the Shores and Vero a chance to settle their differences and avoid a protracted trial. READ FULL STORY


Lowther enters GOP primary race for county commission
week of September 2, 2021

Funeral home owner Thomas Lowther, who was elected to the County Commission in 2002 but lost a re-election bid to Peter O’Bryan four years later, filed the necessary paperwork last week to run for a second term in 2022. Lowther, 61, became the second candidate to officially enter the District 4 race, joining longtime school district employee Joann Binford. Former Sheriff Deryl Loar announced he plans to run, but, as the week began, he hadn’t yet filed with the county’s Supervisor of Elections Office. O’Bryan, a four-term commissioner, announced in 2017 that he would not seek a fifth. “I’m running for the office, not against Deryl or anyone else,” said Lowther, who was the County Commission’s chairman in 2005. “Deryl is a good friend of mine, but he hasn’t filed yet.” READ FULL STORY


McCord resigns, creating a vacancy on Shores Council
week of September 2, 2021

Indian River Shores Town Councilman John McCord has resigned, effective Friday, and the town expects to appoint a replacement on Sept. 23. McCord, a retired utility industry executive who worked behind the scenes on the Vero Electric sale to Florida Power & Light, was elected in November 2020, so whoever serves out his four-year term will be in office until 2024. “I’m very sad,” McCord said Monday, saying he had a great time while serving on council, but that he and his wife are leaving John’s Island to move to California where their children and grandchildren live. “I love this community, have been a part of it for 23 years and care about it deeply,” McCord said, but added that it’s time to have his family all in one place. READ FULL STORY


County in deal to sign over stake in South Beach Park
week of September 2, 2021

Vero Beach and Indian River County have struck a deal to renew a lease on a communications tower site on Old Dixie Highway for 99 years in exchange for $500,000 and the county’s portion of the island’s South Beach Park. But the transaction must be approved by city voters on this November’s ballot. The 4-1 City Council vote to move forward was made in a special call meeting on Monday, and the ballot language summarizing the deal needs to go to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan by 5 p.m. Friday. The tower on Old Dixie serves both the city and county emergency services as well as cell phone providers. Commonly known as the Old City Nursery, the site is protected by the city charter, so the voters must approve any sale or lease. Vero officials had concerns about the proposed lease and the fact that only 30 percent of the proceeds from leasing the site to the tower operator was going to the city. READ FULL STORY


‘Our hospital is full of people needlessly suffering’
week of August 26, 2021

On the eve of the Pfizer vaccine winning full approval from the FDA, a panel of top Cleveland Clinic doctors gathered to describe the ravages of COVID-19 in the hopes of convincing more people to get vaccinated – and wear masks until their second dose. In their first press conference since the insidious surge of the Delta variant took hold, leaders from the health system’s five Florida hospitals spelled out the crisis at hand: They have reached their limit. All five hospitals are running out of patient beds, including in the ICU. They are also running out of oxygen, so intensive is its rate of use treating the more than 400 gasping patients in the system’s COVID units. On Friday, the hospitals were running on less than a two-day supply, down from the normal range of about a week’s supply. And they are running out of stamina. Nurses are working 16-hour shifts, sometimes back to back, then going home to worry over their children heading back to school. READ FULL STORY


Death toll here from delta surge finally becoming clear
week of August 26, 2021

Just how many people have died here since the Delta variant took over has been not been easy to determine, since the governor’s office pulled down the state’s COVID-19 dashboard in early June, and also stopped reporting deaths by county. It also ceased reporting on COVID cases and death in individual long-term care facilities. When the Delta surge spun out of control and schools prepared to open, Tallahassee continued to withhold the local data from the public, though individual hospitals, certain doctors and clinics are getting some information on a weekly basis from local health departments. This data shows that in the past month, through Aug. 21, the county logged 44 COVID-related deaths, though a change in the way deaths are reported has likely added to the lag time. Overlapping that report is word from Hospital District chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham that 14 people died in one weekend at our hospital. Those deaths took place over Aug.14 and 15, an official told Cunningham. READ FULL STORY


Luxury storage units snapped up by car collectors
week of August 26, 2021

Vero home prices are soaring. Retail and office space is at a premium. But would you believe one of the local real estate market’s fastest sellers may be – storage units? That’s right. High-end, super-secure, luxury storage units built like bomb shelters that can be customized with mezzanine levels, car-lifts, bathrooms, kitchenettes, wine bars and big screen TVs. Originally intended as places for wealthy island car collectors to store their classic vehicles and hang out with friends while turning wrenches or watching sports with a cold beer at hand, they are attracting people with motorcycles, boats, RVs and other valuable things to store as well. And since Vic Lombardi and Joe Schulke discovered this untapped niche in the real estate market in 2018, demand has outpaced supply. READ FULL STORY


Deryl Loar runs for County Commission
week of August 26, 2021

Nearly nine months after leaving office, former sheriff Deryl Loar said last week he plans to run for office again next year – this time for Peter O’Bryan’s District 4 seat on the County Commission. O’Bryan, who was first elected in 2006, announced shortly before he was re-elected in 2018 that he would not seek a fifth term in 2022. “It took me eight months to realize I have a lot left in the tank,” said Loar, 53, who served 12 years as sheriff but chose to not seek a fourth term in 2020, when his hand-picked successor, Eric Flowers, was elected in a landslide. Loar said he believes his 30-plus years in law enforcement – he spent 20 years with the Florida Highway Patrol before becoming the sheriff here – provides the local knowledge, leadership experience and public recognition needed to serve on the commission. “I certainly care about this county,” he said, adding that he had been approached with job offers that would’ve required him to move, including “some interest” in him as a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. READ FULL STORY


Tracey Zudans runs for Vero City Council
week of August 26, 2021

It’s been nearly two years since the Vero Beach City Council has had someone named Zudans on the dais, but Tracey Zudans is hoping to change that in November. Former mayor Val Zudans’ tenure was often fraught with controversy, but at least people knew exactly where he stood on issues. Zudans frequently expressed gratitude to wife Tracey for supporting him in his efforts, and painted her as his rock – the very solid port to his somewhat stormy style of public service. Tracey Zudans hopes to build upon the credibility she earned during her nearly four years of service on the Indian River Hospital District Board of Trustees. A fiscal conservative recognized for her efforts by the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County, Zudans is a mother of four, a University of Florida graduate, an active volunteer and philanthropist. She resigned from the hospital board effective Jan. 31, citing family reasons. After being appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott to fill a vacancy and winning a term on her own, Zudans proved to be a strong leader who is not afraid to tackle tough, long-standing issues. READ FULL STORY


Fence going up to make Wabasso bridge safer for bikers
week of August 26, 2021

A 36-inch-high chain link fence is being installed on the “high bridge” section of the Wabasso Causeway in a long-overdue effort to make one of the most dangerous bike lanes in the state safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The fence is intended to supplement worn and weather-beaten 32-inch concrete barriers dating from 1960, which have been the only thing separating bikers from a drop into the Indian River Lagoon 60 feet below. While no such accidents have ever been reported, county officials have been urging the state for years to do something to make the heavily traveled bridge safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Originally a two-week project, the work was scheduled to have been completed by Aug. 4, but rain delays have left it unfinished, according to Brian Freeman, staff director of the Indian River County Municipal Planning Organization. With one lane closed during construction activity, work has been taking place late at night to minimize traffic impact. READ FULL STORY


Piper aircraft needs more workers to build planes
week of August 26, 2021

Piper Aircraft says the COVID-19 pandemic has left them short about 100 workers at their Vero Beach manufacturing campus, but they’re dealing with the Delta surge and still filling the orders coming in for their planes. “We have had an increase in cases, but, so far, we’ve been able to work through it,” Piper communications director Jackie Carlon said. “There has been no impact on production.” In fact, Piper announced last week it has received an order to produce 20 Pilot 100i single-engine trainers for flyGATEWAY Aviation Institute, a Liberty University Flight Training affiliate established in 2018 with locations in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The first 14 aircraft are scheduled for delivery in January, with the other six expected later in 2022. According to Piper, the airplanes will be spread across flyGATEWAY’s four locations to be used by the institute’s 35 flight instructors and 300-plus students enrolled in its pilot-training program. READ FULL STORY


Accused killer Perkins asks appeals court to remove judge from his case
week of August 26, 2021

Accused killer and former South Beach resident Asbury Lee Perkins, determined to have Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn removed from his case before the upcoming murder trial, has asked an appeals court to intervene. Perkins, who is representing himself from the Indian River County Jail where he’s been in custody since November 2015, filed a handwritten Petition of Prohibition with the 4th District Court of Appeals that covers Indian River County. Perkins filed the appeal after Vaughn denied a motion by Perkins to have Vaughn disqualify and remove himself from the case. Perkins argues that Vaughn has failed to issue orders formalizing his rulings on matters critical to the defense’s preparation for trial. The type of petition Perkins filed with the appeals court is not the typical appeal a defendant might file after a conviction if he or she felt a judge ruled unfairly on motions, objections or the admissibility of evidence at trial. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 surge filling ICUs at local hospitals
week of August 19, 2021

The COVID-19 surge here is pushing local hospitals closer and closer to the breaking point. More than 100 COVID patients were hospitalized at Cleveland Clinic Indian River as of Monday, doubled up in rooms. Twenty patients were packed into the hospital’s ICU, also two to a room, most on them on ventilators. “They are turning the post-anesthesia recovery area into an ICU,” a doctor working long hours with COVID-19 patients texted. “After that, no further ICU beds. We’re gonna be in TROUBLE!!!!!!” Nearly every day, COVID patients die, sometimes as many four in a day. In preparation for bigger troubles ahead, a refrigerated truck was staged at a bay behind the hospital; it has not yet been pressed into service as a temporary morgue, a spokesman said. But he added: “We have taken a number of steps to ensure we are as prepared as possible if the current COVID-19 surge continues for an extended period of time.” Healthcare workers are quitting in exhaustion, or catching COVID-19 themselves. Cleveland Clinic earlier this week was forced to cut the outpatient clinic schedules of its physicians in half to use their staff to shore up the ranks in the hospital. This followed an earlier decision to postpone all non-emergency surgeries. READ FULL STORY


Vaccine booster shots available locally now for those eligible
week of August 19, 2021

Jeff Powers has dealt with his share of bad luck: a bad bout of COVID-19 when no one even knew it was in town; a nerve disorder triggered by serious back surgery; and most recently, torn Achilles tendons that have left him in a wheelchair. Powers is ready to end that streak. Last weekend, he became one of the first to get a vaccine booster shot against coronavirus. As he wheeled up to the pharmacy of the Publix on Miracle Mile Sunday, it was the medication for the nerve disorder that earned him the right to the first COVID-19 booster shot the pharmacy had given out. Eligibility is on the honor system – no doctor’s note required. “There wasn’t a soul there,” he said. “Even in the wheelchair, the whole thing didn’t take me 15 minutes.” Powers was a hyper-athletic 60-year-old when he got very sick with what was apparently COVID-19 in early February 2020; he later tested positive for antibodies. “After that, I was panicked to get a shot when it came out,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Pandemic leads to time off for one third of city workers
week of August 19, 2021

Nearly one third of the City of Vero Beach’s employees have taken time off during the last year and a half either because they were diagnosed with the COVID-19 infection or had to quarantine after exposure to someone who tested positive. It’s tough to quantify the toll the pandemic has taken on private businesses because that information isn’t released to the public. The impact is most noticeable when a restaurant closes for a deep cleaning, or a “closed” sign temporarily appears on the door of a salon or small store. But the fact that the city’s records of employees out due to COVID are public gives a glimpse into how the pandemic is playing out in the larger community. Ninety-three people, or roughly 30 percent of the city’s 318 employees, have used the pandemic benefit of up to 10 paid days of leave for employees sick with COVID-19 or quarantined after exposure, with 20 of those employees exhausting the entire 10 paid days off. READ FULL STORY


Local private schools open with mandatory facemasks
week of August 19, 2021

While public schools grapple with whether to defy a statewide executive order and require facemasks on campus, local private schools took action, deciding it was time to mask up indoors – at least temporarily. The evening before the first bell of fall classes rang at St. Helen Catholic School in Vero and John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce, the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Palm Beach declared a mask requirement for students, teachers and staff. “While the diocese was hopeful to re-open our schools this August with the protocols and guidelines that were circulated to parents on July 15, 2021, the significant increase in positive cases and the high level of community transmission indicated below, call for a temporary return to the requirement of facial coverings or masks indoors, on buses and in large gatherings for all individuals (teachers, staff, parents, visitors, students K-12) on our school campuses,” the Catholic Schools Office memo reads. On the barrier island, St. Edward’s School started classes on Wednesday, with a requirement of masks for everyone on campus on a temporary basis. READ FULL STORY


Seaside Grill, Jaycee Park icon, decides 30 is enough
week of August 19, 2021

The Seaside Grill, a Jaycee Park icon for almost three decades, will see its current owners serve breakfasts and lunches to regulars and tourists for the last time next May. The restaurant is not closing because of COVID. “Eighteen hours a day, seven days a week for 30 years is enough,” said Dan Culumber, who along with wife Rose has operated the business since April 1992. While it is possible someone else may take over the facility, which is leased from the City of Vero Beach, a Seaside Grill under ownership of someone other than the Culumbers simply won’t be the same. Dan and Rose Culumber met while working at a Burger King in Chicago and moved to Vero Beach to be near Dan’s parents Rudy and Mary Culumber, shortly before the city invited bids to lease a snack bar then known as the Seaburger in 1991. Dan’s father made a successful bid, and the lease was assigned to Jaycee Park Seaside Grill, Inc. READ FULL STORY


It’s not just homes. Vero commercial property also is hot
week of August 19, 2021

It is a great time to own commercial property in Vero Beach. Lease rates weren’t knocked down by the pandemic, demand for retail and prime office space is surging, and property values are rising, according to commercial real estate brokers and owners. The boom appears to be driven by many of the same factors pushing the Vero housing market to record heights – a continuing influx of wealthy people fleeing large urban areas and bringing their purchasing power and business activities to the Treasure Coast. This migration includes executives looking for satellite office space and entrepreneurs launching new businesses to meet demand for goods and services that’s growing along with the population. The good times are most apparent on the island but extend to the mainland as well. “Leasing activity right now is the strongest I have seen in my career,” says developer and landlord Michael Rechter, who owns two large plazas on U.S. 1. between 17th Street and 12th Street. “We were worried last April and May, but the market surprised us. We typically stay pretty full, 90 to 91 percent leased up, but now it is more like 98 percent leased, which is a huge difference. READ FULL STORY


Joe Flescher to seek re-election, and opponent worries about redistricting
week of August 19, 2021

The Florida Constitution requires the state’s 67 county commissions to set new district boundaries every 10 years, after they receive the latest population numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. But a candidate who filed last month to run against County Commission Chairman Joe Flescher for his District 2 seat in 2022 said the four-term incumbent should recuse himself from any vote on a redistricting plan that eliminates her as his opponent. “He shouldn’t participate in the commission’s vote to approve a plan that redistricts his competition out of the race,” Gifford resident Elizabeth Siebert said. “There’s not only the appearance of impropriety, but he has an obvious conflict of interest. “If my district changes, it leaves me dead in the water,” she said. Siebert is concerned that, because of the county’s growth over the past decade, the district lines could shift in a way that moves her home to a district in which the commission seat is not up for election next year. Only the seats held by Flescher and Vice Chairman Peter O’Bryan will be on the 2022 ballot. READ FULL STORY


21st Amendment Distillery to open in Vero downtown
week of August 19, 2021

If the city approves, area residents can look forward to a distillery and tasting room – the 21st Amendment Distillery – opening in February in Vero’s old downtown across 13th Avenue from the Post Office. Jeff Palleschi, an ex-Marine who became passionate about bourbon while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, says he had time to develop and set in motion plans for the distillery during the COVID-19 lockdown when he could not travel as a sales representative for manufacturing companies. “I knew what I wanted to do, so I started planning and saving money. I was consumed with it. I learned everything I could about it and, now, here we are,” Palleschi said. “We’re going to start small in Vero, then expand across the Treasure Coast and Florida’s East Coast. I want to work my way up to New England and eventually be a household brand.” READ FULL STORY


Schools reopen with masks still optional – for now
week of August 12, 2021

As school districts across Florida reinstituted mandatory facemask policies in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, Indian River County School District stuck by its optional facemask policy for the reopening of schools Tuesday. But Schools Superintendent David Moore said Monday he might ask the School Board at its Aug. 24 meeting to reimpose a “mandatory” facemask policy if the pandemic continues to worsen. “We may want to make it a mandatory mask-wearing program,” Moore said during a Facebook Live presentation. “Those recommendations will be based on the reality of how we did during the first two weeks of school.” Currently, the school district “highly recommends” students and educators wear facemasks indoors when they cannot maintain 3 feet of space from others, Moore said. READ FULL STORY


‘As soon as I get out of here, I want to get the vaccine’
week of August 12, 2021

Three weeks and three days before the death of Dr. Kim Yerich, his beloved cousin, Elizabeth Pantano, made another of her routine pilgrimages from Vero Beach to South Carolina to see him. Going to the family farm near Charleston was like going home, Pantano says. She and her cousin grew up together there. Beth, as she is known, was happy to see Kim was his usual boisterous self. They sat on the porch and ate ribs and peach ice cream, and toured his Christmas tree farm. Kim showed her the addition he was building to the horse barn. “He was always a dreamer,” recalled Pantano last Sunday, one day after her cousin died of COVID-19. Seemingly overnight, Kim’s dreams had ended in a nightmare, a horror Pantano knows might have been prevented had her cousin agreed to be vaccinated. READ FULL STORY


Number of COVID-19 vaccinations rises as infections here set new record
week of August 12, 2021

New COVID-19 infections, boosted by the widely circulating Delta variant, increased 40 percent over the previous week, the case count rising from 682 to 955 and setting a new record for Indian River County of an average of 136 cases per day, up from 97 cases per day the previous week. The last time cases got nearly this high was in January when Indian River County saw an average of 120 cases per day or 840 in one week. For comparison, during the summer surge of 2020, the largest number of cases in one week was 385, or 55 per day. In early June, about eight people per day were testing positive. So, in two months, that number has risen by 1,600 percent. There’s some good news in the numbers, however, as the number of weekly vaccinations is also on an upward trend. In June, between 500 and 600 people were being vaccinated per week. Last week, 1,829 people were vaccinated, bringing the total number of people vaccinated in Indian River county to 98,485, or 68 percent of the eligible population 12 years and older. READ FULL STORY


Island home prices soar, and are seen likely to keep rising
week of August 12, 2021

As eager cash buyers continue to flock to Vero Beach from the Northeast, California and South Florida, home prices on the 32963 barrier island are up dramatically – and brokers expect them to keep rising. “Single-family home prices in John’s Island have risen a solid 25 percent across the board compared to last year at this time,” says John’s Island Real Estate broker Bob Gibb. “Condo prices are up 30-to-35 percent.” Marsha Sherry, broker at The Moorings Realty Sales Co., says the average price of condos sold by her agents in the south island country club community is up 20 percent, year-over-year, while the average price of single-family homes has risen an astonishing 45 percent. “We have been seeing a 25- to 30-percent year-over-year jump in price, which is extraordinary,” says Sally Daley, owner/broker at Daley & Company Real Estate. READ FULL STORY


Boardwalk regulars ask: Will this ever be finished?
week of August 12, 2021

Five months after the renovation of the popular Conn Beach boardwalk started – and two months after it was supposed to be completed – it is at best two-thirds done. Days go by with little sign of progress, and often with little sign of construction workers. The explanation, according to Vero Beach Assistant Public Works Director Richard Mutterback, lies in a combination of the discovery of unexpected structural damage and rainy weather. But the project is now expected to be ‘substantially complete’ by the end of August, Mutterback says. Ask any of the people who formerly used the boardwalk for their daily exercise if they believe that. The only thing most seemed prepared to believe last week was that the original budget of $396,000 has already increased by 10 percent. READ FULL STORY


Accused South Beach killer tries to get judge thrown off his murder case
week of August 12, 2021

Just weeks before he was expected to stand trial on first-degree murder charges for the 2015 shooting death of his business partner and estranged wife, former South Beach resident Asbury Lee Perkins attempted to get the judge thrown off his case. He claims Judge Dan Vaughn has failed to issue orders needed for his defense. Perkins, who has been representing himself with intermittent help from a stand-by, court-appointed defense attorney, petitioned Vaughn in April to appoint a private investigator to help him prepare his case for trial. The motion apparently was necessary due to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on the case, and on April 23, clerk’s notes on the case say Vaughn “addressed motions.” But Perkins argues that the lack of a written order from the judge has prevented him from engaging the services of the investigator. READ FULL STORY


Laura Riding Jackson house a hit in its college campus location
week of August 12, 2021

Two years after the Laura Riding Jackson house was moved from the Environmental Learning Center to the Vero campus of Indian River State College, the Laura Riding Jackson House Foundation and the school are enthusiastic about their partnership. Despite disruptions caused by the pandemic, the house has settled in and become a lively and attractive part of the IRSC Mueller Campus near 66th Avenue and Route 60, providing a venue for literary events, college and high school student academic and volunteer opportunities, and al fresco dining. Early on, the Foundation managed to make literary lemonade out of pandemic lemons with the first, and hopefully last, COVID-19 Writing Competitions, hosting a pair of writing and poetry contests in the spring and summer of 2020 “to unite the community during the COVID-19 lockdown.” More than 300 entries were submitted from students, poets and other writers, all inspired by the effects of COVID-19. READ FULL STORY


Island landowner cited for turning wooded tract into ‘moonscape’
week of August 12, 2021

An island landowner has been cited by Indian River County for clearing a 3-acre wooded tract near Round Island Park without a permit, leaving what a neighbor describes as “a moonscape” in place of wildlife habitat where a family of bobcats and abundant birdlife resided. Senior Environmental Planner Steven Hitt inspected the property at 1845 S. Highway A1A, last Tuesday and issued a notice of code violation to the owner, Charles J. Schiltz, who lives on Wyn Cove Drive on the island. One suspected violation involved the removal of an unspecified number of protected native and specimen trees without a permit, county records show. The maximum fine is $1,000 for each protected tree removed and $15,000 for each specimen tree. Specimen trees are hardwood trees that are in good health and have attained a certain size and diameter specified by the county. READ FULL STORY


Utility dispute could bring former Vero City Manager back as witness
week of August 12, 2021

If a pending breach of contract lawsuit between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach goes to trial, a key witness could wind up being former Vero City Manager Jim O’Connor. O’Connor, who has been retired the past two years, negotiated the 2012 deal, and the Shores contends Vero has not lived up to all that O’Connor promised. The Shores recently sent the city answers to interrogatories posed by Vero about the litigation and some familiar names came up in the 24-page document provided by the Shores’ outside attorney, Paul Berg, in response to a public records request. The first question from Vero to the Shores asks which people the Shores thinks have information or knowledge relevant to the allegations, pleadings or facts of the case. READ FULL STORY


Two pension board trustees file suit against Indian River Shores and former town officials
week of August 12, 2021

Two Indian River Shores Public Safety officers have filed suit against the town and former town officials, alleging that they and their jobs were unfairly targeted after a controversial vote they took in July 2019 as members of the public safety pension board. The Public Safety Pension Board of Trustees is made up of two members selected by the town, one firefighter, one police officer and a fifth member selected by the other four members. In 2019, Public Safety Sergeant William “Bart” Crosby served as the police officer and Firefighter-Medic Richard Villars served as the firefighter representing approximately 20 public safety employees in the pension plan. In July 2019, Crosby and Villars were two of the members present who voted 4-0 to increase the assumed rate of return on the pension fund by half a percent, from 6.25 percent to 6.75 percent – a decision that provoked ire from certain council members, in part because the decision reduced the amount of money employees were required to pay into the pension plan. READ FULL STORY


Departure of top surgeon leaves a void at hospital
week of August 5, 2021

Dr. Mark Malias, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Welsh Heart Center at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, resigned last week. Malias is the latest in a string of more than a half-dozen departures from the hospital’s much heralded Heart Center. His departure marks the first to leave a gap in care – however temporary – at the Vero hospital: lung surgery. Until he is replaced, Malias’ departure means patients requiring lung surgery – including for cancer – must face a commute to Stuart’s Martin Health North in order to get Cleveland Clinic care. Martin North is 1 hour and 10 minutes away from Indian River Hospital. Some may opt to leave the system and get care elsewhere. The nearest option would be Steward Sebastian River Medical Center, where Dr. Michael Greene is a well-regarded cardiothoracic surgeon doing both thoracotomy and robotic lung surgery. Others may seek treatment at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce, or head north to Brevard County’s Holmes Regional Medical Center, 47 minutes away. READ FULL STORY

Patients and colleagues praise Dr. Mark Malias
week of August 5, 2021

In the final weeks of cardiothoracic surgeon Mark Malias’ tenure at the Welsh Heart Center, he performed cardiac surgery on one of the oldest patients the center had ever treated. Today, just three weeks after an artificial valve was non-invasively inserted into her heart, Eleanor Carson, 98, rhapsodizes about the experience as if it had been one of life’s celebrations. “I have to tell you, I never had such a good time in my life. I had a wonderful time in that hospital,” she said. Carson had her own guest list in mind for that celebration – and it had to include Malias. She told her cardiologist, Dr. Brian DeoNarine, she would pass up the procedure if Malias wasn’t the surgeon. And when the heart center scheduler assigned her surgery with a different doctor saying Malias would be out of town, Carson wouldn’t hear of it. “I said, no, no, no, no, I have got to have Dr. Malias,” said Carson. “I would never badmouth somebody else, but that’s who I wanted.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 soars, but no back-to-school mandates permitted
week of August 5, 2021

As COVID-19 spikes in Indian River County, it’s up to individual students and educators to protect themselves against the virus by getting vaccinated and wearing facemasks for next Tuesday’s reopening of public schools. School Superintendent David Moore and the School Board have been rendered powerless to require facemasks or COVID-19 vaccinations by state laws banning local mandates, even as Florida set a record for new cases in a single day on Friday with 21,683. New COVID-19 cases jumped 81 percent in Indian River County in the past week and more than six-fold in the past four weeks to 682, the Florida Department of Health reported on July 29. The positivity rate in the county rose to 18.7 percent in the past week, a 21 percent increase compared to the previous week, state Health Department records show. Indian River County’s positivity rate as of July 29 was three times as high as July 1 when 6.2 percent of the county residents tested for COVID-19 were diagnosed with the virus. READ FULL STORY


Dr. Louise Dunn takes over as head of St. Ed’s lower school
week of August 5, 2021

The influx of new leadership at Saint Edward’s continues as the school welcomes Dr. Louise Dunn as head of the Lower School at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year. Dunn will be the latest new face on campus assuming her position just a year after Stuart Hirstein took over as head of school. The leader of the Upper School, Jack MacMullan, arrived two years earlier. Dunn replaces former Head of Lower School Barbara Mohler, who retired after 39 years’ service with a final clapping of the chalkboard erasers. A graduate of Norwich University in Vermont, Dunn holds a master’s degree in education from Endicott College in Massachusetts and a doctorate in education from Northeastern University in Boston. Her adventurous spirit took her to the Middle East, where she met her husband, Jerry, and his work as an airline pilot after leaving the U.S. Air Force took them to Norway, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai before their return to the U.S. READ FULL STORY


Plans for automobile museum in old Press Journal building placed on hold
week of August 5, 2021

Classic car collector and entrepreneur Wayne Gould said his dream of opening a car museum in Vero Beach has been indefinitely delayed. Gould, who owns Wayne’s Toys Tucson Classic Car Museum, went before the Vero Beach City Council a year ago to get a zoning change for his planned museum before purchasing the former Press-Journal property in December 2020 for $3 million. City officials welcomed the concept and unanimously granted Gould’s zoning request. At the time, Gould hoped the museum would open by the end of 2021. But last week, he said in an email the project is “on hold for now.” Apparently renovations have not begun. Vero’s planning and development director Jason Jeffries said in late June “the owner of the old Press Journal building has not submitted for any permits.” Gould’s vision for the 42,000-square-foot building includes an eventual “commercial aspect,” he said last fall, “but it’s going to be a museum first” featuring his private car collection. READ FULL STORY


PBS features Indian River Land Trust in episode of ‘Changing Seas’
week of August 5, 2021

People around the country will learn about the Indian River Land Trust in November when the latest episode of the PBS series “Changing Seas” airs nationwide. “Habitats: The Key to Florida’s Fisheries” – episode 1304 of the long-running, Emmy-winning series – reports on research being done at Land Trust properties along the lagoon aimed at protecting gamefish, especially snook and tarpon. Produced by South Florida PBS station WXEL-TV, the beautifully filmed 26-minute show aired on WXEL and sister station WPBT in July, where it was seen by more than 14,500 households, according to Jeneissy Azcuy, vice president of marketing and communications at South Florida PBS. Azcuy says the episode will be seen “pretty much everywhere in the country,” beginning in November. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback already,” says Land Trust Executive Director Ken Grudens, who appears in the episode alongside research scientists and state wildlife officials. We included a link in our latest e-news update to our constituents and I think it helps people understand that, besides acquiring land to protect the lagoon shoreline and wildlife habitat, we’re also always trying to improve the land we own – removing exotic species in upland tracts so native plants can flourish and working to improve wetlands to benefit water quality and the fisheries.” READ FULL STORY


Family battle over Strunk Funeral Home gets uglier
week of August 5, 2021

The ongoing legal dispute involving the Strunk Funeral Homes and Crematory got uglier last month when the businessman who claims to have purchased the real estate on which the longtime local business operates asked a judge to evict the founder’s adult children from the premises. In a lawsuit filed July 12 in Circuit Court in Vero Beach, James Young Jr. also seeks more than $300,000 in back rent and a court order preventing the current owners of the Strunk Funeral Homes from damaging, removing or disposing of any on-site property that belongs to him. Young’s petition – filed under the name of his business, Millennium Funeral Home and Crematory – is a countersuit in response to the lawsuit filed by Strunk’s owners in June. Joining Young’s lawsuit as a plaintiff is his aunt, Dorothy Strunk, whose husband, Glenn, owned the local funeral home business since 1973, running it for 47 years before he died in February 2020. Young, who said he has owned more than a dozen funeral homes and currently owns three crematories, claims he legally bought the Strunk properties from Dorothy Strunk for $3.1 million last month. READ FULL STORY


Vero to invest $7 million in boat storage building at marina
week of August 5, 2021

As locals scramble to find a place to stow away all the boats they bought during the pandemic watercraft-buying frenzy, the City of Vero Beach thinks it can capitalize on a long-term market trend by investing big in dry boat storage. During the city’s first round of budget talks, the city council gave staff unequivocal direction to plan on the largest of three options for a boat barn at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina on the barrier island. The proposals ranged from $3 million to $7.1 million total cost. The marina intends to finance construction of the new boat storage building using a loan from the city along with a $3.2 million contribution from the general fund. The city has a grant of $463,000 that can be applied to the cost and staff is looking at other grant opportunities to reduce the city’s share. READ FULL STORY


Barrier island about to get new bank
week of August 5, 2021

The Vero Beach barrier island is about to get a new bank. Cypress Trust Company, which currently has an office providing trust and investment management services at 4625 A1A, announced Monday that it had received full regulatory approval from the Federal Reserve to convert to a bank and trust under the name Cypress Bank and Trust Company. The Palm Beach-based bank said it plans to launch its “new suite of banking services this month, at four of its existing trust offices across the state of Florida” in Vero, Palm Beach, Melbourne and Jacksonville. “In business for more than two decades, we have a strong financial history, with deep connections to the local communities,” Dana Kilborne, CEO and president of Cypress Bank & Trust, said. READ FULL STORY


Vero to collect an extra $493,000 without changing property tax rate
week of August 5, 2021

Thanks to a boost in property values, the City of Vero Beach will have nearly a half million more dollars in property tax revenue to work with despite leaving the tax rate of $2.50 per thousand unchanged for the coming year. That $493,000 increase in tax revenues from a 6.1 percent increase in taxable property values almost offsets the $500,000 decrease this year in the temporary draw down from electric utility sale proceeds that the city calls the “glide path” to weaning Vero off the $5.6 million it used to count on from the electric utility. About 60 percent of that $5.6 million was paid by electric customers outside the city through exorbitant rates, which kept property taxes artificially low for city residents for decades. All area customers now pay the much lower FPL rates. READ FULL STORY


Time to start thinking about next Vero council election
week of August 5, 2021

Next year’s Vero Beach City Council will direct the planned riverfront development and will likely determine how the city resolves legal disputes with Indian River County and the Town of Indian River Shores over utility matters, so it’s important that there could be two open seats to fill in November. This year’s election could have a big financial impact on residents and businesses in another way, as well. If two people are elected who join Mayor Robbie Brackett in opposing the recently approved stormwater utility, that tax could be eliminated in 2022. Only one person, Vero Beach Young Republicans founder Taylor Dingle, has filed pre-qualifying paperwork to open a campaign account so far, but according to Vero City Clerk Tammy Vock there’s plenty of time for others to join the fray over the next few weeks. READ FULL STORY


County clashes with Vero over water and sewer rates
week of August 5, 2021

Vero Beach’s announcement that it plans to convert all of its water and sewer customers – those within the city limits, those outside the city living on the South Barrier Island, and those in the Town of Indian River Shores – to a new “one-rate” plan in 2022 has gotten an icy initial reception. County Administrator Jason Brown and County Attorney Dylan Reingold first heard the news two weeks ago at a meeting ostensibly intended to work out details of a new water-sewer franchise agreement for unincorporated South Barrier Island residents. Reingold and Brown in June had proposed a deal to gradually transition South Barrier Island water-sewer customers to controlled city rates in 2027 after six years on the county rate structure. In exchange for that, the county would agree not to challenge Vero’s claim of a permanent utility service territory, thereby ending a territorial dispute with the city. But within the first five minutes of the meeting, it was clear the county-proposed settlement deal was dead. READ FULL STORY


‘Younger, sicker’ COVID-19 patients pack Vero hospital
week of July 29, 2021

Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital reported the highest number of COVID-19 inpatients it has seen to date in the pandemic, with 50 patients hospitalized in its fifth-floor COVID wing and in a dedicated intensive care unit. Around 90 percent of those patients – 45 people – are unvaccinated, according to the hospital’s president, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, who sent out a letter informing community partners of the extraordinarily fast-arising surge that has resulted in “exponentially” higher hospitalizations in less than a month. “Those unvaccinated patients are younger and sicker patients than what we saw during previous surges, and many require intensive oxygen therapy,” he said. Equally alarming is the inference that of those 50 people admitted to the hospital, around 10 percent, or five patients, are so-called “breakthrough” cases in people who have been at least partially vaccinated. It is the highest number of hospitalizations since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Vero 16 months ago, Rosencrance said. READ FULL STORY


Not enough staff members in skilled nursing facilities here vaccinated against COVID-19
week of July 29, 2021

One year ago, when Sea Breeze nursing home had nearly 60 cases of COVID-19, Laura Graves was desperate to transfer her chronically ill mother out of there. But before she could, her mom too tested positive. Unlike eight others at Sea Breeze who died, Graves’ mom had few symptoms and recovered. Today, Graves gets to visit her mom – masked and in a special visiting room – at Consulate Healthcare, where her mother moved last April. She is happier, Graves said, and getting good care. As for COVID-19, Graves is convinced that her mom’s infection gave her lasting immunity. That would be fortunate for her. But it doesn’t help the rest of Consulate’s unvaccinated residents – a number that is nearly half its current census. According to federal data from mid-July, at Consulate, only 56 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated and only two out of every 15 staff members. The data comes from a federal CMS database that began publishing biweekly nursing home COVID data last month. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores estate sells for $22 million sight unseen
week of July 29, 2021

Famed money manager Dennis Stattman demonstrated his Midas touch last week when he sold his Indian River Shores estate for a cool $22 million to a California businessman purchasing it as a vacation spot. The out-of-town buyer – who paid $12 million more for the oceanfront property at 10 Ocean Lane than Stattman paid in 2017 – purchased the estate without ever viewing it in person within a day or two of seeing an online link sent to him by his agent, Susan Rane of Keller Williams. The sale continues a trend of dramatically rising oceanfront prices on Vero’s barrier island, as wealthy buyers from South Florida, the Northeast, California and other locales jet into town to purchase world-class waterfront homes that would cost much more in the places they come from. “We had more showings of this house than any other ultra-luxury property we have ever listed,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare, who with her partner Richard Boga represented Stattman. READ FULL STORY


Island hotels agree: ‘Things couldn’t be going any better!’
week of July 29, 2021

After a scary shortage of guests during the pandemic summer of 2020, island hotels are back on track, fuller in some cases than they have ever been at this time of year and booked well into the future. The big resort hotels are thriving, and small hotels are packed, according to multiple interviews conducted last week by Vero Beach 32963. “Things couldn’t be going any better,” said Boris Gonzalez, Caribbean Court Boutique Hotel owner. “We’re busier than ever. We’ve had the best April, May, June and July since 2007.” “We’re sold out through August,” reported South Beach Place manager Nikki Barroso. “Our high season is already sold out too.” Barroso said that in prior summers, there were weeks when only one room was rented, and she would offer packages to attract guests. This year, guests are even booking during September and October – peak hurricane months. READ FULL STORY


Driver in fatal A1A crash behind bars
week of July 29, 2021

Jamie Jarvonte Williams, the apparent driver who on Memorial Day ran down and killed South Beach resident Michael Gianfrancesco and his dog while they were walking along A1A, has been arrested and is being held without bond in the St. Lucie County Jail for violating his probation in a 2018 felony case. According to St. Lucie County court records, an Indian River County Sheriff’s deputy contacted Williams’ probation officer on June 22 – three weeks after the crash, and five days after a Vero Beach 32963 article stated that Williams had been released by the Florida Highway Patrol even though he was on probation and not supposed to be in Indian River County on May 31 when Gianfrancesco was struck near The Dunes community where he lived. A warrant was obtained on July 2 and 28-year-old Williams was booked into the county jail just after midnight on July 6. He is being held without bond while awaiting a violation of probation hearing before Judge Lawrence Mirman. READ FULL STORY


Dr. Dennis Saver, ‘champion’ for the vulnerable, dies at 68
week of July 29, 2021

Dr. Dennis Saver, described by colleagues, patients and medical students he mentored as the quintessential old-fashioned family physician, passed away Wednesday, July 21 at age 68. Saver moved to Vero Beach in 1990 and in 1994 was a founder of Primary Care of the Treasure Coast, from which he retired in September 2019. Even after retirement, however, he continued to be the force behind We Care, the healthcare nonprofit he was instrumental in founding 30 years ago. Under Saver’s unwavering and compassionate guidance, We Care grew to provide medical treatments valued at more than $1 million annually to indigent and uninsured residents of our community, through its volunteer network of physicians and other health care professionals. In December 2015, with the support of the community, the organization opened the We Care Clinic in a wing of the Gifford Health Center that is staffed with a full-time primary care physician and support staff. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach High football fans have new online viewing option
week of July 29, 2021

Vero Beach High School football fans who can’t get to the Citrus Bowl – or simply prefer the convenience of watching from their living rooms – will be able to access live-stream telecasts of the Fighting Indians’ home games this season. But not on YouTube as in the past. And not for free. Instead, the newly created Vero Nation Network – a partnership between the school’s athletic department and Christian FM, the local radio station that broadcasts the Fighting Indians’ games – will offer the telecasts on a pay-per-view basis. The live stream will be produced by Florida-based QwikCut Video & Analytics with audio provided by the Christian FM radio broadcast team, headed by play-by-play announcer Paul Tipton and longtime football analyst Gary Parris. According to Vero Beach Football Coach and Athletic Director Lenny Jankowski, subscribers can buy access to individual games for $15 apiece or purchase a season pass for $125. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Bridge Center again open for face-to-face card games
week of July 29, 2021

The Vero Beach Bridge Center, one of the top duplicate bridge clubs in North America, reopened July 5 with gala Independence Day-themed festivities after a 16-month pandemic hiatus. The bridge club’s directors decided to require players to be vaccinated against the virus in order to participate in face-to-face games on Monday and Friday afternoons, basing the decision on a survey of the group’s 850 members, said co-managers Jamie Portell and Martha Glassmeyer. “That was one of the questions: ‘Would you feel safe returning to play if everyone were vaccinated?’” Portell said. “The majority did not want to play if masks were required, but the majority were fine with requiring vaccination.” A new state law bars the nonprofit group from requiring proof of vaccination, so the honor system is in effect, Portell said. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases soar, quadrupling in just three weeks
week of July 22, 2021

Indian River County has not escaped the nationwide surge of cases being attributed to the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, as new cases rose 73 percent this past week, going from 125 the week ending July 8 to 216 the week ending July 15. The Indian River County Health Department could not confirm that the Delta variant has been documented in Indian River County patients – our questions were forwarded to the Florida Department of Health communications office instead of answered locally – but the numbers point to the more easily transmissible Delta variant. At the end of June, the weekly case count here was 51, or roughly seven per day. Now that number has more than quadrupled to 31 per day. The seven-day average of cases spiking 70 percent last week made national headlines, with Florida one of the states hit especially hard accounting for one in five cases nationally, according to CDC data. The current daily average for new infections puts us about where we were in mid-April, except in mid-April there were a lot more people getting tested, as the positivity rate ranged from 4 percent to 7 percent on the typical day. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic nurses union faces decertification vote
week of July 22, 2021

For the first time in nearly two decades, the union representing some 470 registered nurses at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital is facing a challenge that could result in its ouster. The election, expected to be held in a matter of weeks if approved by the National Labor Relations Board, comes after a petition calling for the decertification vote was signed by more than 30 percent of the nursing staff – the required minimum to force an election. The call for an election comes just as negotiations are getting underway on a new two-year contract, with the existing union agreement, signed by hospital president Greg Rosencrance in 2019, slated to expire Sept. 30. In a conference room in the hospital’s executive wing, the two sides were meeting for the second time this week to hammer out terms in a new agreement, even as the move to oust the union is underway. The petition was filed by a Cleveland Clinic nurse, Chontal Hashemzadeh. According to the union, Hashemzadeh works on a per diem basis, meaning she is not part of the full-time staff and may work at other hospitals. She could not be reached for comment. READ FULL STORY


Vero seeks to expand STEP system in Shores, South Beach
week of July 22, 2021

Now that half the 900 island homes with septic tanks in the Vero city limits are equipped with a Septic Tank Effluent Pump (STEP) system or are on the waiting list, the city is looking at converting more than 1,400 homes with septic tanks on the South Barrier Island and in the Town of Indian River Shores into new sewer customers. STEP systems drain off the liquid waste from septic tanks, and pump that to a sanitary sewer line, reducing the chances that raw sewage would leach into the Indian River Lagoon. Vero focused on its city customers on the island first due to their proximity to the lagoon. Five years later, there are still 444 septic tanks on the barrier island within the city limits not hooked up to a STEP system. Three fourths of those are more than 40 years old and many are direct waterfront. Of the island septic owners who had their systems inspected, one third failed inspection. There are still roughly 75 homeowners who have not complied with Vero’s Dec. 31 deadline to have an inspection and pump-out. READ FULL STORY


At the Island Club, newspaper home delivery not what it used to be
week of July 22, 2021

For the past couple of months, home delivery of the Press Journal hasn’t been what it used to be for residents of the Island Club Riverside. If they want a daily newspaper, residents have to walk or drive to the community’s gates each morning to fish it out of a pile of papers that have been dumped there. “We have a lot of unhappy people,” said Keith Thompson, president of the Island Club Homeowners Association. “Some are canceling their subscriptions because they can’t get their newspapers delivered to their homes. The drivers just drop the papers outside the gate.” It’s been this way for nearly two months, since the HOA stopped allowing drivers for the Press Journal’s home-delivery vendor to enter the community. The reason? On Dec. 19, one of the drivers for the vendor that Gannett uses to deliver its papers, Karen Runnels, apparently dozed while entering the Island Club Riverside community shortly after 4 a.m. and crashed her minivan into a concrete sign at the gate, destroying the structure and damaging the surrounding landscape. READ FULL STORY


Demand for building lots mirrors the frenzy of the island housing market
week of July 22, 2021

A historically low number of homes for sale in Vero is driving a demand for building lots and custom homes that mirrors the frenzy of the housing market as a whole. While some of the lots are being purchased by builders for spec homes that often sell before the foundations are laid, many are going to end-users – frustrated buyers who have given up on finding a resale home that meets their needs and decided to build. “I am definitely seeing a greater demand for building lots,” says Janyne Kenworthy, a broker associate with ONE Sotheby’s International Realty who has sold two lots on the north island in recent months. “There are hardly any lots left in Ambersand and people are grabbing what they can because there are so few resale homes available.” “People are getting frustrated at not being able to find anything and making the leap to go ahead and build,” says Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices agent Chip Landers. “It is both island and mainland. As soon as a lot is listed for sale, it’s gone. In this market, I can sell building lots all day long.” READ FULL STORY


Drowning death of St. Ed’s senior in April ruled ‘accident’
week of July 22, 2021

An autopsy performed on Bidensky “BT” Termidor revealed the St. Edward’s School senior had a blood-alcohol level above Florida’s legal-driving limit and evidence of marijuana use in his system when he jumped off an on-campus dock and drowned in the Indian River Lagoon in late April. Despite those findings, 19th Circuit Chief Medical Examiner Patricia Aronica ruled Termidor’s death an “accident” and said she was unable to determine whether the alcohol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the victim’s blood were factors that contributed to his death. “What I can say, for sure, is that he drowned, and it was an accident,” Aronica said. “I can also say he had alcohol and THC in his blood at the time of death.” According to the toxicology report included in the autopsy, Termidor had a blood-alcohol content of .083, just over the state’s .08 limit to drive legally. The drowning occurred at about 3 p.m. April 30, when St. Edward’s seniors embarked on a last-day-of-class rite of passage that began spontaneously nearly 15 years earlier. READ FULL STORY


Shores scolds county for offer to Vero in utility dispute
week of July 22, 2021

Vero Beach and Indian River County top staffers were meeting this week to settle a dispute regarding Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory beyond city limits. The claimed territory includes the South Barrier Island and the Town of Indian River Shores, and the Shores’ utilities attorney has strongly opposed the county’s foray into a deal with Vero, calling it “a per se antitrust conspiracy.” County Administrator Jason Brown and County Attorney Dylan Reingold last month told Vero officials the county would agree not to challenge Vero’s territorial claims based upon a 32-year-old document if Vero charges the unincorporated South Beach customers county rates until 2027, then shifts them to city rates with a 5-percent rate increase cap until 2032, after which they would transition to regular city rates. “They (Vero) seem to be receptive of that,” Brown told the County Commission last week, adding that the county staff is “trying to provide some rate protection for the South Barrier Island customers.” If the parties come to terms, a new water-sewer franchise agreement would be executed, locking the South Barrier Island into Vero’s utility. Vero has been serving the South Beach customers with no valid franchise agreement since the old contract expired in 2017. READ FULL STORY


Fall enrollment up at Beachland Elementary School
week of July 22, 2021

Beachland Elementary School anticipates welcoming an additional 34 students when the new school year starts Aug. 10, increasing the total number of students to 548. Enrollment at the barrier island’s only public school has increased by 15 percent since 2018-2019 when there were 477 students, records show. The 69-student jump in enrollment in the past three years at Beachland, an A-rated school with an average daily attendance of 95 percent, stood out among the county’s 13 elementary schools. Other county schools that saw sizable increases in their enrollment in the past three years were Osceola Elementary with 36 additional students and Liberty Elementary with 24 additional students. Overall, Indian River County public schools expect 17,406 students to show up for the new school year, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to the recently completed COVID-19 pandemic year. READ FULL STORY


School Department to closely screen curriculum for inappropriate lessons
week of July 22, 2021

The Florida Board of Education’s last-minute approval of Amplify Education’s K-5 English Language Arts curriculum spared Indian River County public school officials from being stuck with a curriculum that triggered a public backlash from conservative parents and political activists. But School Superintendent David Moore said elementary school educators still intend to closely screen all of Amplify’s materials for potentially inappropriate stories and lessons as they prepare the new school year starting Aug. 10. Even though no one criticized Amplify’s curriculum during recent School Board meetings, it seems inevitable someone will interpret an element of the educational materials as being objectionable based on the divisive nature of politics throughout the United States, Moore said. County School Board meetings in April, May and June featured dozens of speakers arguing passionately about nationally controversial topics such as Culturally Responsive Teaching and Social Emotional Learning, which some claimed they found in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-5 ELA curriculum. Opponents of the Houghton Mifflin curriculum, such as Vero Beach barrier island political activist Susan Mehiel and the Education Action Coalition, argued it was too progressive, minimized the importance of family and overemphasized the prevalence of racism in society. READ FULL STORY


New software ups the stress level at Cleveland Clinic
week of July 15, 2021

Longtime Vero Beach neurologist Dr. Leslie Huszar believes in working past retirement age – keeping the brain stimulated is good, he says. Living with chronic stress, though, is not good. And when he came out of retirement to go back to work with Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, the stress was epic. Literally. Cleveland Clinic has used Epic, the electronic health records software, longer than almost any other hospital system. After Cleveland Clinic’s takeover of the Vero hospital in 2019, Epic had to be installed in order for Indian River to link with the rest of the system’s 18 hospitals. So far, only the outpatient practices and facilities have had to deal with the transition, and among those, Vero Radiology and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast practices have yet to make the change. Even so, the outpatient go-live has been bumpy to say the least, derailing phone systems for months and provoking untenable frustration levels for staff and physicians. Since the September launch of Epic, more than a dozen physicians and advanced practitioners have resigned, including some of the hospital’s best. READ FULL STORY


Strunk Funeral Homes at center of family feud
week of July 15, 2021

In a Peyton Place-like drama, the owners of the Strunk Funeral Homes and Crematory have accused the company founder’s widow of fraudulently selling the real estate on which the longtime local business operates to a new company that allegedly wants to offer similar services on the property. In a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in Vero Beach last month, Strunk Funeral Homes is asking Judge Janet Croom to “preserve the status quo” by issuing a temporary restraining order and injunction to prohibit the defendants from interfering with the funeral home’s operations until the properties’ ownership disputes can be legally resolved. The lawsuit also requests the disputed properties be placed in a trust to prevent Dorothy Strunk from selling or transferring ownership of other local real estate in which the funeral home claims to have a vested interest. In addition, the lawsuit seeks the voiding of Dorothy Strunk’s sale of the funeral home property to her nephew, James W. Young Jr., who owns Millennium Funeral Home and Crematory LLC. Named as defendants are Dorothy Strunk, whose husband, Glenn, owned the local funeral home business since 1973, running it for 47 years before he died in February 2020; Young, who purchased the Strunk properties last month for $3.1 million; and Millennium. READ FULL STORY


Iceland: What ‘normal’ looks like when people get vaccinated
week of July 15, 2021

Want a glimpse of how much better the future could be if only enough people would get vaccinated to protect the most vulnerable? My wife and I just got a brief look at such a world on a 10-day visit to Iceland. Unlike Indian River County, where COVID-19 is again surging and nearly 18 people a day are testing positive (see accompanying story), Iceland – with a population twice that of our county – reported NO new cases during the most recent one-week period. None. Zero. In fact, as of the start of this week, no new positives – except for a handful discovered in arriving tourists – have been reported in Iceland since late May. Might that possibly have anything to do with vaccinations, which have fallen way off here in Vero? In recent weeks, Iceland’s vaccination rate has soared – the countrywide total of those fully vaccinated last week passed 70 percent, with an additional 18 percent of adults partially vaccinated and awaiting a second shot. The result: On June 26, Iceland became the first country in Europe to drop all restrictions on its residents, including social distancing, mask-wearing, and limits on gatherings. And on July 1, visitors with an approved vaccination certificate no longer had to undergo testing to enter the country. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 infections here double as number getting vaccinated declines
week of July 15, 2021

The rate of new, weekly COVID-19 infections here more than doubled over the past two weeks, as the number of people getting vaccinated continues to steadily decline. The number of new infections rose from 51 cases during the week ending June 24 to 95 cases during the week ending July 1 to 125 cases during the week ending July 8. So less than three weeks ago, fewer than eight people per day were being infected. Now that number is nearly 18 per day. To put that in perspective, the last time Indian River County saw a new infection rate this high was late April, so two-and-a-half months’ worth of progress has been wiped out in two weeks. The local case positivity rate – the percentage of people tested who turn up positive for COVID-19 – also more than doubled in that same span of time, rising from 3.1 percent the week ending June 24 to 8.3 percent the week ending July 8. We only have weekly data now since the Florida Department of Health discontinued daily reporting. READ FULL STORY


Island’s newest community, Seaglass, about to break ground
week of July 15, 2021

Ground-breaking is expected “any day now” for what will become the island’s newest community, Seaglass, located across from the Disney Resort on Highway A1A. Bill Handler, president of GHO Homes, said the county approved a land development permit last month for the start of work on a 72-home subdivision on a prime 26-acre tract at the intersection of A1A and Route 510. In the current hot home market, Handler doesn’t intend to waste any time getting started. He said new homes will be available for purchase in Seaglass in 2022. GHO intends to create an “Old Florida” ambiance in the subdivision, a statement backed up by a county staff report prepared for the Planning and Zoning Commission that says the developer will “preserve or relocate a majority of the hardwood trees within preservation tracts and or perimeter buffers READ FULL STORY


Pete Sweeney heir apparent to post of Shores Town Attorney
week of July 15, 2021

Fort Pierce City Attorney Pete Sweeney was the only applicant interviewed out of five lawyers who applied to replace Indian River Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem, so while he has not been hired yet, it seems the decision is a formality at this point. Sweeney, a longtime Vero Beach resident, resigned from his post as top legal counsel of the City of Fort Pierce on May 20, giving the city 90 days’ notice, before interviewing with each of the five Shores Town Council members. The Shores job is only part-time, but Sweeney will also have a new full-time position as a member of Block and Scarpa law firm on Miracle Mile in Vero, where Chester Clem’s daughter Mary Kate Clem is an associate. Should the council vote next week to hire him, as expected, Sweeney is eager to get started and available to start work for the town as soon as Aug. 1, he said on Monday. READ FULL STORY


3 small commercial buildings on A1A are being renovated by new owners
week of July 15, 2021

Three commercial buildings along a 1.5-mile stretch of Highway A1A, from just south of Beachland Boulevard to Shore Drive near the northern Vero city limit, are being renovated by new owners for new purposes, including an architect’s office, a CPA’s office and, most likely, a new island real estate office. Cumulatively, the three projects comprise a small but significant upgrade of the island’s built environment, as buildings that had become shabby and/or unused are brought back to life with notable upgrades. One block south of Beachland Boulevard, the two-story building at 664 Azalea, at the intersection of Azalea and A1A, is being renovated by architect Clem Schaub as an office for his architectural firm, Clem Bruns Schaub and Associates. Good things usually happen when an architect designs something for him- or herself, and that appears to be the case with this building, where a floating exterior staircase can be seen wrapping around and showcasing “an incredible old oak tree” near a near a small entry courtyard. READ FULL STORY


A1A speed limit will be restored to 45 mph, but not until the fall
week of July 15, 2021

Island residents who haven’t seen any work being done along A1A – from just north of Vero Beach to the Wabasso Causeway – are asking when the reduced-for-construction speed limit will be returned to 45 mph. The latest projection? Late September. “I’ve been getting a lot of those inquiries,” said Kathleen Dempsey, local spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6.7 million road-widening project, which began 13 months ago and prompted the speed limit to be lowered to 35 mph. “I can tell you the 45-mph speed limit will be restored when the project is completed, but we’re not done yet,” she added. “The entire corridor is still an active construction zone, and you’ll still see lane closures.” FDOT District Communications Manager Billy Canedo wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963 last week the project was “substantially complete,” but that the agency doesn’t expect its work to be totally finished until “towards the end of September.” READ FULL STORY


Brightline contractors step up work on bridges and crossings for high-speed rail
week of July 15, 2021

Brightline contractors have moved more construction equipment and materials into Indian River County in the aftermath of a peace accord that ended a seven-year conflict between the county and the high-speed passenger rail company. HSR Constructors placed stacks of railroad crossing foundation panels near most of the county’s 32 Florida East Coast Railway crossings, including alongside the tracks behind downtown’s historic Vero Beach Train Station. The contractors also deployed several bulldozers and front-end loaders at the railroad crossings at Highland Drive and 1st Street in South Vero to clear brush and grade the FEC right-of-way for a second set of railroad tracks. The uptick in activity came in the month since Brightline settled the county government’s state lawsuit against the company by agreeing to make $31 million in safety enhancements at railroad crossings and along the tracks. READ FULL STORY


South Island residents organize to gain clout in utility discussions
week of July 15, 2021

South Beach residents who live in the unincorporated county don’t have a town council or mayor to represent their interests in utility matters, but they still want a seat at the table when major decisions are contemplated. A case in point is Indian River County’s proposal to settle a utility dispute with Vero Beach by signing a new franchise agreement with the city to continue providing water-sewer service to south island neighborhoods. For the past four years, while Vero has served south island residents with water and sewer without a franchise agreement because the county and city couldn’t agree on the contract language, the residents have still been paying a 6 percent franchise fee. And they still have utility rates and bills they can’t understand. While living in this utility limbo, a loose coalition of residents who live south of the Vero city limits recently gathered to research water-sewer utility issues as they relate specifically to the history of legal agreements and ownership of utility assets in The Moorings and surrounding communities. READ FULL STORY


17th Street bridge repairs only a temporary fix
week of July 15, 2021

Repairs to the 17th Street bridge that have disrupted traffic for eight months and are set to continue until at least November are just an interim solution, with the 42-year-old bridge now set for a major overhaul in 2024, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Since early December, both eastbound and westbound traffic on and off the barrier island have been routed to the eastbound side of the bridge while the westbound side of the bridge is being repaired. That was slated to take three months but now is scheduled to take three times that long. “The repairs have gone slower than originally planned due to scope changes and cure times for the new concrete,” said FDOT District Four Communications Manager Guillermo Canedo. “They found more that needed to be done,” Canedo said, noting that the bridge also sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, which added tasks on top of the bridge before the work could begin underneath. “It was initially a lighting repair project that evolved into another type of repair. READ FULL STORY


School district is joining forces with Foundation
week of July 8, 2021

The school district has partnered with the Education Foundation of Indian River County to try to tap into the wellspring of philanthropy on the barrier island to help pay for new school facilities and advanced programs. It seemed more efficient to work with the independent foundation that has provided money for public and private schools for three decades, rather than starting a new foundation from scratch, said School Superintendent David Moore. Education Foundation Executive Director Douglas Herron and the school district’s director of instructional innovation, Cindy Emerson, have been working together for several months to improve coordination between the two agencies. School administrators were in the process of creating a new foundation to support the district when new leaders in both organizations realized they could work well together, Moore and Herron said. In conjunction with the Education Foundation’s new focus on raising money from different sources and developing relationships with island philanthropists, the school district will assume responsibility for running the annual Science and Engineering Fair, Moore and Herron said. READ FULL STORY


Prime lots, great river views, but few houses
week of July 8, 2021

Grand Harbor is the scene of the Great Vero Real Estate Mystery of 2021. For reasons unknown, 142 prime ready-to-build lots – many with some of the prettiest riverfront views to be found anywhere around – are being allowed by GB Vero Beach Development to lay fallow during the strongest seller’s market in memory. “It is kind of confusing,” says Grand Harbor Club general manager Michael Gibson.“You are in the middle of the biggest housing boom in the history of the world, and it is hard to understand why any developer would be sitting on their hands and not building.” GBVB construction manager Cameron Luedke, who just finished the last new home available in Grand Harbor, a luxurious riverfront villa, says new home starts there wound down last summer as the second COVID-19 surge cast a dystopian pall over the country. Since then, the developer has been completing homes already started, including the modernist villa on the river, which just got its certificate of occupancy and is listed for $2,995,000 by ONE Sotheby’s broker associate Michael Thorpe. READ FULL STORY


Massive home on Ocean Drive sells for $16.8 million
week of July 8, 2021

An oceanfront home once listed for $35 million – a record asking price for Vero at that time – sold last week for $16,813,000. The seller was businesswoman and developer Katherine McConvey, who completed the house as a personal residence in 2014 and later decided to offer it for sale, testing the market with a price never before seen on the island. The buyers are a couple from California with several children who love the home’s dramatic, modern architecture and the in-town location, according to listing agent Kay Brown of Premier Estate Properties. “When they flew in to look at the house the first time, it got to be dinnertime and I told them they could just leave their car at the house and walk down Ocean Drive to eat, which they really liked,” Brown says. “They had a young boy with them, and I told them where they could get him some ice cream as well.” READ FULL STORY


Kenneth Earl Padgett, visionary developer, dies at 100
week of July 8, 2021

Kenneth Earl Padgett, a longtime resident of Vero Beach who was developer of the island Holiday Inn, the South Beach community of Seagrove, and known as a visionary with a ‘Midas touch’ for real estate, passed away on June 30 at age 100. Padgett was born on April 24, 1921, in Panama City, Florida, flew the China-Burma-India route over the Himalayan Mountains as an Army Air Corps pilot during the World War II, and was a foundational developer in the Florida Panhandle and Vero Beach. The purchaser late in life of Bay Bank and Trust, Padgett pledged 10 percent of the bank’s earnings to local charities and civic organizations. “Because of his ownership of the bank, he was instrumental in financing Quail Valley River Club, both personally and through Bay Bank,” said his daughter Cathy, illustrating another important impact Padgett had on the island and Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


State OKs non-controversial curriculum in time for deadline
week of July 8, 2021

The school district’s three-month-long contretemps over the elementary school English curriculum for the upcoming school year has been resolved by state education bureaucrats. The Florida Department of Education decided Friday to place Amplify Education Inc.’s Core Knowledge Language Arts Grades K through 5 instructional materials on the state approved list. That decision enabled school administrators to order instructional materials from the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based publisher in time for use in the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, which starts August 10th. The state Education Department initially blocked Amplify Education’s K-5 English Language Arts curriculum, saying it did not meet new Florida standards, but the company prevailed upon appeal with county school officials supporting the cause. The school district’s curriculum review committee had selected Amplify Education’s K-5 and 6-8 curriculums for the 2021-2022 school year. Had Amplify Education lost its appeal, the School Board’s fallback position would have been to order K-5 English curriculum materials from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of Boston. READ FULL STORY


‘Bahamas or bust!’ – Grady Bunch resumes annual Abacos cruise
week of July 8, 2021

As the Vero Beach “Grady Bunch” prepares for its annual summer boat trip to the Bahamas, Brian Cunningham admits there’s a different feel to this one. “We go over there every year, but this won’t be the same old thing,” said Cunningham, the Vero Marine Center owner who will lead a group of 10 boats that will depart Sunday on a 10-day excursion to the Abaco Islands and back. “There’s more excitement this year, more of a curiosity factor,” he added. “We didn’t go last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and people want to see what the place looks like after Hurricane Dorian. “It’s a little more of an adventure this time.” It’s also one of the smaller Grady Bunch groups to make the five-hour trip from Vero Beach – down the Indian River Lagoon, out the Fort Pierce Inlet and across the Gulf Stream – to West End on the island of Grand Bahama. Cunningham said the group usually has 12 to 16 boats, but he limited this trip to 10 because many of the resorts, hotels and restaurants in the Abacos haven’t fully recovered from Dorian, which pummeled the Bahamas the first three days of September 2019 and devastated the islands. READ FULL STORY


Construction on 17th St. bridge to drag into fall
week of July 1, 2021

The 17th Street bridge will be under construction with limited traffic flow through at least October, when the first wave of seasonal residents returns to the barrier island. The Florida Department of Transportation last fall said repairs on both sides of the bridge would take a total of six months, with the westbound side closed first until January, then the eastbound side closed through March. But the westbound side wasn’t closed until December, supposedly pushing the finish date back to June. It’s now July, however, and work is not complete on the westbound side. Meantime, no work has been done on the eastbound side, where one-way traffic has been moving for months in both directions. The $1.1 million project has taken twice as long as expected for the westbound side so far. A June 25 FDOT construction update sent to Vero City Manager Monte Falls said work on the westbound side of the bridge is now expected to continue through July: “Eastbound and westbound traffic on the 17th Street Bridge is down to one lane in each direction around the clock through summer 2021 for bridge beam repairs. Currently, westbound traffic on 17th Street Bridge is diverted to the eastbound travel lane through July 2021,” the update stated. READ FULL STORY


‘Hidden inventory’ fueling record sales of island real estate
week of July 1, 2021

With the number of homes listed for sale on the island at a historic low, real estate agents would seem to be in a tough spot, struggling to find houses to show eager would-be buyers and closing fewer purchases than in prior years. Instead, island brokers shattered unit-sales and dollar-volume records in the first half of the year, finding ways to close more transactions than ever despite the scarcity of active listings. Brokers say this paradox is explained by a phenomenon called “hidden inventory” – homes that are quietly put on the market and sell before they ever make it into the MLS. “Inventory started to drop in June of last year, right after Florida reopened from the pandemic shutdown in May,” says Carol Prezioso, managing broker at the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices office on the island, where dollar volume was up 50 percent in the first five months of 2021 compared the same period in 2020. By this May, there were only 200 active listings on the island, including single-family homes, condos and townhouses, down from nearly 700 in May 2020, according to data provided by Prezioso. READ FULL STORY


Municipal Marina feuds with non-marina boaters
week of July 1, 2021

The Vero Beach Municipal Marina, which “prides itself on being a center for maritime information and hospitality for over 3,000 visiting boats each year,” isn’t showing much love to one segment of the local boating community. Boaters who live year-round on their vessels – typically 30- to 40-foot sailboats, anchored legally in the Indian River Lagoon, within city limits but outside the marina – complain they are being treated unfairly. According to several of these boaters, a Vero city ordinance that prohibits docking or tying up on city property anywhere “except at the city marina” leaves them very few legal locations to land the dinghies they use to get to shore. “I don’t understand the city’s attitude,” said Greg Husak, who lives aboard a 36-foot sailboat in the lagoon. “We’re not a nuisance. Our boats are our homes, and our dinghies are like our cars. They are our transportation. People leave their cars on city property for a lot longer than we leave our dinghies. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 plan for coming school year: No vaccine requirement, masks optional
week of July 1, 2021

Public school students will not be required to be immunized against COVID-19 for the upcoming school year, School Superintendent David Moore said last week. Facemasks will be optional when schools reopen Aug. 10, but “mask shaming” is banned. Facial coverings won’t even be required on school buses, Moore told the School Board last Tuesday during a workshop meeting while presenting his COVID-19 Transition Plan. Almost everything else in students’ daily routine is due to get back to normal in the post-pandemic school year, with extracurricular activities resuming and visitors again welcome on campuses, Moore said. A key point for School Board Vice Chairwoman Teri Barenborg was the absence of a vaccination policy from the 12-page transition plan for 2021-2022. “I don’t see in here – and I’m glad I don’t see it in here – anything that has to do with vaccinations,” Barenborg told Moore. “We’re not going to require vaccinations and we’re not going to mention that,” Barenborg said. “We’re not going to talk about whether kids have a vaccination card or not?” “Correct,” Moore replied. READ FULL STORY


Vero asks for safety audit of Twin Pairs
week of July 1, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council has asked state transportation officials to look at options for improving safety on the “Twin Pairs” that cut through downtown Vero – and one potential solution seems like it could make the roadway less safe. City Manager Monte Falls suggested that the Florida Department of Transportation might make the traffic lanes narrower in an effort to force people to drive more slowly. Lanes on the Twin Pairs – which consist of two, separate, 4-lane roadways, one eastbound and one westbound – currently are between 11 feet and 12 feet wide. Falls said they could be taken down to 10.5 feet or possibly even 10 feet wide. “As you get those smaller lanes – side friction, as they call it – makes you more aware of your surroundings,” Falls said. The traffic-calming strategy of narrowing lanes is called a “road diet” by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the space deducted from the traffic lanes could be added to bike lanes to theoretically increase safety for cyclists. READ FULL STORY


Bottlenose dolphin population in the lagoon remains stable
week of July 1, 2021

Despite a recent slew of bad news about the health of the Indian River Lagoon – which was given a grade of F+ in the latest assessment by the Marine Resources Council – there is a splash of good news. A new study by Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute scientist Wendy Nokes Durden and her colleagues found the bottlenose dolphin population in the lagoon has remained stable over the past decade at just over 1,000. Durden and other scientists followed the marine mammals around the 156-mile-long estuary in a dozen boats for about 10 months, shooting 150,000 photographs and identifying individual animals by notches on their dorsal fins. The resulting study, co-authored by researchers from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of Central Florida, and the Georgia Aquarium's St. Augustine field station, was published in the scientific journal PLOS 1. The findings clarified previous population estimates performed using aerial surveys because the photo-ID method was able to separate resident “lagoon” dolphins from transients. That kind of demographic information is vital to resource managers from NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of protecting the animals from manmade threats such as pollution and run-ins with fishing gear. READ FULL STORY


Proposed settlement would mean higher water and sewer rates for South Beach
week of July 1, 2021

Vero Beach Utilities customers in the unincorporated South barrier island would pay higher water-sewer rates under a proposed settlement between the city and the county – but those rates wouldn’t hit until 2027. The proposed settlement is intended to resolve a dispute over Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory in South Beach where other utility providers such as the county cannot operate. The origins of the conflict date back four decades to a time when Indian River County contracted with Vero to provide water and sewer service to the South barrier island and other portions of the unincorporated county that it did not then have the means to serve. For 30 years the unincorporated customers paid city rates plus a surcharge. Then, in response to complaints about high rates, they were shifted to the cheaper county rate schedule. The county’s franchise agreement with Vero to provide water and sewer service to the area expired in 2017, and Vero has been charging those customers county rates for service for the past four years. Like the south island, Indian River Shores gets water-sewer service from the city under a separate 2012 franchise agreement which is up for renewal in 2027. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic still bedeviled by phone problems
week of June 24, 2021

Cleveland Clinic Indian River has turned out to be a “long-hauler” in its case of phone flu. It’s been more than eight months since the hospital’s physician practices were suddenly stricken with phone problems. At first, they were thought tied to the implementation of new electronic health records software, which placed additional demands on staff already stretched thin by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the pandemic has eased. More people want check-ups again. They are fighting cancer, or afraid of a heart attack, and calling for a doctor’s appointment. But many still can’t get through. Last week, more than 150 frustrated patients responded to a post on social media asking if people were continuing to have problems reaching their Cleveland Clinic doctors. The question, posed by Vero Beach 32963 on a local Facebook group, repeated the claim of the hospital’s top executive, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, that call center metrics show the situation is improving. The fact that there were only 150 complaints in the span of one day may back Rosencrance up: There were 250 comments to a similar post in April. READ FULL STORY


GHO Homes takes over development at The Strand
week of June 24, 2021

GHO Homes bought out mega-homebuilder Lennar’s interest in The Strand subdivision this month, acquiring all the remaining lots in the second-largest new home development on the island. “We closed on the lots a week or two ago and just opened for sales and we already have many deals in the works,” said GHO president Bill Handler. “If you look back six weeks from now, there will have been a lot of action.” Handler said his company will be offering five models with base prices between $1,175,990 and $1,315,990, with 32 new homes available for purchase. The 36-acre Strand site north of Palm Island Plantation in Indian River Shores was purchased for $5 million in 2017 by the Patten Company, a national real estate development firm with offices in Naples and Boca Raton. Patten got a site plan approved by the Shores in 2018 and installed roads, sewers, water features and other infrastructure, creating 47 single-family home lots and 21 townhome lots. The townhome section is in front, visible from A1A, and the single-family section extends west from the townhomes to the Jungle Trail along the Indian River Lagoon. READ FULL STORY


Acupuncturist Jaynes now selling LifeWave healing patches in N.C.
week of June 24, 2021

Jill Jaynes, the Vero Beach acupuncturist convicted of insurance fraud of more than $100,000, has moved to North Carolina and wants her court-ordered travel restrictions and probation ended early so she can expand her new business selling pricey healing patches through a multilevel marketing company called LifeWave. Court records show Jaynes was arrested in August 2018 after a lengthy investigation found evidence to charge her for filing false insurance claims from 2013 to 2016 for acupuncture treatments for patients, many of whom were county employees on the county health insurance plan. Jaynes was ordered by the court not to treat clients at her clinic, Absolute Integrated Medicine on Indian River Boulevard, and she gave up her license to practice acupuncture in September 2020, according to court records. According to State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office and online court records, Jaynes has paid from the proceeds of the sale of her Sebastian home $56,000 of the total she was ordered to pay to her victims, a “payoff” amount given to the court by her primary victim, the Indian River Board of County Commissioners. READ FULL STORY


Man accused of killing his estranged wife now planning insanity plea
week of June 24, 2021

Asbury Lee Perkins, charged with first-degree murder for shooting his estranged wife in the South Barrier Island home they once shared, hopes to convince a jury that a decade of false accusations by victim Cynthia Betts caused him to snap and kill her. Perkins, 63, who has been representing himself in preparation of an expected trial later this summer, submitted a 31-page motion to Judge Dan Vaughn requesting permission to use “reverse Williams rule” evidence at trial. Reverse Williams rule evidence permits the defense to tell the jury about previous crimes with the aim of proving the defendant’s innocence by showing another person’s guilt. Along with the motion, Perkins provided police reports and court documents from three different Florida counties alleging that Betts repeatedly falsified statements to get Perkins arrested, then later recanted. The cumulative effect of this, Perkins says, contributed to his temporarily insane mental state at the time he entered the home on Seagrape Drive and killed Betts in November 2014. READ FULL STORY


Will Elite fly between Vero and Asheville this summer
week of June 24, 2021

Island residents hoping to hop on a convenient Elite Airways flight from Vero Beach Regional Airport to Asheville when they head north to the cool Carolina mountains this summer may have to make other travel arrangements. As of Monday, Elite’s website listed no flights connecting Vero Beach to Asheville in coming months. “Judging by our numbers, the Asheville flights have been very popular with travelers here,” Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said last week. “But Elite hasn’t told us they plan to fly there this summer – and there’s nothing on their schedule through September – so unless I hear otherwise, I’m guessing they’re not going to do it.” But there is still a chance the popular service will resume, according to Elite President John Pearsall, who said last week the airline was “strongly considering” resuming the seasonal flights, possibly as soon as early July. “It’s early [in the season], and we’re still looking at it,” Pearsall said. “We should have a decision in the next couple of weeks.” READ FULL STORY


Tragic death of ‘the kind of person people just gravitated to’
week of June 17, 2021

More than 70 people gathered on South Beach Sunday evening to celebrate the life of 57-year-old Michael Gianfrancesco who, with his terrier mix Molly, was struck by a speeding car and killed while walking along A1A near his home in The Dunes. For a couple of hours, the good memories shared by family, friends, fishing buddies and neighbors – toasted with a shot glass of Scotch – eased the pain. Former pastor of Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church Rev. Cliff Melvin, a family friend, described Gianfrancesco as being on top of the world prior to his death. “He retired a few years ago and everything he wanted was right here,” he said. But Sunday night’s respite from the circumstances surrounding Gianfrancesco’s death was short. Huge questions remain. The biggest one: Why has no one been arrested yet, despite a loaded gun and drugs being found near the car that struck Gianfrancesco, and the alleged driver of the vehicle in violation of his probation on felony charges? READ FULL STORY


Potentially toxic algae in lagoon at Oslo boat ramp
week of June 17, 2021

An ugly outbreak of lyngbya, a potentially toxic blue-green algae, has the summer off to an ominous start at the Oslo Road boat ramp. Arriving at the ramp at the end of a long, narrow shell road in southern Indian River County last Friday with a group of summer camp kayakers, Dr. Richard Baker was shocked by what he saw – large mats of green and white goo blanketing the surface of the shallow lagoon. “It was awful looking stuff,” said Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society. “I said, ‘No way we’re going to have our kids going in this.’” The group turned around, headed back up the shell road and went elsewhere to launch their colorful kayaks. Baker took photos of the foul-smelling gunk and fired them off to Vero Beach 32963 and other news media and conservation groups, raising the alarm. READ FULL STORY


Environmental groups ask Gov. DeSantis to declare an emergency
week of June 17, 2021

The Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County – joined by the Indian River Land Trust, the Environmental Learning Center and other environmental groups – is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to battle pollution in the Indian River Lagoon. The alliance’s appeal comes as manatees are dying in record numbers, and follows the release by the Marine Resources Council of its fourth annual environmental health report card for the Lagoon, assigning the waterway an overall grade of F-plus. The Clean Water Coalition and groups aligned with it are calling for the state to dedicate millions of dollars more to stopping the flow of pollutants from homes, businesses and farms into the lagoon that kill the manatees’ primary food source – seagrass – and harm other marine life, including bottlenose dolphins. READ FULL STORY


County public school students to be issued high-tech ID cards
week of June 17, 2021

High-tech identification cards will be issued to Indian River County’s 17,000 public school students for the upcoming school year that will enable educators to upgrade security on campuses and buses. The new ID cards will also be part of a new system that alerts parents when their child’s school bus is approaching a nearby stop to pick up or drop off students, said Deputy Superintendent Scott Bass. In addition, students will be able to use the new ID cards to borrow and return items at their school’s library and media center, and to pay for meals in the cafeteria, Bass said. “We needed to take one more step to keep our students safe,” Bass told the School Board during the May 25 business meeting. “This is so long overdue. It is used in many other districts. It really will bring us to where we need to be.” The School Board voted unanimously May 25 to approve an agreement to pay CI Solutions, of Seattle, $65,820 for the ID cards, breakaway lanyards and a service agreement for the 2021-2022 school year. READ FULL STORY


Island resident Helen Westbrook, who worked in JFK’s White House, dies at 88
week of June 17, 2021

Island resident Helen Westbrook, 88, who worked for many years in politics and government, including serving on the White House staff under President John F. Kennedy, passed away on June 4. Inspired by a speech given by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in her hometown in Massachusetts, Westbrook, then 23, moved to Washington, D.C. in 1956 to serve on Kennedy’s senatorial staff. She later worked on his campaign for president in 1960. When Kennedy won, he asked Westbrook to join his White House staff, where she served as a Secretarial Assistant in the Office of the President. Westbrook later worked following Kennedy’s death as executive assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy, where she became close to the family’s children, John and Caroline. Her closeness to the Kennedy family was illustrated at a 2015 auction featuring articles related to President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during their time at the White House. Among the items were a gold vermeil over sterling cigarette case from Tiffany & Co. gifted to Westbrook from Jacqueline, along with pictures drawn by Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. to bid Westbrook farewell when she left Jacqueline Kennedy’s employ to start her own family. READ FULL STORY


Teel wrongful death suit against Sheriff’s Office, Deputy now set for July
week of June 17, 2021

A $10 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office – and Deputy Jonathan Lozada, who fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in 2017 – has been selected by a U.S. District Court judge to serve as a “pilot” for resumption of jury trials in this area. The pilot trials are the latest phase in the federal court system’s reopening plan as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Judge Donald Middlebrooks notified the parties that the trial, set for July 6 at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, was excluded from a previous order continuing all jury trials in the U.S. Southern District of Florida until July 19. According to Todd Norbraten, one of the Stuart-based attorneys representing the plaintiff Dr. Dudley Teel, the pilot trials will require physical distancing and the wearing of masks in the courtroom. “I think you’ll be allowed to remove your mask when you’re speaking, and masks may be optional for jurors,” Norbraten said. “This is all new, and the judge will have some discretion. No one can anticipate everything that can happen during a trial. READ FULL STORY


Upscale restaurants and shops proposed for vacant lot between downtown and Miracle Mile
week of June 17, 2021

A vacant lot that covers a full city block – on the south side of eastbound State Road 60, east of the Vero Beach Police Department – is under contract to a buyer who wants to build a 12,000-square-foot commercial development featuring upscale restaurants and retail stores. Billy Moss, a broker with Lambert Commercial Real Estate, said the sale of the 3.75-acre property, located between 9th and 10th avenues, is expected to be completed “in the next few weeks.” Moss said he was not permitted to identify the buyer at this time, but the working name of the planned dining and shopping area is Vero Central Station, which would include two outparcels. The development would not include a hotel or big-box stores, Moss said. “We’ve been working on this one for a while, and it’s going well, but we’re not there yet,” said Moss, a prominent commercial realtor who specializes in selling and leasing restaurants locally. According to the Indian River County Property Appraiser’s Office website, the current owner of the parcel, which has a market value of $1.18 million, is TV 20 LLC. READ FULL STORY


Vero, county seem headed to mediation on utility territory
week of June 17, 2021

The City of Vero Beach and Indian River County have one more chance to resolve their dispute about whether a 1989 territorial agreement can be enforced to keep Indian River Shores and South Beach water-sewer customers chained to Vero’s utility service until the end of time. If the parties come out of a June 24 meeting not having budged from their corners – Vero saying it has a permanent territory and county officials saying the territory is not permanent – the two sides will enter formal mediation, with the next step being a joint meeting of all five Vero council members with all five county commissioners. The Vero Beach City Council voted to launch the mediation process, outlined in Florida Statute, Section 164, as required whenever two municipalities have a dispute that could land in court. Vero got upset when county officials agreed to devote staff time to help Indian River Shores complete a feasibility study of whether it would be possible and practical to terminate the town’s water-sewer service with Vero, and hook up to the county system in 2027 when the current franchise agreement expires. READ FULL STORY


South Florida woman arrested after getting tossed out of Mulligan’s and the Holiday Inn
week of June 17, 2021

A night out for a visiting South Florida woman turned into a night in jail after she managed to get kicked out of Mulligan’s Beach House and the Sexton Plaza Holiday Inn lobby for being drunk and disorderly, and was literally carried off to jail – all before 11 p.m. Mona Kaye Mulberry, 53, of Fort Lauderdale allegedly created enough of a fuss Sunday night that hotel security called the Vero Beach Police Department to remove her from the premises of the hotel on Ocean Drive. Two officers responded at 9:57 p.m. The hotel did not know the woman’s name but told police they could find her wearing a cardigan sweater. “Upon making contact with Ms. Mulberry, I could smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from her person. Ms. Mulberry was unable to complete sentences and had slurred speech while attempting to speak with her,” the report states, then going into detail about the R-rated encounter. According to the police report, officers asked Mulberry if she knew anyone who could come and assist her and she yelled obscenities. They asked her if she knew where she was staying and she called the police offensive names. At that point, the officers escorted her out of the lobby and to the patrol car, attempting to get identification from her, but she refused. READ FULL STORY


2 islanders killed in 3 days by cars swerving off A1A
week of June 10, 2021

Two fatalities in less than three days caused by autos swerving off State Road A1A – one killing a bicyclist, the other running down a man walking his dog – have intensified demands for reduced speed limits and more safety devices on the heavily traveled island thoroughfare. It was mid-morning on Saturday, May 29 when the first death occurred. John’s Island resident Carl Cutler, 63, a retired investment banker and accomplished athlete, was riding his bike on North A1A near the Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary when a 49-year-old Melbourne man driving a red Nissan sedan swerved off the road onto the right shoulder and struck him. Both men were traveling north. The following Monday evening, Memorial Day, Michael Gianfrancesco, 57, and his dog, Molly, were walking on the grass shoulder on the east side of South A1A near the Dunes subdivision where he lived when they were struck and killed instantly by a northbound Chevy Impala traveling at high speed that veered off the road. READ FULL STORY


Dr. Richard Moore: Has Vero ‘lost the flavor of the community hospital?’
week of June 10, 2021

It took some frank conversations and soul-searching for cardiologist Richard Moore to decide to retire from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, where he practiced as an employed physician for the past decade. His wife, Charlotte, a former cardiac critical care nurse, brought it up first when she noticed a change in him that started not long after Cleveland Clinic took over the Vero hospital. “You aren’t yourself,” she told her husband several times in the past year, he said. So this spring, as a string of physicians and other practitioners began leaving the hospital, Moore sat down with Cleveland Clinic administrators and told them he was calling it quits. With that, Moore, who is 66, added his name to a list of five cardiologists who have left or given notice to Cleveland Clinic Indian River since the fall. That’s five of the eight employed by the hospital prior to Cleveland Clinic taking over in January 2019. Most of the departing heart doctors have gone back to private practice, freed of the corporate model. READ FULL STORY


County reaches deal ending its efforts to block high-speed Brightline train
week of June 10, 2021

Indian River County has negotiated a $31.6 million deal that will end its expensive seven-year battle to halt the Brightline high-speed passenger train project. Under a proposed settlement agreement, Brightline – not Indian River County – would pay for the installation of new safety devices at the county’s 32 railroad crossings to accommodate high-speed passenger trains. Brightline also would pay to install fencing along the tracks in areas identified by a hazard analysis. In exchange, the county would drop its lawsuit in state court concerning the railroad crossing costs and not take any other action challenging Brightline’s ability to operate within the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way. The county also agreed to work with Brightline to obtain state and federal grants to help pay for the railroad crossing upgrades. Brightline plans to run 32 trains per day through Indian River County at speeds of up to 110 mph en route between Orlando and South Florida starting in early 2023. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne Aviation Academy Vero Beach getting off ground fast
week of June 10, 2021

The new signage hasn’t yet arrived, but Skyborne Aviation Academy Director Jeff Devlin said significant improvements have been made – to the campus, technology systems and strategic partnerships – since the British company closed on its purchase of the former FlightSafety facility here May 1. “It’s been only a few weeks, but a lot has happened,” Devlin said, “and we’re just getting started.” Among the upgrades Devlin cited were building renovations, new flight simulators and five freshly signed agreements to provide airlines, including United and Delta, with newly trained pilots. Training aircraft are being repainted with Skyborne’s colors and logo, and new student uniforms have been ordered. “Right now, our enrollment is at 110 students, but we’re getting an influx of new contracts and we expect that number to increase substantially in the coming months,” Devlin said. “We think we’ll be up to 300 within 18 months.” READ FULL STORY


Property values soar, but a cut in tax rates seen unlikely
week of June 10, 2021

Despite an exhilarating jump in Indian River County property values in 2020, most residents probably won’t see the lower tax rates many are hoping for – in which case property tax bills issued this fall will be higher than they were last year. Property Appraiser Wesley Davis released a preliminary estimate last week showing that real estate in the county has gained nearly $700,000,000 in taxable value. Officials say that will net about an extra $4.2 million in tax revenue for the county government if the property tax rate, commonly called the millage rate, stays the same. Seeing that extra income in the pipeline, county commissioners could lower the millage rate to keep property tax revenue the same as last year, leave the rate unchanged to reap the extra cash, or raise the rate to increase income even more. Based on conversations with county – and Vero Beach – officials, property tax rate rollbacks are a longshot. No official would confirm that rates will stay the same, but all talked about increasing expenses and possible reductions in other revenue sources. READ FULL STORY


Will high exit costs chain Shores to Vero water-sewer pact?
week of June 10, 2021

The City of Vero Beach’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory that includes the Town of Indian River Shores is still in dispute, but it might not matter if the price tag for the Shores to exit Vero’s system becomes a poison pill. Vero officials last month talked about appraising the city’s utility assets in the town should the Shores try to break with Vero in 2027, determining an amount the Shores would have to pay for water infrastructure owned by Vero. That exit cost would be on top of two other costs – the cost of the county running pipes under the Indian River Lagoon and the cost of increasing county utility plant capacity to serve the Shores. The Shores has hired a consultant to calculate those expenses, but they have not yet been determined. “The third cost to find an amicable solution would be the cost to purchase the Indian River Shores portion of the Vero water and sewer utility,” Vero City Manager Monty Falls said. If Vero can make it cost prohibitive for the Shores to leave Vero utilities by attaching a high price tag to its infrastructure in the town, then the matter of whether or not Vero indeed has a permanent service territory will likely become moot. READ FULL STORY


School Board begins work on civility policy after disturbance at meeting
week of June 10, 2021

Angry, insulting and threatening comments and behavior by a handful of public speakers at recent School Board meetings have prompted the board to rethink its approach to maintaining decorum and civility. The civility issue came to a head after several parental rights activists disrupted a School Board meeting last month as educators were preparing to honor the “Academic All-Stars” of Vero Beach and Sebastian River high schools. Taken aback by the confrontation, the School Board plans to review its policies regarding public speaking and behavior during board meetings, possibly as soon as its June 22 meeting. In the meantime, the school district has asked the Sheriff's Office to assign additional deputies to the board’s June 8 and June 22 meetings to maintain order, spokeswoman Cristen Maddux said Monday. The May School Board meetings attracted crowds that filled the seats in the meeting room and lobby, and overflowed to the sidewalk in front of school district headquarters, and similar crowds are expected at the June meetings. READ FULL STORY


End of an era: Two Charter High arts educators retiring
week of June 3, 2021

The county’s top-rated public high school, Indian River Charter High, is losing key leadership to retirement just as it faces the challenges of reintegrating its close-knit student body after a year of pandemic disruption and separation. Two defining educators at Charter’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, or VAPA, the county’s only school-based arts academy, are leaving after two decades at the school. Ray Adams, VAPA’s artistic director, and Gary Miller, director of vocal arts, were clearing out their offices last week, a day after saying goodbye to students for the last time. VAPA kids account for about half the school’s total student population of around 700. Another department head, Lucie Burke, director of visual arts, is retiring, too, though she will remain active at the school through next year, administrators said. And next year, school director Cynthia Aversa will step down. Like Adams and Miller, Aversa will have held her title for 20 years, a period that spans nearly the entire existence of the school. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways move from Vero is only temporary
week of June 3, 2021

Elite Airways President John Pearsall said he’s optimistic island travelers will continue to choose the convenience of his airline’s nonstop jet service to the Northeast when its flights are temporarily moved to Melbourne’s airport this fall while the longest runway at Vero’s airport is resurfaced. The airline will continue its regular commercial service connecting Vero Beach to Newark, New Jersey, and Portland, Maine, through early September, when those flights will be moved to Melbourne for at least six months. “We really do appreciate the support of all of our Vero Beach customers, and we’ll start up again as soon as the city tells us the project is finished,” Pearsall said last week. “The timing is unfortunate because the holidays are big for us, but we can’t operate without that runway, so moving the flights was the only thing we could do,” he added. “I understand Melbourne is a little more of a drive, but it’s still a lot closer than Orlando or West Palm Beach. READ FULL STORY


Chamber executive accused of ‘bullying’ School Board fired
week of June 3, 2021

John Corapi, the county Chamber of Commerce’s business retention manager, has been fired after the organization’s president investigated allegations that he disrupted a School Board meeting and encouraged others in a social-media post to intimidate board members at their homes. Chamber President Dori Stone did not return numerous messages left at her office, but Corapi’s name had been removed as a staff member from the organization’s website on May 24, and phone calls asking to speak with him last week were forwarded to Stone’s voice mail. Vero Beach 32963 ultimately confirmed Corapi’s termination through multiple Chamber sources – including at least one member of the board of directors – all of whom requested their names not be used. “Dori looked into it, brought her findings to the board and told us what she wanted to do,” one of the directors said. “No one objected.” Though Corapi could not be reached for comment, he said publicly last week he had been notified by Stone after the School Board’s tumultuous May 11 meeting that, effective immediately, he was suspended with pay as she continued to “investigate allegations that may impact your employment.” READ FULL STORY


Historic Sebastian Inlet bridge will get major rehab or be replaced in five years
week of June 3, 2021

Construction on the repair or replacement of the Sebastian Inlet bridge is tentatively set to begin in the winter of 2026, but exactly what the multimillion-dollar project will entail is not yet known. Officially named the James H. Pruitt Memorial Bridge, the heavily traveled 2-lane, 1,548-foot-long bridge is historically significant as the first bridge to span the often turbulent tidal waters of the Sebastian Inlet where the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean interconnect. Built in 1964 to connect A1A from Brevard to Indian River County, bridge opened Feb. 27, 1965 with great fanfare, complete with a military aircraft fly-over during the official ceremony. According to FDOT, the 57-year-old structure is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But the historic bridge has no accommodation for bicyclists or pedestrians, and the purpose of the rehab or replacement is to “address the gap in system linkage for bicyclists and pedestrians,” as well as to address “the structural and functional deficiencies” of the steeply arched structure. READ FULL STORY


Revered Shores Mayor Tom Slater victim of COVID-19 pandemic
week of June 3, 2021

Former Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Slater’s death last week at age 76 serves as a stark reminder that, even as the pandemic subsides here, COVID-19 has robbed our community of friends, family members, colleagues and even revered local leaders. Slater’s close friend of 40 years, former Shores Councilman Dick Haverland, confirmed the sad news quietly spreading around the Shores in the days after Slater’s death – that the man who beat back terminal cancer twice had been lost on May 26 not to cancer, but to complications of COVID-19. Slater passed away at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he had gone to be treated once again for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “He got COVID soon after arriving in New York,” Haverland said. “His immune system had been weakened over the years due to various cancer treatments. Tom had an incredible number of great friends. I am still trying to process his loss. He will be missed by so many.” READ FULL STORY


Pandemic produced a school year ‘like no other’
week of June 3, 2021

A student tested positive for COVID-19 at Storm Grove Middle School on the second-to-last day of classes as the pandemic impacted virtually every aspect of the 2020-2021 school year. Two other students and two staff members also tested positive for the virus last week as Indian River County’s public schools closed for summer vacation. Altogether, the school district reported 506 cases of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 school year with 390 students and 116 staff members testing positive for the virus. The 390 student cases amounted to less than 3 percent of the approximately 14,000 students who attended class in person during the school year, district records show. The 116 staff cases amounted to nearly 6 percent of the district’s roughly 2,000 employees. The school year “like no other” started with a Vero Beach High School football player being diagnosed with COVID-19 on the first day of classes on Aug. 28, causing the quarantining of several teammates and cancelation of the season opening game at Venice. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections decline sharply here, but vaccinations are also down
week of June 3, 2021

The month of May brought a steep decline in COVID-19 cases here, and an even steeper decline in vaccinations. With no reporting over Memorial Day weekend, the running count of new infections in Indian River County during May as of Friday was 430, for an average of 16 per day, down 34 percent from the previous month. Thirty-six people were hospitalized with COVID-19 disease in May and tragically, 11 people died. Twenty-two barrier island residents tested positive for the virus in May. About 7,500 people joined the ranks of those in Indian River County who got at least one shot of vaccine in May, a 62 percent decrease from the more than 20,000 people who got a shot in April. As of last Friday’s reporting, 88,561 Indian River County residents, or 56 percent of the population, have had at least one jab of COVID-19 vaccine, and 69,190 are fully vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as of Sunday, 38.66 percent of Floridians are now fully vaccinated, placing Florida 29th among the states. Nationwide, 40.5 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. READ FULL STORY


Five local lawyers seek to become Indian River Shores town attorney
week of June 3, 2021

Five local lawyers have applied to take up the mantle of Indian River Shores Town Attorney as the town’s longtime legal counsel Chester Clem retires after more than 40-plus years of service. Last week the town council delegated the search and negotiation of terms to Town Manager Jim Harpring, an attorney with decades of experience and knowledge of the area’s legal talent. So far, the candidates who have shown interest are Paul Amos, Warren Dill, Ashley Novander, Jennifer Peschke and Pete Sweeney. “I know it will be difficult to replace Chester Clem. However, we are fortunate to have excellent candidates from which to choose,” Harpring said on Friday. Harpring said the position is part-time as needed, not a full-time governmental attorney job, so the person the town hires must have an established law practice or other source of income. READ FULL STORY