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Vero investing $1.5 million to expand sewer plant on lagoon
week of January 22, 2015

When heavy equipment appears in February at the Vero Beach sewer plant and the riverfront begins to buzz with construction activity, don’t be fooled into thinking the city is finally dismantling the eyesore and moving it from the lagoon to the airport as has often been suggested. Instead, city officials last week authorized the spending of $1.5 million to modernize the wastewater treatment plant by adding a sludge recycling facility that city officials say will pay for itself in seven years or less. Consultants in 2011 estimated that the sewer plant had another dozen or so good years in it, deflating the hopes of lagoon-conscious residents who want the structure moved. Once the new high-tech sludge plant is up and running this fall, drying out and processing the solids out of Vero’s wastewater, that processed material will be taken to a yet-undetermined regional facility, probably in St. Lucie County where it will be mixed with yard waste and composted into nutrient-rich mulch, Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton said. READ FULL STORY


No good news for Vero in Shores’ PSC filing on electric territories
week of January 22, 2015

Vero officials hoping for the Florida Public Service Commission to give them a clear victory when it comes to permanent territorial rights – a win that they could use as ammunition in their legal battle with Indian River Shores – could not have been encouraged to read Shores’ attorney Bruce May’s filing with the PSC last week. “After the Town filed its lawsuit against the city,” May explained to the PSC, “Indian River County and the City (of Vero Beach) each filed separate petitions for declaratory statements with the commission that could potentially invite the commission to address issues related to the pending litigation. “Your staff recognized that it would be improper for the commission to provide a declaratory statement that would address issues that are related to currently pending litigation, and cited a number of authorities to support that principle,” May pointed out. This puts the five political appointees who serve on the PSC in quite a pickle, as all of the state’s major utility companies are hoping the Commission will rule that a city or town does not have the right to change electric providers when it comes time for a new 30-year franchise agreement.. READ FULL STORY


Hospital team a ‘no show’ for talks with the District
week of January 22, 2015

In recent months, talks between Indian River Medical Center leaders and Hospital District trustees appeared to be proceeding cordially, but relations between the two reached an all-time low last week when hospital negotiators failed to show up for a meeting with the District team, who had even laid on a lunch. Hospital negotiators said they had not received emails about the meeting, even though several emails appeared to have been sent without problems. The aborted meeting once again brought negotiations over indigent care reimbursement rates to a grinding halt. Over recent weeks, hospital assistant CFO Warren Fuller made a yeoman’s effort to provide detailed financial information to a District consultant and accelerate negotiations, and the District had arranged for a catered lunch as a gesture of good will for the next meeting in the District offices. That goodwill evaporated when the hospital negotiators failed to show.. READ FULL STORY


Major upgrade set for Humiston Park playground
week of January 22, 2015

An all-volunteer group, GoPlayVero, has started raising $250,000 to upgrade the playground at Humiston Park in collaboration with the city in a project both sides say can be a model for future partnerships to improve parks and recreation facilities. The current project envisions removing the present children’s playground equipment by May and completing all site work and reinstallation of new apparatus during September, when the community would be impacted the least. Humiston is extensively used during the busy tourist and snowbird season and all work would be completed in time for the next season. One of the driving forces behind GoPlayVero, Kelley Della Porta, a mother of three, says she started the organization two years ago after she was frustrated to learn that the city’s $1 million renovation of Humiston Park in 2009 included virtually nothing for the playground there, only a reconfiguration of its outline into the shape of a turtle. The city money went to a curved garden wall, an enhanced northern entrance, landscaping and reoriented parking.. READ FULL STORY


$100,000 reward for info on Orchid man killed in hit-and-run
week of January 22, 2015

Two weeks after Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer was buried on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his family is continuing its efforts to find the driver who killed him in a hit-and-run accident earlier this month in Savannah, GA, increasing the reward for information to $100,000. Not only did Meyer's daughters place full-page ads in the Friday and Sunday editions of the Savannah Morning News last weekend, but they also sent letters to the community's religious leaders in an appeal for help in solving the case. "A terrible tragedy occurred in Savannah two weeks ago, and we are praying that you can help our family find peace and closure," Meyer's daughters, Deb Cohen and Susan Ross, wrote in the letters, which described how their 72-year-old father was struck by a truck or SUV and knocked into bushes on the night of Jan. 4 as he returned to his hotel from dinner. READ FULL STORY


Donation protects land near lagoon from development
week of January 22, 2015

The Indian River Land Trust has picked up a strategically important 11.5-acre property adjacent to the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail. “This removes the potential for commercial development at the site and buffers other important conservation land along the lagoon,” says Ken Gruden, the Land Trust’s executive director. The $1 million parcel on the east side of U.S. 1 at 79th St. was a gift from Warren and Virginia Schwerin. “We had been searching for years for a way to help the Land Trust when this opportunity presented itself,” says Warren Schwerin, head of Vero-based Oak Point Development Company. “We bought a package of land from the Kennedy family and this piece was a part of the package that lent itself much more to the Land Trust’s mission than to our development goals.” Schwerin, a RedStick Golf Club founder, moved to Vero Beach from New York 22 years ago after retiring as president of Related Properties Corporation, a major commercial real estate development company. He is a member of the Land Trust board. READ FULL STORY


Vero moving steadily toward imposing a stormwater tax
week of January 22, 2015

With Mayor Dick Winger leading the charge to impose a $500,000 stormwater utility tax on Vero residents, the City of Vero Beach has taken the first step to creating a stormwater utility by hiring consultants to conduct the obligatory study prior to implementation. Winger says he can’t imagine anyone opposing the extra fees, which would fund Vero’s efforts to reduce the runoff of stormwater and damaging nutrients into the Indian River Lagoon. Vero currently collects about $4 million annually in property taxes. To raise an additional $500,000 each year from ad valorem or property tax assessments, the City Council would need to endure the political consequences of voting for a 12.5 percent tax increase. A stormwater utility tax, however, would allow Winger and his colleagues to slip this one in under the radar. It would appear as an estimated $3 to $5 per month ($36 to $60 per year) line item on utility bills of Vero residents (out-of-city utility customers would not be charged) would apply to both vacant and improved residential and commercial property. READ FULL STORY


Shores Town Council race could be one to watch
week of January 22, 2015

It looks like there’s going to be a Town Council election in Indian River Shores on March, and possibly an interesting one. That’s happened only twice in the past dozen years, in 2003 and 2013. Somehow, the whole representative democracy thing seems to get worked out ahead of time in the Shores, with the preferred candidates receiving the nod, and being elected by acclamation. Or sometimes, as in 2011, one or more of the challengers backs out soon after the qualifying period ends, making the number of candidates equal to the number of seats available – nice and tidy, no election needed. But if Richard Haverland, Mike Ochsner and Linda Bolton all stick it out, Shores voters will have a decision to make at the polls on March 10, picking two out of the three people running. READ FULL STORY


2014 banner year for million-dollar-plus home sales
week of January 15, 2015

Last year was a banner year for luxury real estate on the barrier island with 174 homes selling for prices ranging from $1 million to $8 million. Top agents and brokers say the red-hot market is due to a much improved economy, high buyer confidence and the desirable lifestyle for which Vero Beach is increasingly known. And, realtors add, total sales of million-dollar-plus homes – which are climbing towards the half a billion mark – are expected to be even higher this year. "It without a doubt speaks to the quality of life, the lifestyle and the amenities our community offers," says Dale Sorensen Jr., managing partner of Dale Sorensen Real Estate Inc., the largest brokerage on the island, which handled 62 million-dollar-plus transaction sides, acting for either buyer or seller, for a total of $123,940,659 in luxury sales last year. "We hardly go a day without hearing from one or more of our out-of-town buyers raving about how much they love Vero Beach." "An important part of the market story is the positive perception of Vero Beach versus other competing markets," says Clark French, broker associate at Premier Estate Properties, a boutique agency that handled 44 transaction sides totaling $116.25 million in luxury sales in 2014. READ FULL STORY


INEOS Bio plant shut; produced excess deadly gas
week of January 15, 2015

The $130 million INEOS Bio plant on Oslo Road, adjacent to the county landfill, has been shut down for the moment, stymied by a puzzling excess production of hydrogen cyanide, the same gas that was used in Hitler's infamous World War II extermination camps. Actual biofuel production has been spotty since the plant opened with some fanfare in 2013, and it doesn't appear that INEOS ever really got hoped-for production going for any length of time. It has also taken quite a while to figure out what the problem was. A permit for a scrubber that was supposed to solve the problem was requested from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection around the middle of last year. It has been in the house since then, but not operational. What has brought ethanol biofuel production to a halt has now been identified as the lethal impact of hydrogen cyanide on microscopic bio-organisms. The level of hydrogen cyanide produced when feedstock – mainly yard waste and other plant material – was converted to gas turned out to be toxic to bacteria, a fatal flaw since the bacteria are needed to convert the gas into ethanol via a fermentation process. READ FULL STORY


Hit-and-run death remains unsolved
week of January 15, 2015

Peter Meyer should be teeing off this week at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club, just as he had for the past 15 years, since first making the seaside community his winter home. "He loved to play golf," his daughter, Deb Cohen, said wistfully. "He was a member at Quail Valley, too, and he'd play four or five times a week when he was in Florida." Often, Meyer would play with his longtime friend and island neighbor, Pat Walsh, who first met Meyer in 1976 – they went through Merrill Lynch's management training program together – and reconnected with him after a chance meeting at the Orchid club in 2000. "Strictly serendipitous," Walsh said. "I was taking a golf lesson when Peter walked up and said, 'What are you doing here?' I had no idea he was here, and he had no idea I was here. "He eventually bought two lots here, and I bought the second lot from him and we became next-door neighbors," he added. "So we've played a lot of golf together over the years." He paused for a moment, then continued: "When I first heard the news, my knees buckled. I couldn't believe it. He was such a great guy. He was probably my best friend down here. I'm going to miss him tremendously." READ FULL STORY


Shores, county have window to explore new power options
week of January 15, 2015

Now that Vero Beach, the Town of Indian River Shores and Indian River County have executed an Interim Mediation Agreement shelving until March 2 the Shores' lawsuit accusing Vero of mismanaging its electric utility, the County and the Shores have less than seven weeks to enter into talks with another power provider, presumably Florida Power and Light. Last week the Board of County Commissioners directed its legal staff to begin drafting a Request for Proposal for an electric company to begin serving approximately 20,000 residential and commercial customers in the unincorporated county who are now on the Vero electric system. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the Shores' lead utility attorney, Bruce May, has been charged with conducting parallel efforts on behalf of the Town's 2,000 or so ratepayers who are now on Vero electric for a potential switch after the Shores franchise agreement expires in November 2016. Stabe said Vice Mayor Jerry Weick signed the Interim Mediation Agreement on behalf of the Town in Mayor Brian Barefoot's absence last week. He said May has been provided copies of everything he needs from the Town to begin negotiating a framework for the 80 percent of Shores residents now served by Vero to switch electric providers. READ FULL STORY


Patient wait times at Emergency Room improve, but still well above average
week of January 15, 2015

Patient wait times at the Emergency Room of Indian River Medical Center showed a small improvement in 2014 over the year before, but were still far worse than Florida and national averages as well as the wait times at Sebastian River Medical Center or Lawnwood Regional Medical Center. The problem at IRMC appears to have nothing to do with the dedication of the staff or the quality of care, but rather with a lack of places to put patients and treat them, which causes bottlenecks and slows down the admission and discharge of ER patients. "We are trending in the right direction, but we are not where we want to be," operations manager Devon Bloom said Friday. Where ER patients waited an average of six and a half hours to be admitted at Indian River in 2013, this past year they waited an average of five hours and 45 minutes. Both the Florida and national averages for most of 2013 and a quarter of 2014, according to Medicare, were about four and a half hours. READ FULL STORY


Busy holidays about to be followed by busier season
week of January 8, 2015

Season is upon us – a fact anyone out and about can plainly see. Drivers turning left from Beachland onto A1A often sit through two lights before being able to make the turn. Boaters cruising into Vero Marina for a few nights' stay discover the available mooring buoys and wet slips are already taken. Shoppers at the Miracle Mile Publix search for parking spaces, then wait for carts. Restaurant goers can't get a table at popular restaurants without a reservation two weeks in advance. Customers belly up at popular bars two and three deep, making a bee-line for a stool whenever someone leaves. Corporate and private jets arrive and take off at Vero Beach Airport in record numbers, and overall air traffic at the airport is greater than it has been in the past 25 years, say airport administrators. READ FULL STORY


Sick stations? Two firefighters test positive for 'toxic mold'
week of January 8, 2015

For more than a decade, Indian River County Fire Rescue workers have complained about leaky roofs, pipes and air-conditioner lines, clogged drains and other forms of water seepage at four fire stations, where they say damp, moldy conditions have spawned air-quality concerns. Some firefighters and paramedics who've been assigned to those stations – Nos. 1 (Old Dixie), 2 (82nd Avenue), 10 (Fellsmere) and 11 (Orchid) – also have reported mold-related health issues, such as severe sinus infections, chest congestion, respiratory irritation, headaches, sore throats and sneezing. Two firefighters recently tested positive for "toxic mold exposure," according to John O'Connor, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). And he expects more. O'Connor said the results of a third worker's test are pending, and at least 10 more will be tested. READ FULL STORY


Central Beach gets new townhomes
week of January 8, 2015

Two new townhome projects with a combined retail value of approximately $14 million will be completed in Central Beach in the first half of 2015, according to project developers. "We are 95 percent complete, inside and outside, and people should be moving in early in February," says Vic Lombardi, owner of Water's Edge Development, the aptly named company building five spectacular oceanfront units south of Humiston Park next door to The Gables. The 3,200-square-foot, $2.25 million West Indies-style homes hit a sweet spot in the market and the project, called East End, sold out before any walls went up. "I could sell five more if I had them," says Lombardi. "I am lucky to have had a project like this." David Haynes, managing partner and mainspring of the group developing the Townhomes on Ocean nine blocks north of East End, expects his project to wrap up in about five months. "We should be having a party by June first," he says. READ FULL STORY


Brothers Bar & Grill will take place of Brewgrrs
week of January 8, 2015

A virtually empty restaurant on a busy corner of Vero just didn't make sense to two brothers from Detroit. Marc Bortnick has been running restaurants for years. His brother, Kenneth Bortnick, has eaten at plenty – and he's also a serious cook. The space, a prime location at the intersection of Miracle Mile and Indian River Boulevard, seemed just the spot for a restaurant. But where were the customers? So the two of them sat at Cork, a nearby tapas place and watched the door of Brewgrrs, a burger and beer joint. "We got a little hinky," says Marc Bortnick. "We were here for ten days and we would watch from Cork's patio and they'd go right through rush hour with maybe five people in there." READ FULL STORY


Michael Ochsner returns to Shores Town Council
week of January 1, 2015

Former Indian River Shores Town Councilman Michael Ochsner has been appointed to fill Tom Cadden's seat on the council until the March 10 election. But, Ochsner said, at this time he does not plan to run for a four-year term on the council, leaving Cadden's former seat up for grabs. Ochsner said he looks forward to returning to the Town's Finance Committee, as he had to temporarily step down to take the interim council post. He also devotes substantial volunteer time to his church, Calvary Chapel Vero Beach. "Tom Cadden is a great guy and a good man and I'm honored to try to fill his seat. He has quite a legacy," Ochsner said after the Dec. 18 meeting where he was sworn in. "I'm honored that they selected me and I'll continue to hold up my pragmatic conservatism. At least right now I don't plan on running in March, but that may change," he said. "I like being in service to the Town. READ FULL STORY


Problems mount for nurse charged with manslaughter
week of January 1, 2015

While no trial date has yet been set, problems continue to mount for Gina Albrecht, who has been in jail since May 1, 2013, on charges of elderly neglect and manslaughter in the death of Marbrisa resident George May. It seems like just about everyone in town is suing her to make sure she doesn't get a penny out of the home the 81-year-old May signed over to her after he had been diagnosed with dementia. Her family has fallen apart, too. Gina, 38, had depended on husband Ryan, 36, to take care of their two girls in their Highlands home in southwest Vero. But with Ryan now in jail himself for perjury and their home lost to foreclosure, responsibility for their young daughters has fallen upon a friend of Gina's, who lives with her own 12-year-old son, her boyfriend (who also recently got out of jail himself) and the Albrecht girls in a rented home in the Highlands. READ FULL STORY


Davis, Kramer seen vying for House seat
week of January 1, 2015

With November's election just weeks in the rear-view mirror, two prominent local officials – Vero Beach Vice-Mayor Jay Kramer and Indian River County Commission Chair Wesley Davis – seem to be testing the waters to run for Rep. Debbie Mayfield's Florida House seat two years from now. Both Davis and Kramer are registered Republicans, so that would pit them against each other in the August 2016 primary. Though it seems early to be thinking of the 2016 election, hotly contested House races generally require campaign war chests in the quarter-million-dollar ballpark. Kramer was seen and heard promoting himself in Tallahassee earlier this month, drumming up commitments of financial support from Republican leaders, lobbyists and people affiliated with well-funded PACs. But when asked if he was ready to announce, Kramer denied that he is running, or even testing the waters. He said those speculating that he was in Tallahassee shaking the trees in preparation for a House run have "quite an imagination." READ FULL STORY


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