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Vero’s water fight with the Shores takes a new twist
week of September 22, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | In a major plot twist to a dispute between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach over Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer utility territory, Vero has given Indian River County the city’s written permission to strike a deal with the Shores to provide utility service to town residents in 2027. The Shores has filed a federal lawsuit asserting that the 1989 document dividing the county up into Vero and County utility service territories violates antitrust law because it deprives the Shores of the opportunity to benefit from competing proposals from multiple service providers. Vero tried to get that lawsuit dismissed but U.S. Circuit Court Judge Eileen Cannon rejected all of Vero’s arguments, meaning the case will proceed to trial in January. If the letter from Vero City Manager Monte Falls to County Administrator Jason Brown was an effort to make that lawsuit go away, it does not seem to have had the desired effect. “The town and its legal counsel are currently evaluating the letter received by Mr. Falls as it raises many questions. However, it does not resolve the issues as the city still maintains it has a permanent monopoly on the provision of water services to the town,” Town Manager Jim Harpring said on Friday. READ FULL STORY


FAA forcing Vero airport to evict mobile home park
week of September 22, 2022

At age 74, Cindy Binafif doesn’t know where she’ll go after the Federal Aviation Administration forces Vero Beach city officials to shut down the Citrus Park Village mobile home community where she has lived for nearly 50 years. But it certainly looks like residents of the 69-unit mobile home park – which for more than half a century has occupied a chunk of land on the periphery of Vero Beach Airport – will soon be forced to take flight. “There are a lot of older residents here – many who’ve been here a long time – and most of us can’t afford to move,” Binafif said. “Even if we could afford it, most places around town have a one-year waiting list. Where are we going to go?” She paused briefly to compose herself, then added: “This is going to be a death sentence for some of us.” In an Aug. 18 letter to Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher, the FAA rejected the city’s request to allow the mobile home community to continue occupying the property. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections here continue to drop, but 5 more have died this month
week of September 22, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally dropped by one third this past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing the weekly case count to its lowest level in five months. The CDC’s COVID Data Tracker reported that 118 Indian River County residents tested positive for COVID-19 via labs that report to the Florida Department of Health in the week ending Sept. 15. This does not include people who used at-home kits and experienced mild cases not requiring a visit to the doctor. New infections rose after the Labor Day holiday weekend, but the latest numbers track closely with the 127 new weekly cases reported for the week ending Sept. 1. For the first time since the spring, Indian River County’s weekly case positivity rate fell below 10 percent, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. That statistic had soared into the high 20s last winter and held in the high teens most of the summer. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also dropped last week from 13 to 11, and the count of patients in the county’s largest hospital as of press time Monday had declined 20 percent from the same time last week. READ FULL STORY


New college leader here seeks ‘collaborative vision of education’
week of September 22, 2022

Dr. Terri Graham, the new president of Vero’s only college campus, arrived here this summer with four college degrees and an impressive resume of ascending academic leadership positions – but she doesn’t think she knows everything. Instead, her goal at Indian River State College’s Mueller Campus is to develop what she calls a “collaborate vision of education” shaped by student aspirations, faculty expertise, community needs and – especially – detailed input from area industries about how to equip the employee of the future. “I may have my little vision of what the college should be, what we should teach, but if the community doesn’t buy into it, what are we going to do?” said Graham, who started as campus president on Aug. 1. “We need to build the vision together,” Graham said. READ FULL STORY


Remembering when the future king of England visited our island
week of September 15, 2022

The exclusive enclaves of Vero’s barrier island are no stranger to famous visitors, who mostly come and go with little fanfare. But when the Prince of Wales lent his royal presence to charity polo matches at Windsor three decades ago, he brought Scotland Yard, the U.S. State Department and a cadre of international press with him. As the former Prince Charles – now King Charles III since Queen Elizabeth’s passing – ascends to the throne and mourns his mother’s death along with royal-watchers around the globe, his visit so many years ago has been woven into barrier island lore, and Windsor will forever be known as the place where Prince Charles sparked an enduring passion for polo in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Low-profile judge Aileen Cannon is Vero island resident
week of September 15, 2022

Aileen M. Cannon was not yet 40 years old when the federal prosecutor won decisive bipartisan support in a bitterly divided U.S. Senate to claim a seat on the U.S. District Court in South Florida. The profile of this young conservative lawyer – who lives on Vero’s South Beach – soared last week after she intervened in the Justice Department investigation into former President Donald Trump’s possible mishandling of classified information and agreed to grant his request for an independent review of material that FBI agents had seized. Cannon’s controversial ruling, which she called necessary to “ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances,” temporarily barred investigators from using the documents removed last month from his Mar-a-Lago residence. The government subsequently said it would appeal the decision. READ FULL STORY


Riverfront (yes, not oceanfront) property listed for $25 million
week of September 15, 2022

Vero’s continuing ascent into the real estate stratosphere was illustrated anew last month when a riverfront development tract on the south barrier island went on the market for $25 million. The 17.45-acre property, directly across A1A from Atlantis and bifurcated, at least for the moment, by a 110-foot-wide strip, is bounded by The Moorings’ South Passage neighborhood on the north and St. Christopher Harbor on the south. To the west is a gorgeous mile-and-a-half-wide stretch of the Indian River Lagoon. The tract is composed about equally of lowlands and submerged or partially submerged lands. Miami real estate investor Jonathan Molano, who has a keen interest in Vero Beach, identified the property as an investment opportunity and purchased the land in two transactions earlier this year. To market and sell the Vero riverfront tract, Molano hired Oren Alexander, a superstar Miami and New York City broker who sold the most expensive residential property in U.S. history a couple of years ago – a $238 million Manhattan penthouse. READ FULL STORY


A 2nd chance to hear Andres Duany’s vision for Three Corners
week of September 15, 2022

Remember the excitement and enthusiasm generated by urban planner Andres Duany’s vision for the Three Corners parcels – a conceptual design so well-received that at one public presentation in January 2020 the gathering gave him a standing ovation? Vicky Gould hopes to rekindle those feelings. Confronting a citizen-authored November referendum that could derail Vero Beach’s plan to develop a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront, the chairwoman of the now-dissolved Three Corners Steering Committee wants to remind everyone what the project would mean to the community. That’s why Gould is bringing Duany back to Vero Beach on Oct. 12, when he’ll re-present the city’s Three Corners Master Concept Plan for the 33-acre property that contains the defunct municipal power plant and still-operating wastewater-treatment facility. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections up, but no sign of predicted fall surge
week of September 15, 2022

The number of local residents hospitalized with COVID-19 declined sharply this past week, but the number of new infections rose somewhat – though not enough to indicate the beginning of the predicted fall surge from ultra-contagious Omicron variants. New cases reported to the Florida Department of Health rose from 127 for the week ending Sept. 1 to 178 for the week ending Sept. 8, an increase of 40 percent. New infections typically see a bump after three-day holiday weekends when people tend to gather in groups and travel, so it’s not surprising that the numbers edged up after Labor Day. School has also been in session for a month, increasing opportunities for the virus to be passed around. The good news is that the county’s case positivity rate fell to 10.1 percent from 14.5 percent two weeks earlier on the last statewide report. READ FULL STORY


First round of water/sewer rate hikes put off until January
week of September 15, 2022

The Vero Beach Utilities Commission got its first real look at proposed water and sewer rate hikes designed to finance the city’s new wastewater treatment and fund growing operational costs, and the price tag will be a steep one. Indian River Shores and unincorporated south barrier Island residents can expect 76.7 percent higher rates by October 2025. Utility customers inside the city limits will be hit with a 63.2 percent increase. After that, only an annual CPI increase is scheduled, but that could change if the cost of building the new plant rises above the current $82 million estimate. The one bright spot in the Raftelis consultant’s presentation, which was scheduled to be repeated this past Tuesday for the Vero Beach City Council, is that instead of implementing the first phase of the new rate scheme on Oct. 1 as originally planned, the initial set of increases will go into effect in January. READ FULL STORY


Vero prepares to hit Shores with big utility hike
week of September 8, 2022

Utility consultants have recommended that Vero Beach press ahead next month with steep utility rate hikes that will let Vero collect as much as possible from Indian River Shores residents for sewer and reuse irrigation water before the town’s franchise agreement expires in 2027. An early peek at the draft results of a water-sewer rate study to be considered next week shows Vero nearly doubling sewer rates in six years, and doubling reuse irrigation water rates in nine years. After city officials announced that proposed water-sewer rate increases to pay for the city’s new sewer plant would be announced just weeks before the rate hikes were set to go into effect, Vero Beach 32963 requested copies of email correspondence between city staff and the rate consultants. The 34 digital files of public records show that on July 19, rate consultants sent Finance Director Cindy Lawson a schedule of three options for water, sewer and reuse water increases over a 10-year period. All three options recommended front-loading rate increases in fiscal years ending in 2023, 2024 and 2025 while Town of Indian River Shores residents will still be Vero utility customers. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases here down; new vaccine available in Vero
week of September 8, 2022

The weekly count of new COVID-19 infections was way down to start the month of September, as a new vaccine booster formula got federal approval ahead of an expected Omicron surge this fall or winter. Cases reported to the Florida Department of Health from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2 were down 52 percent from the previous week, with an average of 18 positive cases per day reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s down from the summer’s high of 65 cases per day in June. Hospitalization trends tend to lag a few weeks behind major changes in case numbers and last week the number of COVID-positive people admitted to local hospitals was 15, up from 13 the previous week. Going into the Labor Day weekend, the county’s largest hospital, Cleveland Clinic Indian River, said: “As of today, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 15 COVID-19 patients in-house. None in critical care,” according to spokesperson Erin Miller. READ FULL STORY


Eight candidates, including two incumbents, seek Vero Council seats
week of September 8, 2022

Incumbents Honey Minuse and Bob McCabe are among the eight candidates who have qualified to run in the November election for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council. The third seat currently belongs to Mayor Robbie Brackett, who last month won the Republican primary to represent District 34 in the Florida House of Representatives and is favored against Sebastian Democrat Karen Greb. The other candidates for Vero Beach City Council are: Linda Moore, Kilted Mermaid co-owner; Brooke Steinkamp, a beachside boutique owner; Taylor Dingle, a John’s Island golf pro; Tracey Zudans, who was an elected trustee on the Indian River County Hospital District; John Carroll Jr., a certified general contractor and structural engineer; and Ken Daige, who served on the City Council from 2006 to 2008. READ FULL STORY


Good news, buyers: Housing inventory increase bringing island real estate market into balance
week of September 8, 2022

Housing supply and demand on the barrier island have bounced back into better balance as the real estate market moves into a new phase after an unprecedented two-year boom. Single-family inventory on the island hit a historic low in March when there was a mere 30-day supply of homes. Four months later, at the end of July, there was a 6.8-month supply of houses for sale in 32963, according to detailed information provided by Scott Reynolds who leads the Reynolds Team at Compass. “Six percent is usually considered a balanced market,” said Reynolds. “So at 6.8 we are actually edging into a buyers advantage in some parts of the market.” Other island brokers pull slightly different numbers from their data but all those who spoke with Vero Beach 32963 agree there is now at least a 5-month supply of homes for sale on the island. READ FULL STORY


Court backlog leaves major cases unresolved
week of September 8, 2022

Summer here typically brings at least one intriguing criminal trial, resolving a languishing case that barrier island residents have been following, and potentially bringing justice or closure to victims’ families. But not this year. The felony case backlog, made worse by COVID-19 court closures and pandemic restrictions, has yet to be resolved. Several months ago, one case that Vero Beach 32963 had been following for four years was finally set for trial. We contacted the prosecutor on the case to get last-minute details – how many days the trial would be expected to last, how many witnesses might be called – and the prosecutor cautioned there were upwards of 100 cases set for trial that same day in Judge Dan Vaughn’s courtroom. Though it seems unbelievable that defense attorneys and prosecutors could be asked to be “ready for trial” with more than 100 cases scheduled for the same day, that is indeed what is happening. READ FULL STORY


Orchid has no need for Town Council election
week of September 8, 2022

With just three candidates qualifying for three open seats on the Orchid Town Council, the northernmost of the county’s barrier island municipalities will not require an election this November. Filling the vacant four-year seats will be council newcomers James Raphalian and John Heanue, as well as returning incumbent Bob Gibbons, who just completed a term as mayor. After earning an MBA in finance from Penn State, Raphalian, 76, worked with major firms in the industry for more than three decades, including Schwab Capital Markets and PaineWebber, and has continued to dedicate much of his time and expertise to several charitable causes. He retired to Orchid from New Jersey in 2013. Heanue, 77, earned a degree in finance from the University of Colorado and worked in the banking and investment business for 35 years, the last 25 as a managing director with Goldman Sachs. READ FULL STORY


US Judge rejects Vero arguments on water-sewer
week of September 1, 2022

A federal judge has shot down all of the City of Vero Beach’s arguments for a permanent water-sewer service territory, putting the Town of Indian River Shores one step closer to being able to obtain utility service from Indian River County or another provider. Vero Beach had filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Shores which claims that a 1989 territorial agreement dividing Indian River County into two exclusive water-sewer service territories is a violation of federal antitrust law because it prevents the town from seeking competitive proposals for an essential service. Federal Judge Aileen Cannon dismissed Vero’s motion, meaning the case will move forward toward a trial, which is set for January. One by one, Cannon refuted each of Vero’s assertions justifying the permanent service territory, meaning that, to prevail at trial, Vero’s legal team will need to come up with a new rationale and strategy. READ FULL STORY


Vero not immune from nationwide surge in accidents
week of September 1, 2022

Vero Beach, much like paradise in so many ways, is not safe from the seemingly unrelenting national crisis we are currently experiencing on our roads and highways. Traffic data just within the Vero Beach city limits show 2,350 motor vehicle accidents between Jan. 1, 2020, and mid-August 2022. Forty incidents involved pedestrians and in 22 crashes, bicyclists were involved in collisions with motor vehicles, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Eighty-four percent of the crashes occurred in broad daylight and 97 percent in dry conditions, so poor visibility and wet roads don’t seem to be to blame for the bulk of traffic incidents. Vero’s reality reflects, albeit on a smaller scale, what’s happening nationwide. On Aug.17, federal transportation officials reported more than 9,500 people were killed in traffic accidents in the first three months of 2022 marking the deadliest start of a year in the country in two decades. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council trying to get referendum off November ballot
week of September 1, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council voted unanimously last week to ask a circuit judge to remove from the November ballot a citizen-authored referendum that would restrict plans to expand the municipal marina and limit the size of future improvements to other park-like properties protected in the city charter. The council will challenge the referendum’s language, which City Attorney John Turner said violated state law because it is “unclear and ambiguous” and “doesn’t fairly advise and inform the voters of the consequences if it is approved and adopted.” Turner said the lawsuit could be filed by the end of this week, and he’ll request that the judge order an expedited hearing so a ruling can be made before the Nov. 8 election. If a ruling isn’t issued before voters begin casting ballots – and if the city wins the case – Turner said a judge has the authority to void the result. The referendum cannot be reworded or withdrawn because it already has been submitted to the Supervisor of Elections Office. READ FULL STORY


ORCA making Vero Beach its new headquarters
week of September 1, 2022

After searching for more than a year, sometimes desperately, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association has found a new home – and its new headquarters will be in Vero Beach. The relocation from Fort Pierce to a 6,500-square-foot building on 16th Street between Old Dixie Highway and U. S. 1 that will be renovated into lab, office and education space will add to Vero’s scientific power and reputation for environmental awareness. The acquisition of the Vero building was fueled by a grant from island resident Trudie Rainone in memory of her son Donald “D.J.” Rainone, who she said “was passionate about the lagoon and loved swimming in the ocean.” ORCA’s new headquarters will be named the D.J. Rainone Research and Science Building in his honor. ORCA hopes to move in by the end of the year. “It is an ideal location for us,” ORCA founder and chief scientist Edie Widder told Vero Beach 32963 last week READ FULL STORY


Seaside Grill at Jaycee Park to reopen in a few weeks
week of September 1, 2022

A refreshed Seaside Grill is expected to finally open in a few weeks, under new management, after a six-figure renovation and with extended hours. The popular breakfast and lunch restaurant overlooking the beach in Vero’s Jaycee Park has been closed since April 22 when longtime operators Dan and Rose Culumber decided “18 hours a day, seven days a week for 30 years” was enough. Locals who’ve been awaiting the next iteration of the beloved eatery will appreciate the familiar look and feel, as the place exudes the same easy, sand-in-your-shoes ambiance. One major change will be the hours of operation, previously open from 7 a.m. to mid-afternoon. As the city looked ahead to the next lessee, City Manager Monte Falls had mentioned “we’d like to see (it stay open) maybe later in the evening, maybe for a light meal,” adding that would be “well within” the city code parameters. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases hold steady; hospitalizations down
week of September 1, 2022

The weekly number of new COVID-19 infections here remained steady last week at 256 cases countywide, and hospitalizations were down slightly, but the number of deaths locally continues to rise as at least 21 more COVID-positive people died in August, according to the Florida Department of Health. Indian River County remained in the “Low COVID Community Level” category at press time Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the level of community transmission based upon the raw case count is still considered high. The CDC reported 13 people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19 illness over the past week, a number in line with what the county’s largest hospital is seeing. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday, “There are 12 patients with COVID in-house this morning, one patient is in the ICU.” READ FULL STORY


COVID situation better here than in most of state
week of August 25, 2022

For the first time since May, our community has moved into the Low COVID Community Level category, represented by green on the statewide map, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s assessment of the overall impact of the virus on Indian River County’s healthcare system. Virtually all of Florida – with the exception of Indian River and Brevard counties – remains in the CDC’s High or Medium categories. New infections here dropped by 27 percent compared to the previous week, as the number of positive cases fell from 360 per week to 260 as of Monday. That’s on top of a 28 percent decline the previous week. The CDC says 14 people were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 last week, taking up 5 percent to 6 percent of staffed beds. Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday that “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 17 COVID positive patients in house this morning, and none are in ICU.” In terms of raw case numbers, Indian River County is still considered an area of “high community transmission” meaning the virus is still actively spreading throughout the community, and precautions are still needed. READ FULL STORY


November referendum on Vero Marina termed ‘bad idea’
week of August 25, 2022

A group of beachside residents opposed to planned expansions to the Vero Beach Municipal Marina has successfully petitioned for a vote on the issue, but Vero Mayor Robbie Brackett called the November referendum a “bad idea” that could derail the much hyped and wildly popular Three Corners project. “If this referendum passes,” Brackett said Sunday, “there’s a great chance it will kill the Three Corners.” The referendum was authored by the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance, formed in April to challenge the City Council’s $7.6 million plan to replace and expand the marina’s dilapidated and undersized dry storage boat facility, which was built in the 1960s and is not equipped to house today’s larger recreational vessels. The core of the late-arriving group – the City Council began discussing marina expansion two years ago – is comprised of homeowners who live in the Central Beach neighborhood surrounding the marina, which has operated at that site since the 1930s. Refusing to accept a compromise earlier this summer, when city officials agreed to reduce the length of the proposed new boat barn from 210 feet to 180 feet, the group went door-to-door and collected more than 1,150 verified signatures to secure the referendum. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne Academy adds Delta to list of major airline partners
week of August 25, 2022

Skyborne Airline Academy Vero Beach has added Delta Airlines to its growing list of flight-training partnerships with major and regional carriers. The agreement with Delta’s Propel program, the airline’s pilot-career pathway, was finalized earlier this month and comes seven months after Skyborne announced a new partnership with United Airlines’ Aviate program. Skyborne also has established partnerships with: SkyWest Airlines, the nation’s largest regional carrier; Endeavor Air, which operates as a Delta Connection; and Envoy Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines and formerly known as American Eagle Airlines. In addition, the academy has agreements to train pilots for two charter airlines. “It’s certainly good for business,” Ed Davidson, managing director of Skyborne’s Vero Beach flight school, said of the partnerships. “It increases our top-line revenues, and it’s always nice to have those relationships, especially at a time when airlines need more pilots. READ FULL STORY


Sizable decline in new COVID infections here
week of August 18, 2022

The latest omicron BA.5 subvariant wave finally appears to be receding here. New COVID-19 infections reported to the Florida Department of Health declined 28 percent last week to 351 cases, marking the first meaningful shift in the weekly case count all summer. Since the average number of positive cases rose from 50 per day to 65 per day in early June, reported cases have held steady between 450 and 500 cases per week the entire summer travel season when students were out of school. Despite the downturn in new infections last week, Indian River County remains in the high COVID Community Level and community transition categories, along with almost all of Florida. Statewide figures for new infections echoed the local downturn last week, as did nationwide reports. Most Florida counties saw a marked decline in newly reported cases though this number does not include people who tested positive via at-home test kits and did not seek medical care. READ FULL STORY


Gifford leader seeks independent probe of Black teen’s shooting
week of August 18, 2022

A longtime Gifford community leader is questioning the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office’s in-house investigation of the June 11 shooting of a 19-year-old Black man who deputies say grabbed a handgun and ran from a traffic stop in a residential neighborhood. “There’s no way I cannot question it,” NAACP Indian River County Chapter President Tony Brown said last week. “They’re calling it an internal investigation. In the ’hood, we call it the fox guarding the hen house. You’ve got the perpetrators investigating the perpetrators. “The reality is going to be whatever they want it to be.” For that reason, Brown said he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent investigation of the incident in which four deputies fired more than 40 gunshots at Jamall Frederick as he tried to flee into a residential neighborhood. Frederick, a Fort Pierce resident who in February pled guilty to a June 2021 auto burglary here and was sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation, was shot up to seven times before he was arrested and taken to HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce. READ FULL STORY


Lofty ambition: Customized storage units will also come with ‘ultra-luxury condos’
week of August 18, 2022

First came the high-end storage units, where buyers could keep their classic cars and luxury “toys.” Then came bigger units – customized with mezzanine levels, bathrooms, and big-screen TVs – designed to hold Class A RVs. Now, would you believe garages that will each come with a 500-square-foot “ultra-luxury condo” with kitchen, living room, bedroom and two baths? That’s what local developer Scott Parker is planning with his Bespoke Lofts project on 12th Street, where he will build 17 custom, luxury storage units that include a small condo as part of the package. He got his demo permit from the county on Aug. 4 and has received approval from the state to take cash deposits and reservations. His will be the fifth luxury storage project launched in Vero in the past several years, as island buyers have snapped up hurricane-proof units as large as 1,500 square feet, paying $300,000 and more for beautifully designed and built “garages” to store their valuable possessions. Parker’s units will be unique in two ways: They are being built inside an existing building instead of from the ground up, and they will come with a 500-square-foot, “ultra-luxury condo,” in Parker’s words. READ FULL STORY


Covid infections flatten; hospital admissions drop
week of August 11, 2022

The latest COVID-19 surge may finally have peaked, with new weekly infections here flattening around the 500 mark as the Vero Beach area remains a zone of high community transmission. The CDC reported 18 new hospital admissions in the seven days ending Aug. 3, and as of press time Monday, local hospitalizations had fallen significantly from last week. “We have 15 COVID patients in-house at Indian River Hospital this morning, none of which are in critical care,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday. That number is down 44 percent from 27 patients in the hospital the previous week. Florida’s case numbers were relatively flat last week, with COVID deaths up slightly. Nationwide, reports of new positive cases were down 9.8 percent compared with two weeks ago, but deaths were up by 21.3 percent in that same two-week timeframe. READ FULL STORY


Volunteers mark 70th anniversary of Hospital Auxiliary
week of August 11, 2022

Through 70 years of cheerfully showing up to work for zero pay, Vero’s hospital auxiliary volunteers have navigated changing technology, building construction, renovations and expansions, hurricanes, staff and management changes, a growing county population and finally the handoff to Cleveland Clinic – but it took a pandemic to keep them on the sidelines. For 19 months, strict COVID-19 precautions meant hospital volunteers needed to stay home, for their own safety as much as for the patients. But recently Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital began phasing volunteers back into the mix. Since the volunteers missed the auxiliary’s 70th anniversary in 2021, they are celebrating it now. “We are so grateful our volunteers have returned to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and cannot thank them enough for their care and dedication to our patients and community,” Dr. Greg Rosencrance, president of the hospital, said. “For 70 years, the Auxiliary has played a vital role in achieving our mission providing exceptional health, hope and compassion to every person, every time. I could not be more proud of our volunteers for making a difference in the lives others,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Detectives making progress in investigation of crash that killed elderly John’s Island man
week of August 11, 2022

Detectives made some progress this week in the investigation of a high-speed crash in May that killed an elderly John’s Island resident and serious injured his widow. But police said it will be a while yet before they know whether the results of a blood test will enable them to file charges against the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club resident who was driving the black Mercedes that slammed into the rear of the couple’s car. The Indian River Shores Public Safety Department, working alongside State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office, obtained and served a search warrant on HCA Lawnwood Hospital for the results of blood tests performed when the driver of the rear vehicle was transported to the hospital with injuries from the crash. The hospital had not provided the lab results voluntarily, and then did not comply with a subpoena for the medical records within the 20-day timeframe, forcing the Shores to seek a search warrant. But when the raw data from the hospital lab finally was handed over, the results were not in the form the Shores officers needed. READ FULL STORY


Number of homes listed for sale on island rising — slightly
week of August 11, 2022

The number of single-family homes for sale on the island has more than doubled in the past couple of months – from fewer than 40 at low points in the spring to almost 90 one day last week. Condo inventory has jumped, too. “Inventory is building because the number of sales have declined steeply,” said Buzz MacWilliam, owner of AMAC Alex MacWilliam real estate. Houses are sitting on the market longer and the number of price reductions continue to increase. For the most part, real estate professionals who make their livings selling houses and condos express relief and even happiness about the market shift. “The shift is bringing some balance back to the market,” said AMAC broker Alex MacWilliam IV, who is Buzz MacWilliam’s son. “It is becoming a fairer market, which is good for buyers,” Berkshire Hathaway agent Chip Landers told Vero Beach 32963. Asked for a comment on the inventory increase, ONE Sotheby’s International Realty broker-associate Cindy O’Dare had a one-word response: “Hallelujah!
“We are very happy to have the beautiful new listings we have gotten in the past month,” she said. “It has become a very nice market for both the buyer and the seller at the top end.”
READ FULL STORY


Big Blue’s subsidy of Vero city budget is nearing an end
week of August 4, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | For the first time in four decades, property owners within the Vero Beach city limits will be funding almost all the costs of municipal staff, facilities, programs and amenities this fall. Almost. The “glide path” designed to wean Vero off nearly $6 million in annual electric utility transfers to the city’s general fund – a sum long borne heavily by electric customers in Indian River Shores, South Beach and mainland unincorporated Indian River County – has all but run out. Only $500,000 remains from the electric sale proceeds that were set aside to facilitate a soft(er) landing for city taxpayers. In the 2023-24 budget year, the Big Blue dowry will be totally gone. Zero glide path money will be left to cushion the general fund. Taxable property values in the city of Vero Beach increased 11.8 percent this past year, but the remaining cushion alone won’t be enough to fund all the expenditures. Taxes are set to increase as much as 9 percent on top of those higher real estate assessments, netting an extra $1.8 million in property taxes. That’s a nearly 22 percent tax increase in total, and it will require at least four out of five council members’ votes by Florida Statute to hike tax revenues and expenses that much. READ FULL STORY


Shores incumbents to stay, but Council has one new opening
week of August 4, 2022

While three members of the Indian River Shores Town Council were re-appointed last week without an election because no one qualified to run against them, residents can still expect some new faces in their municipal government. Councilman Christian Hendricks submitted his resignation on Monday morning, effective Friday, saying he is moving out of state. Hendricks wrote in his resignation letter addressed to Town Manager Jim Harpring, “To the residents of Indian River Shores, I wish them all well. They can be assured that you and your staff will do your best to protect them and provide for their well-being and happiness.” Hendricks, a local Realtor and a former top administrative staffer for the U.S. House of Representatives, was elected to a four-year term in 2020, so now the council must appoint someone new to fill the balance of Hendricks’ term. “We will just use the same process as we did when John McCord resigned. My goal is to get a notice of vacancy out to the residents this week and anyone who is interested would submit a letter and CV. We need to set dates and time frames and I would imagine the council members would want to do one-on-one interviews,” Harpring said. READ FULL STORY


Surging rents price some low-income seniors out of homes
week of August 4, 2022

Vero Beach’s fixed-income elderly are, in growing numbers, being priced out of their homes in the white-hot rental market, with some lower-income seniors even joining the ranks of the homeless. With local housing costs spiraling, vulnerable seniors on fixed incomes are finding it hard to keep up with inflation. Lundy Fields, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of the Treasure Coast, describes the situation facing some of his agency’s clients as “a crisis.” “Investors purchase properties, rents go up, seniors are forced out,” he said of clients with chronic health conditions, or recent hospitalization requiring skilled nursing care, who suddenly find themselves without a home. “Four, I believe, in the past month, all in their 70s, including two who have been living in their cars.” Fields said the rent of one VNA client’s apartment soared from about $1,500 a month to $2,000. READ FULL STORY


Mixed-use village proposed for 5th Avenue property just north of Vero’s Miracle Mile
week of August 4, 2022

Commercial real estate broker Keith Kite was excited last month when he picked up the listing for 2300 5th Ave. immediately north of Miracle Mile. Kite’s enthusiasm for the property goes way beyond the prospect of a big commission. He sees it as an opportunity to upgrade the Vero Beach lifestyle with a mixed-use village that would bring new life to the area between the bridges, and begin to fulfill the city’s vision of “incorporating residential and other non-retail uses” into the Miracle Mile district. Right now, the 7-acre property is kind of a dead zone. It has a large, leased-up office building at its center – which used to be the old Doctor’s Clinic – but it is cut off from Miracle Mile with just two obscure ways in and out. Kite envisions opening the property up and replacing the old building, which dates from the 1960s, with a lively mix of shops, restaurants, professional offices and luxury townhomes or apartments. READ FULL STORY


Covid hospitalizations up, cases flat
week of August 4, 2022

The number of patients with COVID-19 in Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has risen again sharply, but deaths were down and reports of new infections were almost unchanged last week from the previous period. New positive COVID tests reported to the Florida Department of Health this past week declined slightly from 499 to 489 cases, so Indian River County remains in the high category for community transmission. The meaning of those weekly numbers is muddled, however, due to local residents and businesses using an unknown number of do-it-yourself, at-home COVID-19 test kits. Positive results on home test kits do not get reported to the health department, unless the patient ends up hospitalized or seeking medical care. Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said that as of Monday, “we have 27 COVID-positive patients, one of which is in critical care at Indian River Hospital.” That’s up 170 percent from the 10 patients hospitalized seven days prior. READ FULL STORY


Rosario writes check to end campaign contribution confusion
week of August 4, 2022

School Board member Jackie Rosario, who is seeking re-election to her District 2 seat, last week filed a campaign treasurer’s report that included a $1,000 in-kind contribution from The Source – a political gift that could jeopardize the nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The filing stemmed from The Source’s Dignity Catering division having provided food, free of charge, for Rosario’s July 14 campaign fundraiser at the Vero Beach Community Center. Rosario’s report, however, seemed to surprise Anthony Zorbaugh, executive director of The Source, a Christian outreach mission that serves the poor and homeless in Indian River County. Told of Rosario’s filing, Zorbaugh vehemently denied making any contribution to her campaign. “We catered an event for her, but it wasn’t a campaign contribution,” Zorbaugh said late Friday, after Vero Beach 32963 informed him of Rosario’s filing. “I didn’t write her a check or give her any money. I gave her some meatballs. We don’t have any political ties to anybody,” he added. “ READ FULL STORY


Guess how much Vero utility bills will be going up
week of July 28, 2022

Vero Beach Utilities water-sewer customers will see their monthly utility bill go up when the city’s new one-rate plan takes effect Oct. 1, but they won’t be told how much their rates are going to increase until the last minute. Vero hired consultants to perform a rate study that would take into consideration not just the cost of operating the water treatment plant, sewer plant and reuse irrigation water service, but also the cost of designing and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. That’s not to mention the expense of redirecting sewer pipes to the airport and dismantling the existing plant on the Indian River Lagoon, plus handling any needed environmental cleanup on the sewer plant site so that land can be incorporated into the city’s riverfront development master plan. Based upon an initial $80 million project guesstimate, Vero’s consultant told city officials in 2020 that rates would increase $17.66 per month, phased in over a 10-year period for the average customer who is hooked up to both water and sewer service. READ FULL STORY


Mexican restaurants here are hot, hot, hot!
week of July 28, 2022

As the local dining scene heats up in the wake of the pandemic, Mexican food is becoming the hottest thing in town – and we’re not talking about the chiles rellenos or the mole poblano enchiladas. After years when Vero seemed to have nothing but Italian restaurants, we are now seeing a surprising surge in Mexican dining spots here. At this rate, there could soon be a dozen Mexican eateries on the mainland to choose among. Whether any of these will at last bring Mexican fine dining to Vero – or will simply be more Tex-Mex places – remains to be seen. But three new south of the border restaurants are either just opening or are in various stages of readiness west of the Barber bridge. The first of the newcomers, the El Rey Mexican Restaurant, held its grand opening on July 16. It’s located in the former 20th Street location of Vero Prime and, more recently, Savor. READ FULL STORY


Mueller Campus president Casey Lunceford retiring – sort of
week of July 28, 2022

Indian River State College campus president and trombonist Casey Lunceford is retiring at the end of August – sort of. Based on his planned post-retirement activities – serving on boards, consulting, teaching college music classes and helping local high school bands – he may actually be busier than ever starting Sept. 1. And he’ll definitely still be playing the trombone, among other instruments. But Lunceford will leave his job at the Mueller Campus of Indian River State College after 8 years as president there, 25 years total at the 5-campus community college, and 39 years as an educator in Florida and Louisiana. He will be replaced by Terri A. Graham, Ed.D, a former elementary school teacher who worked her way up through the pedagogical ranks to be a top administrator at Valencia College in Orlando, where she served most recently as interim president of two campuses, overseeing the education of 35,000 students annually. READ FULL STORY


Leatherback sea turtles are enjoying a banner nesting season on our beaches
week of July 28, 2022

Leatherback turtles broke an 11-year record this season for local nesting, laying 96 nests, beating the 2010 tally of 87 nests by a good margin. Indian River County Sea Turtle Environmental Specialist Quintin Bergman called the statistics “eggs-cellent for leatherback sea turtles.” In the 22 years since the county’s Sea Turtle Conservation program has been keeping leatherback records, the county’s shores have been the repository of choice for an average of 50 leatherback nests per season, ranking 2022 significantly above average. The largest turtle on the planet, and one of the world’s most impressive reptiles, leatherbacks can reach 6 feet long and 1,000 pounds, mostly by chowing down on jellyfish in the cold waters around Nova Scotia. Each summer, the endangered and protected turtles head south to nest, making the 3,000-mile journey to tropical shores. Popular nesting spots along Indian River County’s 22.4 miles of sandy coastline include the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on the north barrier Island. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases up; hospitalizations down
week of July 28, 2022

While new weekly COVID-19 infections here were up by 11 percent this past week to 499 cases, local hospitalizations and deaths were both down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 10 COVID-positive patients – down from the 27 people hospitalized one week prior, according to hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell. Two of the patients in the hospital were in the Intensive-Care Unit, up from one last week. The CDC reported six additional deaths in Indian River County last week due to COVID-19, down from nine deaths in the previous seven days. All but two Florida counties remained in the high community spread category, with the Treasure Coast and Florida’s Panhandle reporting the greatest percentage increase in cases from the previous week, according to the CDC’s rolling seven-day average. READ FULL STORY


Pelican Island Audubon Society hires executive director
week of July 28, 2022

Indian River County’s oldest and most active environmental organization has hired its first executive director with the aim of expanding its programs and increasing its public profile after nearly 60 years of volunteer leadership. “Up till now, we have been so busy starting and running programs that we haven’t done as good a job as we should have of telling our story,” said Donna Halleran, a Coast Guard veteran and retired social worker who started as executive director of Pelican Island Audubon Society this month. It is quite a story. Early members of the group that formed Pelican Island Audubon Society led the fight to stop condo development near Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary back in the early 1960s. The chapter was organized in 1964 in the aftermath of that effort and since then has been at the forefront of most every important environmental battle or initiative in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island West golf course ranked No. 4 in Florida
week of July 28, 2022

The oft-celebrated John’s Island West golf course continues to impress industry experts who annually rank it among the nation’s best, as well as one of the elite layouts in the state. The latest recognition comes from Golfweek magazine, which earlier this month ranked John’s Island’s mainland jewel No. 4 on its 2022 list of the “Best Private Courses” in Florida, behind only the Seminole (Juno Beach), Calusa Pines (Naples) and Mountain Lake (Lake Wales) golf clubs. John’s Island West, in fact, ranked ahead of the lofty likes of The Bear’s Club (No. 6) in Jupiter; McArthur (No. 9), Loblolly (No. 10) and Medalist (No. 12) in Hobe Sound; Trump International (No. 14) in West Palm Beach; and Floridian (No. 20) in Palm City. Golfweek also included John’s Island West in its 2022 rankings of the “Top 200 Residential Courses in the U.S.” (No. 12) and “Top 200 Modern Courses in the U.S.” (No. 58). READ FULL STORY


Vero slashes amount of stormwater tax
week of July 28, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council decided last week to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover most of the $1.1 million cost of next year’s planned stormwater management projects to help reduce nutrient runoff going into the Indian River Lagoon. After a sometimes-tumultuous, three-hour public discussion, the council voted to have taxpayers pay only 10 percent of the amount they would’ve paid under the stormwater tax rate structure they had approved in June. Owners of average-size homes will now be required to pay $7 instead of $75 for the year when they receive their tax bills in November. The amount of the stormwater fee depends upon each property’s impervious surfaces, such as buildings, driveways and patios that don’t absorb water. Government-owned land and nonprofits like churches also would be assessed, according to the paved or impervious area on the property that contribute to the city’s total stormwater runoff problem, just like homes and businesses. The amended plan, which was approved in a 3-2 vote, will cover only the coming fiscal year. Taxpayers can expect to pay considerably more in fiscal 2023-24, when the council sets a new stormwater tax rate structure. READ FULL STORY


Hospitalizations of patients with Covid up sharply
week of July 21, 2022

The number of people hospitalized here with COVID-19 has increased 59 percent since July 1, and 16 more Indian River County residents have died with or from the virus in the past three weeks, according to data compiled from Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control reports. The CDC reports 25 new hospitalizations over the past week, up slightly from recent weeks, but the big jump occurred in the number of people still in the hospital at press time. Going into the Independence Day holiday weekend, 17 people had been admitted to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital with COVID-19, but on Monday, hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen Mitchell said: “We have 27 patients in house with COVID, one is in critical care.” READ FULL STORY


Might a boutique hotel rise incorporating Big Blue?
week of July 21, 2022

Good news for people who want to see Vero Beach upgraded with a world-class, mixed-use redevelopment project on the riverfront where the old Big Blue powerplant now sits idle. Major developers are keenly interested in the $120 million hotel, marina, restaurant, retail and recreation plan. “I am personally very excited about the project,” says Bob Miller, CEO and founder of Equity First Development, who submitted the adjacent image. Miller was one of four big players who responded with detailed proposals to the Request for Information, or RFI, that the city put out several months ago. Miller, whose company bought the adjacent Fairlane Harbor mobile home community in 2020 for $36 million and who owns a home in Vero Beach, added: “It would be a tremendous boost for the area. There is room on the site to develop a large successful project that would be the next big step for Vero Beach.” Other developers agree. READ FULL STORY


Charges expected in crash that claimed life of John’s Island man
week of July 21, 2022

A rear-end collision on A1A near the entrance to Bermuda Bay that claimed the life of an elderly John’s Island man two months ago may soon see charges brought against the driver of the rear vehicle, but investigation of the crash by the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department has not been easy. The crash, which occurred just after dusk, involved two vehicles traveling northbound on A1A. The rear vehicle, a black Mercedes convertible, slammed into the front vehicle, seriously injuring a John’s Island couple in their 80s, sending them both to HCA Lawnwood hospital, where the husband died of crash injuries. The driver of the Mercedes was also injured, and she too was transported to the hospital. While no breathalyzer test was administered at the scene, a toxicology test was performed at Lawnwood, as is standard procedure after a car crash. Shores Public Safety Deputy Chief Mark Shaw said typically, hospitals provide the blood tests to detectives without a subpoena. But not in this case, so officers worked with prosecutors at the State Attorney’s office to compel the release of the records. READ FULL STORY


South Beach hit by rash of car burglaries
week of July 21, 2022

At least nine vehicles were burglarized last weekend in the South Beach area. Five of the burglaries occurred along Sandpiper Lane, one block south of East Causeway Boulevard (17th Street), where Vero Beach Police responded to a visitor’s complaint Saturday morning that her purse had been stolen from her unlocked van. The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, was investigating at least four other auto burglaries on the barrier island, south of the Vero Beach city limits. Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said Monday that a woman visiting from Pennsylvania flagged down an officer on patrol to report the burglary, which occurred between 8:30 p.m. Friday and 7:20 a.m. Saturday. Currey said the woman’s purse was later found in the roadway near the home where she was staying, but her wallet – which contained her driver’s license and bank cards – was missing. The wallet was found by sheriff’s deputies in the Pelican Lane neighborhood, prompting police to believe the South Beach auto burglaries in the city and unincorporated county were related. READ FULL STORY


Bill Penney elected chairman of Florida Bankers Assn.
week of July 21, 2022

Vero Beach got another feather in its cap in last month when Marine Bank & Trust president and CEO Bill Penney was elected chairman of the Florida Bankers Association. It is not a ceremonial position. As chairman he will be the face and voice of one of Florida’s oldest and most powerful trade associations, traveling to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. frequently to lobby for regulations and legislation favorable to Florida banks. “I will be back in Washington next week,” Penney told Vero Beach 32963, adding that he will be lobbying against proposed regulations that would require publicly-traded banks to somehow assess and then report the climate impact of their customers’ businesses. Marine Bank is not publicly traded so the regulations, if enacted, would not affect it, but the Florida banking industry does not think the rules make sense. READ FULL STORY


Premier remains realty power here as market changes
week of July 14, 2022

Over the past year, while the amazing escalation of home prices on the 32963 island captured most of the attention, a less visible reordering of the Vero Beach real estate market and a game of musical chairs among top Realtors has been taking place. National powerhouses like Douglas Elliman and Compass perceived the need to have a presence in Vero Beach, luring teams of agents from established companies, while top-selling Realtors moved back and forth between existing Vero brokerages determined to hold onto their leadership positions in the island marketplace. At Premier Estate Properties, for more than a decade one of the 32963 island’s leading brokerages, broker/owner Joe Liguori is unfazed by the changes taking place. “We see this as opportunity for exponential growth in the Vero office,” Liguori told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Museum of Art preparing for major expansion
week of July 14, 2022

The Vero Beach Museum of Art, one of the crown jewels of the 32963 island, is preparing to expand again. “In the past decade, our audience has grown significantly, and we no longer have adequate spaces for our signature programs and events,” said executive director Brady Roberts. “We’re increasingly acquiring more significant works of art and we want to be able to share those with the public.” The design firm Allied Works – which has worked with numerous other museums – has been appointed to develop plans for an expansion and renovation project that is expected to be completed by the museum’s 40th anniversary in 2026. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways: Few flights from Vero in June; none so far in July
week of July 14, 2022

Elite Airways canceled 27 of its 35 scheduled flights into and out of Vero Beach in June – as well as all of its July flights through Monday – and the boutique carrier isn’t expected to resume service until next week. “We’ll probably have a few more cancellations before things get back to normal in a week or 10 days,” Elite President John Pearsall said Sunday. “We’re down to a limited number of aircraft.” Pearsall said two factors contributed to Elite’s current aircraft shortage: the airline’s 50-seat passenger jets needed to undergo what he described as “major maintenance”; and a federal Transportation Security Administration program that temporarily allowed the airline’s 70- and 90-seat jets to land and take off at the Vero Beach Regional Airport expired at the end of May. READ FULL STORY


County plans only slight property tax hike
week of July 14, 2022

Taxpayers can expect to pay only slightly more in property taxes next year to fund the $452 million budget County Administrator Jason Brown presented to county commissioners this week. That’s because a 13.5 percent increase in the county’s tax roll – a $9.4 million windfall produced by an influx of new residents, construction of new homes and a surge in real-estate values – allowed officials to maintain the current property-tax rate. Brown’s proposed 2022-23 budget is $90 million less than the $542 million budget under which the county is operating this year. It’s 4.3 percent lower than the county’s $472 million budget in 2006-07, when there were 25,000 fewer residents. READ FULL STORY


Clock ticking on Shores battle with Vero Beach over water
week of July 14, 2022

With the deadline only 15 months off for Indian River Shores to serve notice it intends to sever ties with Vero’s water utility, legal battles between the Shores and the City of Vero Beach have hit a stage where not much action is apparent. Behind the scenes, legal teams are working on briefs addressing Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals as the Shores challenges a detrimental circuit court ruling in its breach of contract suit against Vero over reuse water irrigation rates. Judge Janet Croom ruled in favor of Vero, holding that the city acted in accordance with state law. The Shores still believes Vero violated a 2012 franchise agreement promising to match Indian River County Utilities’ rates. READ FULL STORY


‘Dilapidated house’ in Castaway Cove troubles the neighbors
week of July 14, 2022

Progress has stalled again at 1215 Spanish Lace Lane, the house in Wave VI in Castaway Cove where the state of disrepair has been driving neighbors crazy for at least five years. A group of neighbors who circulated a petition in March to have the house condemned due to persistent code violations is again flooding the county switchboard with calls. The contractor hired by the homeowner to reroof the house has filed a mechanics lien against the property, which typically means a homeowner has not paid for contracted work. “Our concern is that a roofless house continues to exist in our neighborhood and we don’t understand why,” Angelique Padulo, who lives across the street from 1215 Spanish Lace Lane, wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. “There hasn’t been a roof on it since we moved here in 2020. The neighborhood is made up of beautiful, highly sought after homes and this dilapidated house is lowering our property values.” READ FULL STORY


Shores cop facing felony charges in domestic dispute
week of July 7, 2022

A now-former Indian River Shores Public Safety Department officer faces two felony charges and a first-degree misdemeanor in connection with what police say was a violent domestic dispute at a Brevard County hotel last week. Solomon “Joe” Parrish, 55, was arrested at his home in Sebastian after getting into an argument with his longtime girlfriend during a stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites in West Melbourne two Sundays ago. Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell declined comment on the arrest, calling it a “personal matter” that did not involve his agency, but he said Parrish’s employment with the town ended Friday. READ FULL STORY


New South Beach restaurant to be built on site of old Charley Brown’s
week of July 7, 2022

There probably will never again be a salad bar on the site of the popular old Charley Brown’s steakhouse on South Beach. But by the 20th anniversary of the 2004 hurricanes, island residents may finally find a restaurant there once again – and possibly, it might even be the temporary home of The Tides. A new mixed-use project planned for 1410 Highway A1A – with restaurant, retail and office space – is scheduled to break ground in early 2023. And according to developer Anthony DeChellis, it could end up housing the island’s most popular fine-dining restaurant. DeChellis, who also owns the buildings where The Tides currently is located, is working on plans to redevelop it and the building next to it in 2024, and said: “Nothing has been decided yet, but it is possible The Tides could be relocated to 1410 while its current location is redeveloped. READ FULL STORY


Former County Administrator Joe Baird charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend
week of July 7, 2022

Former Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird plans to plead “not guilty” and go to trial to fight a misdemeanor charge that he stalked his ex-girlfriend in May, his attorney said last week. Baird, 65, was arrested on June 27, after returning to Vero Beach from a rented summer home in Rhode Island and turning himself in at the County Jail, where he spent the night before being released the next morning after posting a $2,500 bond. In a probable-cause affidavit used to obtain an arrest warrant on June 24, Vero Beach Police Detective Jennifer Brumley wrote that Baird “willfully, maliciously and repeatedly followed, harassed and cyberstalked” his former longtime girlfriend. Baird’s attorney, Andy Metcalf, disputed the allegations and dismissed them as the remnants of a “bad breakup,” referring to the couple’s romantic-but-tumultuous, eight-year relationship that the woman claims to have ended in February. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Causeway landscaping nearly finished
week of July 7, 2022

The Florida Department of Transportation says the planting of new landscaping along the Wabasso Causeway should conclude this week, but that work will soon start on removing the stanchions that line both sides of the high bridge that carries traffic across the lagoon to the barrier island. Area residents were dismayed last year when the Australian Pines that had, for decades, provided shade and (many thought) beauty along the river in the little parks along the causeway were removed by the FDOT at a cost of approximately $112,000 because they are officially considered “invasive non-native species detrimental to our Florida environment.” Over the past several weeks, the pines have been replaced with native trees and palms that FDOT deems more appropriate for the coastal environment: gumbo limbo, with a maximum height of 16-18 feet; Pigeon plum, 12-14 feet; Sabal palms, 10-30 feet; and buttonwood, 12-14 feet. Most of the new trees are already in the ground and stabilized with supports. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections here hold steady through June
week of July 7, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally held relatively steady during the month of June – neither surging nor receding, but inching up to 65 people per day testing positive through a lab that reports to the Florida Department of Health — plus an unknowable number of positive results on at-home COVID-19 test kits. Last Friday’s state report showed 464 weekly cases, only 5 cases more than on the June 17 weekly report and up only slightly from the 433 cases on the June 3 report. At the state level, Florida started the month with 74,389 weekly cases, and ended it at 74,481 weekly cases – a difference of little more 1/10th of 1 percent. Locally, hospitalizations have fluctuated very little over the past month as well, with total new hospitalizations as reported by the CDC hovering in the low 20s, and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital reporting in-house COVID-positive patient numbers each week in the high teens. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff’s Office investigating a rash of residential burglaries in Grand Harbor
week of July 7, 2022

The Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate a rash of residential burglaries that occurred from mid-May through mid-June in the Grand Harbor community on the mainland, an agency spokesperson said last week. Three of the burglaries were at townhomes on St. David’s Lane. According to the spokesperson, detectives said there were no signs of forced entry and they believe each case was a “crime of opportunity” that occurred where doors had been left unlocked. Detectives have been in contact with homeowners, Grand Harbor’s security team and the country-club community’s Safety Board. They have encouraged residents to lock their doors, even if leaving the premises for a short period of time, and report any suspicious activity they see during their daily routines. READ FULL STORY


Five more people die here in June with COVID-19
week of June 30, 2022

At least five more local people have died with COVID-19 as June comes to a close, putting the Indian River County pandemic death toll at 668 since March 2020, 16 of whom have died in the last two months. That brings the total number of COVID-positive people who have died in our community since Christmas to 98, or an average of 16 deaths per month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 21 Indian River County residents were hospitalized last week with COVID-19, down very slightly from 22 the previous week. But Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 20 covid-positive patients in-house Monday, up from 19 a week earlier. Of those patients in the hospital, three were in the intensive-care unit and two were on ventilators, according to hospital spokesperson Angela Gameotea. The previous week only two were in the ICU, neither was on a ventilator. READ FULL STORY


Is our island ready for a ‘destination resort’?
week of June 30, 2022

In the ’70s, it was a Holiday Inn. In the ’80s, it became Ramada Inn Resort. In the ’90s, it was upgraded to a Radisson. Then came Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, and for most of this century, this prime piece of beachfront property has been an empty, weed-infested lot. Now, real estate insiders are asking whether the time may finally have come for development of a luxury hotel and condo project on a site that would be the only “destination resort” between Vero Beach and Palm Beach. The 11.8-acre site is located on the ocean side of A1A – just a 20-minute drive south of Sexton Plaza – right where the two-lane state highway makes a 90-degree turn, and heads toward the north Fort Pierce causeway with its picturesque, soon-to-be demolished drawbridge. READ FULL STORY


New insurance law will take years to curb soaring costs
week of June 30, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | Florida’s new property insurance reform law – touted as curbing skyrocketing premiums by reining in abuses of the court system – will take years to have any meaningful impact on litigation costs to insurance carriers. The old laws created opportunities for huge judgments against insurance companies – sometimes four to five times the dollar amount of the original claim – when the attorney fees of plaintiffs were added on after protracted litigation. The new law, passed during the May Special Session of the Legislature, imposes caps on the award of plaintiff attorney fees, and dictates, to some extent, who has standing to sue, in an effort to curb frivolous lawsuits by contractors who convince clients to sign over their litigation rights. But will this reduce massive litigation costs borne by insurance companies and passed down to homeowners through premiums? Someday, perhaps, but not anytime soon. READ FULL STORY


Will the Asbury Lee Perkins murder case finally go to trial, or drag on into 2023?
week of June 30, 2022

Whether a seven-year-old Island murder case will drag on into an eighth year before going to trial depends upon how tight a timetable Circuit Court Dan Vaughn sets for the parties to wrap up their preparations, but 2022 is half over and no trial date has been yet been set. Asbury Lee Perkins, 64, is charged with the first-degree murder of his business partner and estranged wife, Cynthia Betts in November 2015. Her shooting death occurred in the Seagrape Lane home the couple once shared. Despite a string of domestic violence disputes and a defunct protection order, Perkins and Betts still had contact as they ran a home-based business together supplying high-tech components to defense contractors. Assistant State Attorney Bill Long, who took over prosecuting the case in December from Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor who was on leave, asked Vaughn to end the delays and set a trial date, and Vaughn held a hearing on that motion two months ago. READ FULL STORY


Fired Chamber executive arrested for ‘interfering’ with deputies
week of June 30, 2022

Thirteen months ago, John Corapi was fired from his job as the county Chamber of Commerce’s business retention manager, 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. Now, Corapi has thrust himself into the ongoing custody battle between Meghan Walsh – whose father, John, is a longtime Vero Beach resident best known as a crime-fighting TV personality – and the Florida Department of Children and Family Services (DCF). Corapi, in fact, was arrested earlier this month for allegedly obstructing sheriff’s deputies as they carried out a court order to remove from Walsh’s care her 5-day-old daughter and place the baby in DCF custody. He was charged with “interfering with custody,” a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and spent 18 hours in jail before being released on $2,500 bond. READ FULL STORY


Vero brokers and brokerages score big in Real Trends rankings
week of June 30, 2022

Vero Beach’s amazing real estate market made national news again this month with an outsize showing on the Real Trends 1000 list, which ranks top agents and teams nationwide. Though it’s tiny compared to most high-profile markets – Vero’s population is 17,163 according to the U.S. census, while the overlapping island population is just 15,173 – local brokers scored big, surpassing most top competitors in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and other real estate hotspots. Matilde Sorensen, co-owner of the island’s biggest home-grown brokerage, Dale Sorensen Real Estate, made the list of the top 250 agents in the country in dollar volume, ranked No. 130, with $187,844,650 in sales in 2021. The O’Dare Boga Group also had a phenomenal year, ranked No. 48 in the country for dollar volume by small teams, with $286,760,099 in sales. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases here still in high category
week of June 23, 2022

New COVID-19 cases locally reported to the Florida Department of Health increased at a slower pace this past week, up 6 percent from 433 to 459. That number does not include people who test positive via widely available home test kits and then never seek medical attention, as home test-kit results are not reported nor included in the state reports. Indian River County, as well as the whole Treasure Coast and all of Florida’s southeast coast, remain in the high community transmission and high COVID community level categories, with 65 people on average per day testing positive at a facility that reports to the Florida Department of Health. That’s up from 40 per day in May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22 people were hospitalized locally last week with COVID-19 and that 5.3 percent of staffed hospital beds countywide are dedicated to caring for COVID-positive patients. That’s up 10 percent from 20 hospitalizations on the CDC report one week ago. READ FULL STORY


Rapid growth at community’s new ‘third hospital’
week of June 23, 2022

Vero Orthopaedics and Neurology’s gleaming modernist facility on Indian River Boulevard is fast gaining a reputation as the community’s “third hospital,” treating hundreds of patients a day. The $22 million building houses 15 fellowship trained doctors, 68 exam rooms, three radiology suites, four procedure rooms and three brand new operating rooms with a full anesthesia team. “We have every sub-specialty of orthopedics, including spine surgery, total joint replacement, hand surgery, foot and ankle, osteoporosis and bone health, and sports medicine,” said Vero Ortho CEO Jennifer Davison. Just this week, Vero Ortho began conscious sedation, the “twilight anesthesia” used for operations that don’t require general anesthesia, further expanding its range of patient care. There are even two overnight-stay rooms for post-op patients who need continued care for 23 hours or less. READ FULL STORY


Inflation sending more pets to Humane Society
week of June 23, 2022

With runaway inflation and the housing crunch making it tougher for some local residents to keep their pets, the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County is combining efficiency and creativity to place as many animals as possible with good families. Tracey Kinsley, chief communications officer for the Humane Society, pointed to big changes the organization has made in recent years, which resulted in a 90 percent “save rate” for animals in 2021 – up 43 percent from 2016. The society cared for more than 3,100 animals last year. The average canine stay in the shelter has been cut in half since 2016, with the typical dog only spending about two weeks at the Humane Society now. But a big component of the 3,100 animals is cats and kittens, and they are finding adoptive homes quicker, too. In 2016, the average stay for cats was 49 days. That was down to 24 days in 2021. So far in 2022, it’s even lower at 20 days. READ FULL STORY


Shores may have long wait for new ambulance
week of June 23, 2022

Indian River Shores is getting ready to replace a 10-year-old ambulance, but even with cash in hand, supply chain woes mean it could be two years before a shiny new Shores rescue vehicle rolls down A1A. Reports from cities and counties all over the country cite waits of many months or even years for delivery of ambulances due to a global shortage of computer microchips, certain plastic components and, scarcest of all, chassis – the cab portion of the vehicle with the powertrain, plus the steel supports that haul the portion of the ambulance used for transporting patients. The replacement the Shores is eyeing requires a $60,000 Ford F550 4-by-2 chassis to pull the patient transport compartment. The total cost of the new ambulance would be $332,000. Deputy Chief Mark Shaw said the 10-year-old ambulance is already becoming a maintenance issue, so he wants to get the town’s order in. READ FULL STORY


New pastor at Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church
week of June 23, 2022

Transition and growth have been vital to Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church since its founding in 1965, and next week its beloved Pastor Bruce T. Jones will retire, and Rev. Michael Pestel will take his place. The little church with the glorious windows, tucked beneath oaks and palms along A1A in Central Beach, has weathered unprecedented challenges since “Pastor Bruce,” as he is known, succeeded Rev. Cliff Melvin in 2019. “Soon after his arrival, we were hit by the world’s virus crisis, and we knew God had sent us the perfect pastor to lead our way,” said Director of Worship Arts Dr. Marcos Flores, who worked especially closely with Jones. “Looking back over the last three years, I’m amazed at how God made a way when there did not seem to be one,” Jones said. “COVID-19 changed the shape of our worship experience and challenged us to think outside the box.” READ FULL STORY


COVID cases here seem to be leveling off
week of June 16, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 415 new COVID-19 cases were reported locally in the seven days preceding Monday press time, with hospitalizations remaining about the same as the previous week and testing down 12 percent. The CDC data is always incomplete on the weeks that the Florida Department of Health does not report county-by-county numbers, but the 415 new weekly cases is fairly comparable to the June 2 state report showing 433 new weekly cases. Hospitalizations also remained about the same this week – the CDC reporting 20 people newly hospitalized with COVID-positive test results, compared to 21 the previous week. As of Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had two fewer COVID-positive patients than one week earlier. “We currently have 15 patients with COVID this morning in-house: two are in the Intensive Care Unit,” hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday. READ FULL STORY


Local vets plan WWII tribute on Memorial Island
week of June 16, 2022

Members of the local chapter of the Military Officers Association of America are spearheading the creation of a tribute to the “Greatest Generation,” the men and women who served in World War II, to be located in Vero’s Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary. Forty-two Indian River County residents lost their lives during WWII, and the county has been home to many more who served in that war. “We like to take the lead on things; we’re the officers and we lead. We did very well with the World War I monument. We’re very proud of that,” said Lt. Col. Carroll Oates, tribute committee co-chair with Col. Tony Young, USA Ret. The group previously spearheaded the World War I “Dixie Doughboy” statue, which was dedicated on Veterans Day 2021. That project was chaired by Col. Michael DiScipio, USMC, Ret., and Col. Carlos Halcomb, USAF Ret. Oates explained that rather than constructing a traditional monument, this tribute is planned as a permanent Parade Reviewing Stand to replace mobile event staging. READ FULL STORY


Million-dollar mainland: Island real estate price surge crosses the lagoon
week of June 16, 2022

As island home values continue to climb, pushing many buyers out of the 32963 market, mainland prices have gone along for the ride, topping the million-dollar mark more and more often. During the last week in March alone, four homes on the mainland sold for more than $1 million, with a top sale of $1.36 million, and as of last week there were 15 $1 million-plus homes listed for sale. These included three in Vero Isles, two in the Vero Beach Country Club neighborhood, two in Amelia Plantation and at least eight in Grand Harbor and its sister community Oak Harbor. “People are blown away by the prices we are getting,” said Stacey Morabito, broker-associate at Dale Sorensen Real Estate who closed a $1.4 million sale in Oak Harbor last week and has a $1.45 million closing coming up in the same community. “These are absolutely record-breaking prices,” Morabito said, adding that both Oak Harbor buyers are from the island. READ FULL STORY


Will new law help curb rate hikes for property insurance?
week of June 16, 2022

Whether a new state law passed during a May special session of the legislature will do anything to bring rate relief to island homeowners facing soaring property insurance premiums is still unknown, but local insurance professionals are cautiously optimistic that the reforms – when they kick in – will make a meaningful difference. The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 26 and set to take effect July 1, attempts to tackle some of the main causes of recent premium hikes, while providing a $2 billion “reinsurance fund” to offset insurance companies’ hurricane losses. The law also protects property owners from getting their insurance canceled for having a roof newer than 15 years old, while aiming to limit court awards for attorney fees and fraudulent claims made by unscrupulous contractors. READ FULL STORY


Longtime Shores staffer takes on interim town clerk duties
week of June 16, 2022

A longtime, trusted town staffer, Elizabeth “Liz” Scheidel, has stepped in as interim town clerk until the Indian River Shores Town Council can finalize the hiring of Janice Rutan as permanent town clerk later this month. Former Town Clerk Laura Aldrich’s retirement, followed by the sudden death of Interim Town Clerk Chelley Pallo-Darnell in May, left the Shores with no designated person to serve in the official position mandated by the Florida law and the town charter to complete certain government functions. Scheidel, the town’s building official assistant for 18 years, agreed to serve during the transition. “After the tragic loss of Chelley Pallo, Liz immediately offered to assist in any way. When asked to step in as interim town clerk, she did not hesitate,” Town Manager Jim Harpring said. “The Town Council is very appreciative of her willingness to serve in a dual role until a new town clerk is hired. And I am personally thankful for her unflinching dedication to the town.” READ FULL STORY


Dog owners unleash criticism of new beach restrictions
week of June 16, 2022

The new dog ordinance in the Town of Orchid is only seven pages long, but two years of background on the contentious issue includes hundreds of pages of emails from residents supporting and opposing canines on the beach. Some dog owners in the upscale north island community of 450 people are angry over new license requirements and limits on the hours they can walk their dogs off leash on the beach. A 2007 ordinance, now repealed, allowed unleashed dogs on the beach at any time of day under voice control. Under the new ordinance, dogs are now allowed on the beach “on-leash at any time of day, as long as the leash is no longer than 8 feet in length. They may be off-leash between sunrise and 9 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and sunset as long as they are licensed through the Town ($50).” Off-leash rules apply to dogs on leashes that extend more than 8 feet. READ FULL STORY


Alarming spike in Covid deaths, infections here
week of June 9, 2022

Eleven local people died with COVID-19 illness since May 1, bringing the countywide death toll to 663 people, as Indian River County has joined virtually all of Florida in the “high” community transmission zone with new infections up 22 percent this week. Friday’s county-by-county case tally showed 433 new infections here reported to the Florida Department of Health for the week ending June 2. That’s up from 353 cases on the previous report. The new infection rate of 62 per day at the start of June is up roughly 50 percent from the per-day average of 40 for the month of May. The CDC COVID Data Tracker cites 21 new hospitalizations last week, up from 16 the previous week, and notes that 5.3 percent of local staffed hospital beds are now being used to treat COVID-positive patients. That’s up from 3.9 percent the previous week. READ FULL STORY


Remarkable rise of the ‘Estate Section’ on south island
week of June 9, 2022

Known by several names over the years – Kansas City Colony, the Cobra Zone and now the Estate Section – a bucolic one-mile stretch of the south island has been the site of an astonishing real estate transformation in recent years. Long looked down on by brokers and buyers because it was seen as too far from town, “way down there at the south end,” and because federal flood insurance wasn’t available, it now is the priciest part of 32963. The two most expensive homes ever sold on the island are both in the section and there are at least eight houses there that would sell quickly for $30 million or more if they came on the market today, according to ONE Sotheby’s agent Richard Boga. READ FULL STORY


Tax hike on the way? One may be needed to cover projected expenses
week of June 9, 2022

A pandemic-aided surge in the local real estate market last year drove up home prices and spurred new residential construction at a pace that produced an estimated 10.5 percent increase in taxable real property values countywide. If confirmed by final figures, the whopping growth in the tax roll would pump an additional $7.5 million into the county’s general fund in the coming year, based on maintaining the current tax rate. But the increase in revenue probably won’t cover projected expenses for fiscal year 2022-23. That means a tax hike is possible, even likely. “The county is growing, and with more people comes a greater demand for services,” County Administrator Jason Brown said last week. “So even with our efforts to spend conservatively and minimize the burden on our taxpayers, it’s going to remain a challenge to balance our budget, especially with the cost of everything continuing to rise. READ FULL STORY


No-name storm gives island a soaking, but not much else
week of June 9, 2022

Vero’s first tropical storm warning of the 2022 hurricane season caught residents by surprise as an unnamed “potential tropical cyclone” swept across Southern Florida from the west, dumping rain and dampening outdoor Saturday plans, but not disrupting life too much. Indian River Shores Deputy Chief Mark Shaw said the town saw no weather-related incidents or traffic snags, “just lots of rain,” he said. Indian River County Emergency Services Director Chief Tad Stone said “on average, the Vero Beach area got around 6 inches of rainfall. There were some isolated reports of areas receiving a little more than that.” Despite the deluge, Vero Beach’s stormwater system held up to the test, and street flooding was minor. READ FULL STORY


In reversal, DeSantis won’t withhold school district funds
week of June 9, 2022

The school district, which was confronting the loss of $1.3 million in funding for defying a Florida Department of Health emergency order prohibiting mask mandates on campus during the coronavirus pandemic last fall, got a reprieve from the governor. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week that $200 million in Florida School Recognition Program funds targeted for teacher bonuses and classroom improvements would not be withheld from the 12 districts that violated the order he endorsed. Overruling the Legislature, which in March adopted a bill that supported penalizing the offending school districts, DeSantis directed the state Department of Education to “reward eligible schools for their achievements,” regardless of whether their districts disobeyed the FDOH order. READ FULL STORY


Little optimism at start of third summer of Covid
week of June 2, 2022

This summer is not last summer. A year ago as vacation time arrived, an air of optimism was beginning to take hold. New COVID-19 cases here had dropped to the lowest point since the start of the pandemic, and local residents were lining up by the thousands to get vaccinated. Maybe a combination of immunity from the 2020-2021 winter infections, plus the increasingly widespread availability of vaccines, was finally going to end the pandemic. A year later, the hope of jettisoning COVID-19 has given way to the mundane reality of “living with” the virus. New infections here are at least triple what they were last May; the number hospitalized here is once again climbing week after week; and few local residents are getting vaccine booster shots. Indian River County residents are among the half of the U.S. population now living in areas classified as having medium or high COVID-19 levels by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States is recording more than 100,000 new infections a day – at least five times higher than this point last year. The local statistics tell an equally discouraging story. READ FULL STORY


More railroad crossings closing for Brightline upgrades
week of June 2, 2022

Brightline established a second track bed alongside the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in downtown Vero Beach before construction begins this week upgrading the railroad and eight crossings for high-speed passenger trains. Brightline was set to fully close the westbound 20th Street railroad crossing this past Tuesday for three weeks for the installation of a second track and new safety features for high-speed passenger train service. Westbound 20th Street traffic is being directed to travel north on 11th Avenue to 21st Street, turn west onto 21st Street to 14th Avenue, turn south onto 14th Avenue to 20th Street. Brightline plans to rebuild eight railroad crossings in downtown Vero Beach by Sept. 25 as part of the $2.7 billion construction of high-speed passenger train tracks between South Florida and Orlando. Brightline is scheduled to complete construction of high-speed passenger train tracks between Orlando International Airport and West Palm Beach by the end of 2022. Starting in 2023, Indian River County residents can expect to see 32 Brightline trains per day traveling at speeds of up to 110 mph in addition to 15-to-20 FECR freight trains traveling 40-to-60 mph. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council to set rates next week for stormwater tax
week of June 2, 2022

The Vero City Council will decide next week whether to approve an initial rate structure to fund stormwater management projects by levying a new tax on Vero Beach property owners. If council members endorse the proposal – the public is invited to provide input at Tuesday’s meeting – the affected property owners will be notified by mail later this month, when they’ll learn how much they will be required to pay annually to fund the city’s new stormwater utility. The City Council is scheduled to vote July 19 on whether to adopt the stormwater assessments, which would take effect in October with an expectation of generating more than $1 million in revenue. Another public hearing will precede that vote. According to the proposed rate structure, owners of the city’s nearly 5,000 single-family residential properties would pay between $30 and $239 per year, depending on the size of their homes. Four categories were established, based on square footage – small (100 to 1,300), medium (1,301 to 3,400), large (3,401 to 6,500) and very large (more than 6,500) – and the tax increases with the size of the home’s footprint. READ FULL STORY


Island housing market still strong, but is ‘the great deceleration’ coming to Vero?
week of June 2, 2022

Real estate Jedi are feeling a disturbance in the force. Island brokers say they’re seeing subtle but significant changes in the housing market as a nationwide phenomenon Fortune.com last week labeled “the great deceleration” comes to Vero. More houses are coming on the market, and some are lingering longer, pushing inventory slightly higher and leading to price reductions, something seldom seen in 2021 and the first couple of months of 2022. The market isn’t crashing. Demand for homes in Vero still far outpaces supply and prices are still rising. But, according to Douglas Elliman broker associate Sally Daley, “anyone who thinks this is the same market we were in during January and February isn’t paying attention. “There’s still a ton of excess demand but it is like we have gone from racing down the highway at 150 miles an hour to going 120.” The change – if it continues and becomes more pronounced – could bring some relief to buyers and be the beginning of balance returning to the market. READ FULL STORY


Proposed budget would give Sheriff’s employees 7 percent raise
week of June 2, 2022

Sheriff Eric Flowers wants to give his 500-plus employees a 7 percent pay raise and begin implementing a scheduled 2025 increase in the federal minimum wage to help his agency keep up with inflation and remain competitive in the local job market. He also wants to add 35 new deputies he claims are needed to keep pace with the growth in the county’s population, which has surpassed 160,000, as well as a noticeable increase in seasonal visitors. The sheriff shared his plans in a letter to the County Commission last week to bolster the all-time-high $71 million budget he has proposed for fiscal 2022-23. Flowers’ 13-page proposal, which he submitted to County Administrator Jason Brown last month, seeks an 18.27 percent increase over his current $60 million budget. If approved by county commissioners, the $11 million budget increase would be the largest given to the Sheriff’s Office in the county’s 97-year history. Percentage-wise, it would be the biggest jump in at least 20 years. READ FULL STORY


Shores hopes to overturn reuse water ruling
week of June 2, 2022

Indian River Shores is determined to see Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals overturn a lower court ruling last month that could create uncertainty for the town’s water-sewer utility bills, but Vero’s staff attorney is confident the city will prevail at the higher court. The town had sued for breach of contract after Indian River County decreased its reuse irrigation water rate by 46 cents and Vero did not match that rate, as the town’s franchise agreement includes a rate-match clause. No breach of contract was found by the court, so the city won’t need to reduce the rate, or pay town residents damages for three years of incorrect rates. Judge Janet Croom ruled that Vero Beach could not have legally matched a cheaper Indian River County rate for reuse water because the city cannot cover its costs of providing pressurized, on-demand irrigation water to Indian River Shores customers for the 21 cents per 1,000 gallons that the county charges for non-pressurized reuse water service. READ FULL STORY


Memorials sprinkled throughout Riverside Park
week of May 26, 2022

While Vero’s Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary is known for its monuments to veterans, another kind of memorial is sprinkled throughout adjacent Riverside Park – trees, benches, a fishing pier and gazebos dedicated to Vero residents’ births, deaths, anniversaries and friendships. Bronze plaques engraved with names, dates and messages are affixed to a cement base in front of many of the live oaks that adorn the park, while other dedication plaques with names and words of endearment are affixed to the backs of wooden benches. The dedication program is run by Nanette Haynes, grounds maintenance manager for the City of Vero Beach, who supervises Riverside Park as well as all parks throughout the city. The tree program was begun in 2000 by the Tree and Beautification Committee. “We have no more room to plant additional trees in Riverside Park,” said Haynes. “The live oaks are planted out.” But she said many existing trees are available for new memorials. Some plaques simply record names plus dates of birth and death. Others add touching tributes with poetry, bible quotes or loving phrases such as “Honey Bunch” and “Forever in the hearts of those who visit me.” Some plaques incorporate portraits. READ FULL STORY


Covid surges here; hospitalizations triple in one week
week of May 26, 2022

New cases of COVID-19 infection reported to the Florida Department of Health more than doubled in Indian River County last week from the previous report May 3, and hospitalizations here nearly tripled in one week. As of Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 14 COVID-positive patients admitted, with none requiring intensive-care beds, according to hospital spokesperson Erin Miller. That’s a sharp increase from the five COVID-positive patients in the hospital the previous week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 14 new COVID-positive people were hospitalized in the seven days leading up to press time Monday, up from 11 the previous week, and that 3.7 percent of the county’s staffed hospital beds were occupied by COVID-positive patients. Using the early-pandemic criteria based upon the number of new infections and the case-positivity rate, Indian River County now would be in the “high community transmission” or red category on the CDC’s map, as would be virtually all of Florida. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff proposes $11 million hike in record budget
week of May 26, 2022

County commissioners would need to raise taxes – or reduce funding to other agencies and departments – to cover the $71 million budget proposed by Sheriff Eric Flowers for fiscal 2022-23, unless property-tax revenues are significantly higher than projected. Flowers’ 13-page proposal, which he submitted to County Administrator Jason Brown earlier this month, seeks an 18.27-percent increase over his current $60 million budget. Percentage-wise, it’s the largest jump in at least 20 years. Most of the $11 million increase Flowers is seeking would go toward salaries and overtime ($4.1 million), operating expenses ($4 million), and equipment, furniture and maintenance ($2.75 million.) Flowers, who took office in January 2021, also wants to add 35 full-time employees to his 519-member agency. “If the tax-roll revenues were to go up 7 percent – that’s the number we’re using for planning purposes, based on the information we have – we can expect our revenues to increase by about $5.5 million,” Brown said. “The sheriff is asking for an $11 million increase,” he added. “So unless the revenues increase considerably more than we’re projecting, I don’t know where that additional money would come from.” READ FULL STORY


$20 million sale sets new highwater mark for a riverfront home
week of May 26, 2022

Vero Beach popped up on the luxury real estate radar screen last Tuesday – catching the attention of people from Manhattan to Miami – when a riverfront house in Riomar Bay sold for $20 million. The selling price was a solid 60 percent more than the previous top riverfront sale here, and more than three times what the sellers paid for the property. “Little Vero Beach continues to be more and more well known nationally, with people coming here from Palm Beach, California and Manhattan,” said Dale Sorensen Real Estate agent Cathy Curley, who represented the buyer in the sale of 500 Bay Dr., a home with deep roots in the history of Vero Beach located on one of the best view lots anywhere. “So many factors put us on the map and allow us to command the prices we are seeing,” she said. Ironically, listing agent Charlotte Terry, who runs her namesake group at AMAC Alex MacWilliam Real Estate, says the $20 million price will turn the heads of high-end real estate players not because it is so high but because “it shows how affordable our prices still are compared to luxury markets south of us.” READ FULL STORY


Elderly man killed, wife injured when speeding auto rear-ends their car on A1A
week of May 26, 2022

An elderly John’s Island man was killed and his wife seriously injured shortly after dark two weeks ago when a speeding auto slammed into their car from behind while they were driving home up A1A in the heart of Indian River Shores, police said. Indian River Shores Public Safety detectives said they need anyone who witnessed the crash near Bermuda Bay on May 10 to come forward. Few details were available at press time about the tragic incident, but officers said “the front vehicle appeared to be driving the speed limit and was rear-ended by the rear vehicle, which appeared to be driving well in excess of the posted 45 mph speed limit.” The rear vehicle, which appears in a crash-scene photograph to be a black Mercedes convertible, had one occupant who has not been identified. Rescue crews rushed Christopher and Frances Ingraham – along with the driver of the rear vehicle – to Lawnwood Regional Trauma Center. All three had “severe injuries,” according to Indian River Shores Deputy Public Safety Chief Mark Shaw. “One of the occupants from the front vehicle later succumbed to his injuries,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Vero memorializes Alma Lee Loy two years after death
week of May 26, 2022

In a celebration delayed two years by the pandemic, friends, family and colleagues gathered Saturday morning at First Baptist Church of Vero Beach to honor one of the most beloved and influential individuals in the county’s history, Vero Beach native Alma Lee Loy. A dynamic businesswoman and community leader widely acknowledged as “Vero’s First Lady” over decades of service, Loy died of natural causes April 10, 2020, at the age of 90. Loy’s impact on Indian River County was evidenced by the scores of people present representing virtually every aspect of the business, public service and philanthropic communities. Loy co-owned and operated Alma Lee’s children’s clothing store for decades and was the first female chairman of the Indian River Board of County Commissioners, over the years receiving numerous accolades at local, state and national levels and playing a leadership role in projects for the betterment of the community. As diverse and multi-generational as was last week’s gathering, virtually every attendee had known, respected and been touched by Loy in some fashion, and each had a cherished “Alma Lee story.” READ FULL STORY


Shores to appeal court’s ruling for Vero on reuse water rates
week of May 26, 2022

Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom has ruled in favor of Vero Beach in a three-year-old utility dispute with Indian River Shores over reuse irrigation water rates, saying portions of the town’s water-sewer franchise agreement regarding rates may be unenforceable. The Shores sued Vero for breach of contract after Vero did not match Indian River County Utilities’ rates for reuse irrigation water after the county reduced its own rates substantially in 2019. The Shores’ 2012 water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero required that Vero match published county rates – a deal struck to undercut an Indian River County Utilities’ pitch for the Shores water-sewer business. Shores ratepayers expected to see reuse irrigation water rates go down from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to match the county’s new rate of 21 cents per 1,000 gallons on March 1, 2019. When that did not happen, the parties entered into informal talks, followed by a lengthy, state-mandated dispute resolution process which failed, landing them in civil court. Vero’s legal team argued, successfully, that the city-owned utility could not deliver pressurized reuse irrigation water to the Shores for only 21 cents per 1,000 gallons, and that charging the Shores a rate which did not cover its operating costs would force the city’s other customers to subsidize the Shores. READ FULL STORY


Summer closings set for downtown Vero rail crossings
week of May 19, 2022

Brightline plans to close the railroad crossing at westbound 20th Street (Route 60 west) from May 31 through June 20 for installation of new safety equipment for high-speed passenger trains, then work on the other downtown Vero Beach crossings throughout the summer. Brightline anticipates completing improvements at eight Vero Beach railroad crossings – from 17th Street to Aviation Boulevard – by Sept. 25, hoping to complete the disruptive work before seasonal residents begin returning in the fall. As part of its effort to connect Orlando and Miami with limited stops and faster-than-driving commute times, Brightline is spending $2.7 billion to upgrade the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between West Palm Beach and Cocoa and build new tracks between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. The rail company plans to commence high-speed passenger service between Orlando and South Florida in 2023 with 32 trains per day zipping through Indian River County at up to 110 mph. READ FULL STORY


Deal near on new concessionaire for Seaside Grill
week of May 19, 2022

Vero Beach officials are negotiating a long-term concession agreement with a Royal Palm Beach-based company to take over the recently shuttered Seaside Grill at Jaycee Park. City Manager Monte Falls said last week he expects to present the City Council with a ready-to-sign, 30-year deal next month for a new lessor to take over the city-owned facility. “We want to come back to the council as quickly as possible,” Falls said. “I feel confident we’ll have it done for the June 7 agenda.” GC Ventures FL – one of seven companies to submit proposals by the city’s March 10 deadline and one of four finalists selected by an evaluation committee composed of Recreation Director Jim O’Connell, Planning Director Jason Jeffries and Finance Director Cindy Lawson – emerged as the panel’s top choice in April. According to the “executive summary” included in its proposal, the company and its affiliate, GC Ventures, have been in the food and concession business for seven years in Minnesota and one year in Florida. READ FULL STORY


Vero resident wins record 43rd world tennis title
week of May 19, 2022

If someone were to ask you which male tennis player has won the most world championships, you might say Rafael Nadal, with his 21 Grand Slam titles. You would be wrong. The man who has won the most world tennis championships – a record 43 – is an unassuming, 87-year-old Grand Harbor resident with slightly stooped shoulders who is very hard of hearing and has had two knee replacement operations on each knee. That physical description makes Kingdon “King” Van Nostrand sound like a pretty typical Vero Beach retiree, except that he still travels all over the world beating everyone else in his age group on a tennis court. King, as everyone calls him, just won his record-breaking 43rd world championship at the latest title event in Boynton Beach sponsored by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Grand Slam tournaments as well as the senior and junior tours. READ FULL STORY


Shores watching legislature for action on condo inspections
week of May 19, 2022

Even though none of the older condominium buildings in Indian River Shores is a high-rise like the tower that collapsed in Surfside last year, the town council is closely watching next week’s special session of the Florida Legislature to see if state leaders take action on condo building inspections. Councilman Bob Auwaerter brought the matter up after the Florida House and Senate failed during its regular session to coalesce around a program of periodic, milestone inspections at set intervals in a building’s life. A number of the condos in the Shores were built in the 1970s and 1980s. “I want to have a discussion with my fellow council members of what approaches, if any, we may wish to consider on this subject given that we live on a barrier island,” Auwaerter said at the time. “Part of that discussion might be asking staff to provide us more information on how these so-called milestone inspections might work,” he added. READ FULL STORY


The art of the private real estate deal
week of May 19, 2022

Historically low inventory has divided island real estate agents into haves and have-nots. While many agents are struggling to secure listings and find houses for their clients, others are having their best years ever. The first part of 2022 has been challenging for everyone, with the total number of island sales down drastically from last year at this time – and dollar volume of properties sold 17 percent lower in the first quarter than in the first quarter of 2021. But many top island agents have figured out the algorithm, and are feeling good about the market and the future. “It is all good to me,” said Scott Reynolds, who manages the Reynolds Team at Compass. “I tell my agents not to use the term low inventory. We call it an accelerated market. Lots of deals are being done. But houses don’t sit on the market long enough to be counted as inventory.” READ FULL STORY


Hard to tell if COVID-19 cases rising here
week of May 19, 2022

Are new COVID-19 infections rising or falling locally? That question – on the minds of many as the global pandemic continues – deserves an answer. But government health officials had no intention last week of making that information available. The Florida Department of Health now only publishes numbers every other week, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has no case data on the county level from the state this week, so we have no clue whether new infections are rising or falling. Statewide, Florida’s cases continue to inch upward a slight 2.7 percent, with 33,900 new infections reported across the state over the past week, according to the CDC. Most of Florida, except Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are currently considered areas of low community transmission. The Indian River County School District’s COVID statistics remained flat, with five active cases reported this week and five last week. READ FULL STORY


The hottest stretch of beach on our island
week of May 12, 2022

The Veromar oceanfront – a dozen single-family homes and lots stretching north from The Village Spires condominium towers to the Jaycee Park boardwalk – is the hottest stretch of beach on the barrier island. Nine of the 12 multimillion-dollar properties have changed hands in the past three years – two of them selling twice since 2019 – making a total of 11 sales for more than $50 million in the beachside strip. As on the rest of the island, prices have risen rapidly and people trading in the neighborhood have made or stand to make large profits in short periods of time. The latest sale, which closed last Monday, illustrates the trend. Sometime on May 2, the seller signed a warranty deed, transferring ownership of the 1.1-acre lot at 3640 Ocean Dr. to a new owner for a consideration of $5,179,000 – $1,749,000 more than the seller paid just a year earlier. And the buyer is sitting pretty, too. The property went under contract last summer and prices have shot up since the deal was inked. READ FULL STORY


Doctor shortage: Big problem that is getting worse
week of May 12, 2022

Vero Beach is feeling the impact of a serious and growing nationwide shortage of physicians, and national healthcare organizations predict the situation will get much worse. Anecdotal evidence of the healthcare crunch continues to pile up from local residents experiencing lengthy waits to schedule an appointment – often weeks, increasingly even months – for something as seemingly simple as an inoculation. Surgical procedures frequently wind up postponed because a surgeon is not available. The nation could see a shortage of “up to 139,000 physicians by 2033,” according to a projection by the American Association of Medical Colleges. Here in Florida, the state will be short “almost 18,000 physicians by 2035, resulting in patient access to primary and specialty doctors meeting only three-quarters of the needs of Florida’s growing population,” according to the Florida Hospital Association. Vero Beach, with its rapidly growing senior population, is at the epicenter of this growing healthcare crisis. READ FULL STORY


Covid-19 climbing in Florida, but slightly down here
week of May 12, 2022

While the number of new COVID-19 infections in Florida climbed another 24 percent over the past week, they inexplicably dropped a bit locally, declining to 175 cases in Indian River County from 186 cases on the previous Florida Department of Health report. The Florida Department of Health numbers, which are only published every two weeks leaving the data for alternate weeks unreported to the public, don’t track closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s seven-day rolling averages this week. The CDC Covid Data Tracker states that Indian River County’s positivity rate was 9.37 as of May 5, but the state report cites a 7.4 percent positivity rate. Based upon the CDC’s testing numbers and positivity rate, the county would have 226 cases over the past week, up from 186 – a 21.5 percent increase in cases – which corresponds with the statewide 24 percent increase more closely. Unfortunately it will take another two weeks until the next state report is released to find out if the 11-case decline here was some sort of error, or a genuine slight downward trend. READ FULL STORY


Two island wealth management execs in cocaine bust
week of May 12, 2022

Two senior vice presidents in a Vero island office of the global Raymond James financial services firm were arrested on felony cocaine-possession charges stemming from a traffic stop in their South County neighborhood in the wee hours of May 1. M. Paul Massey, 47, and William Romans, 46, managed the Massey-Romans Wealth Management Team of Raymond James, with an office on Beachland Boulevard. The team’s website was removed without explanation last week, and Raymond James headquarters in St. Petersburg confirmed via email Monday that Massey and Romans are “no longer employed” by the company. “We are committed to our presence in Vero Beach and Stuart,” the email stated, “and operations continue normally.” A woman who answered the team’s phone Monday morning said the office was open, but no one there would comment on the situation. Following their arrest, Massey and Romans were booked into the Indian River County Jail, where they spent several hours before each posted a $4,000 bond and was released. READ FULL STORY


Orthopedist uses ‘augmented reality’ for shoulder replacements
week of May 12, 2022

A local orthopedist has become the first in Florida – and only the fourth in the United States – to perform total shoulder replacement surgery using a new innovative “augmented reality” system developed by Switzerland-based Medacta International. Dr. Carl DiLella, who specializes in treating shoulder injuries, said he employed the company’s cutting-edge NextAR technology to replace two patients’ shoulders March 28 at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. He again used the NextAR system, which made its global debut 10 months ago in Europe, to perform two additional shoulder-replacement surgeries in April. He said a fifth procedure is scheduled for May 16. “For shoulder replacements, this is a very big technological advancement because the NextAR system provides the surgeon with live, real-time, intra-operative feedback on bone preparation, sizing, and the positioning of the implant,” DiLella said. “In the past, the surgeon was guided by his experience and knowledge of the patient’s anatomy,” he added. “But even with a CT scan to guide you, you’d have to use your hand and feel around. That’s not an exact science. The procedure can still be successful, but there’s a lot of guesswork. READ FULL STORY


Extending natural gas to island to take longer than expected
week of May 12, 2022

The Indian River Shores Town Council wants to make sure Florida City Gas has all the required permits in hand to build a pipeline to the barrier island before the town commits to anything. If all goes according to plan, Florida City Gas will extend its existing mainland gas pipeline through Wabasso, running it eastward and under the Indian River Lagoon to the island. Then one branch of the pipeline will bring gas north to Windsor and the Town of Orchid, while another span of pipe drives southward through Indian River Shores and into the City of Vero Beach, to eventually fuel the island business district. How long will that take? Previously, highly optimistic Florida City Gas officials hoped to be finished by the end of 2022. Now the pipeline contractor says it hopes to start within three months, that it will take one year to lay the pipeline up A1A, and up to 18 months to complete the steel pipeline boring into coquina under the river near the Wabasso Causeway, at a depth of 15 feet under the mud line. READ FULL STORY


New veterinary medical center on U.S. 1 running behind schedule
week of May 12, 2022

An impressive, albeit unfinished, building at 1833 U.S. 1 – just north of the long-empty, deteriorating former home of the Press Journal – was expected to be open by now as the Veterinary Medical Center of Indian River County. But much remained to be done last week inside and out on the two-story structure, attractively positioned at an angle in the center of the property, that someday will be echoing with the sound of meowing and barking. The $7 million, state-of-the-art veterinary facility was originally scheduled for a Christmas 2021 opening, project developer, owner and veterinarian Dr. Michael Geraghty said at the time. However, and not especially surprising given the current global supply chain woes, Geraghty is now hoping for mid- to late summer, according to his spokesperson, Stephanie Woldamott, who provided no details beyond stating, “There have been some delays. Call back in July.” Primarily serving dogs and cats, according to Geraghty, the “one-stop, full-service” Veterinary Medical Center of Indian River County will provide regular veterinary services, wellness planning, teeth cleaning, vaccinations, spay-neuter, imaging, laser therapy, urgent care, luxury boarding, grooming, a surgery center and 24/7 emergency service, with, he emphasized, an emergency vet on site at all times, not just “on call.” READ FULL STORY


Hospital video of shooting still is under wraps
week of May 5, 2022

More than a month after deputies shot and killed a mental health patient after he came at them with scissors in the emergency room of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, Judge Janet Croom, in a order filed last Friday, questioned “the propriety” of the search warrant that caused the hospital to turn over hospital surveillance video to Sheriff Eric Flowers, as well as the patient’s records. The judge also made clear she wants to involve the patient’s family in any decision to release the records, which include photographs, audio and video records and his private medical information. In deferring her ruling on the hospital’s motion for an injunction that would keep the video private, Judge Croom ordered the preservation of the status quo – the video and other records will remain private for now. Flowers has said publicly multiple times that he wants to make public the hospital’s surveillance video because he thinks it shows the actions of the patient more clearly as he moved toward the two deputies who fired, and in Flowers’ view is more likely to exonerate them than the bodycam video he has already released. READ FULL STORY


Changes at popular car wash should improve traffic flow
week of May 5, 2022

The occasional traffic snags at the entrance of the wildly popular Classic Car Wash of Vero Beach – located on U.S. 1 at the west end of the city’s Miracle Mile – will be addressed as part of a two-summer, two-phase renovation and reconfiguration project expected to begin next month. According to Mark Heyer, who owns the business, the first phase will include remodeling and refurbishing the existing car-wash building, as well as installing new, “top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art” machinery and equipment. Heyer said the second phase, scheduled for the summer of 2023, will create a new Florida Department of Transportation-approved entrance to the car wash on the property on which the now-shuttered Bernadette’s Dog Grooming shop is located, immediately east of his business. He said he purchased the neighboring parcel last summer and plans to knock down the Bernadette’s building and regrade the land to accommodate a longer, three-vehicle-wide driveway that won’t cause traffic to back up on U.S. 1 when cars are lined up to get in. READ FULL STORY


‘The market is crazy’: Record-breaking 32963 real estate sales roll on in 2022
week of May 5, 2022

The island real estate market continued to defy gravity in the first four months of the year. Despite a historic shortage of homes listed for sale, many top island brokers and agents sold and put under contract a higher dollar volume of real estate than ever before. Price appreciation, private deals and intense demand for island homes drove the big numbers. “The market is crazy,” said ONE Sotheby’s broker associate Michael Thorpe. “Last year was a record year for my team and this year we are beating those numbers to date.” “It’s almost scary,” said Matilde Sorensen, co-owner of Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “It is hard to explain what is happening. I sold $220 million in 2021 and that was my best year ever. This year, my individual closed sales and properties pending and under contract are already $155 million and we are still in April!” The O’Dare Boga team at Premiere Estate Properties is beating its numbers, too, year to date, with the dollar volume of closed and contracted sales up from $74.1 million to $76.9 million, according to Cindy O’Dare. A similar story was told by broker associate Sally Daley at Douglas Elliman. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island Community Service League awards $1.4 million
week of May 5, 2022

The John’s Island Community Service League announced last week that its members had raised and awarded more than $1.4 million in grants and scholarships this year. The announcement followed closely on the heels of the news that the John’s Island Foundation was awarding $1.1 million in grants. The two funding groups differ in their fundraising approaches and the sorts of grants they make, but each speaks to the philanthropic generosity of John’s Island residents. The Community Service League financed its record year through a fall solicitation letter, a series of fundraising events, sponsorships and their highly lucrative Tambourine Shop, whereas the foundation primarily derives its funding through an annual appeal letter. League grants support agency operation and program expenses, whereas foundation grants fund capital expenditures. Ellen Kendall, league grants co-chair, revealed that they had awarded a total of $1,463,000 in grants and scholarships this year. READ FULL STORY


Better way needed to deal with Baker Act admissions
week of April 28, 2022

The first court hearing is likely not the last in the case of the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of a mental health patient at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. The hospital system is seeking an injunction against the Indian River County sheriff’s department to keep the sheriff from publicly releasing the hospital’s security camera video of the incident, as the sheriff is eager to do. The sheriff, who obtained the video through a subpoena along with the patient’s clinical medical records, believes it exonerates his two SWAT team deputies who shot the patient as he came at them with a pair of scissors a month ago. In addition to the hearing this week, a grand jury is expected to review the deputies’ actions to see if state laws were broken in the shooting. While attorneys wrangle over issues in a case that drew headlines far from Florida, local officials are working on how to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Blame for the shooting death may not be assigned for years to come, but mental health advocates and hospital executives are working intensively to change the system now. READ FULL STORY


Decision deferred on future of Archie Smith Fish House site
week of April 28, 2022

More than two decades have passed since the 90-year-old Archie Smith Fish House property, located on east side of Indian River Drive at the north end of Sebastian, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and nature has not been kind. By this time next year, the county-owned 1.15-acre site’s last remaining building – the so-called “residence” on the Indian River Lagoon’s shoreline – could be history. County commissioners last week postponed a decision on the fate of the long-shuttered building, but they voted unanimously to seek bids and design proposals from contractors to expand the already-reconstructed boardwalk/dock area and install additional handrails. The expansion, which could include a covered pavilion to be used as an over-the-water picnic area near the east end of the dock, would occupy the now-vacant site of the property’s recently demolished Ice House. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island Foundation brings in record $1.1 million to fund grants
week of April 28, 2022

The John’s Island Foundation raised a record $1.1 million from its philanthropic membership this year and thus was able to not only fulfill, but in fact double, one of its largest grants ever. Grant co-chairs Francie Cramb and Margie Wheeler posit the increase in donations by John’s Island residents to their grasp of the devastating impact the pandemic continues to have on lower-income families, particularly the increasing scarcity of affordable housing in Indian River County. Therefore, when a $100,000 grant request came in from the Coalition for Attainable Homes to build a 3,300-square-foot triplex in Gifford, on land donated by the county, the foundation knew it could make a difference. With two three-bedroom/two bath units, and one two-bedroom/one bath unit, the triplex will house three families. The project is being overseen by two women who for years have tackled the affordable housing crisis in Indian River County: Julianne Price, president of the Coalition for Attainable Homes, was a founding member of Every Dream Has a Price, which merged with the Coalition; and Louise Hubbard, the longtime executive director of the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, who wrote the grant request on behalf of the coalition. READ FULL STORY


Vero radiologist celebrates quarter of a century as organ recipient
week of April 28, 2022

Dr. John Hoffmann, a radiologist at Vero Radiology Associates, was in college a quarter of a century ago when he was added to the long list of people in need of a new liver. “I was born with an enlarged liver and abnormal liver enzymes. I was followed for a few months until things normalized. Then when I was 13, undergoing an entrance physical for high school, it was noted my liver enzymes were elevated,” Hoffmann said. Eight years later, after countless tests and procedures, Hoffmann’s doctors decided a transplant was his only option. “I was on the transplant list for about three months, which is a really short time. Some people can wait up to five years, or longer,” he said. Eighty-five percent of the people on the transplant list are waiting for a kidney, while 11 percent are waiting for a liver. Matching liver donors with recipients, Hoffmann said, is a matter of body size and blood type. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections rising sharply again here, but hospitalizations remain relatively low
week of April 28, 2022

New COVID-19 infections here reported to the Florida Department of Health more than doubled over the past week, going from 90 cases to 186 cases, and the countywide case positivity rate rose 61 percent in a single week, with 7.9 percent of people being tested now being found positive. In the past four weeks, the average number of new daily infections reported here has more than tripled from 8.5 to 26.5 cases, thanks to the spread of the BA.2 or “stealth Omicron” variant that’s taken hold in the Northeastern United States and is spreading to Florida. Statewide, Florida is still in the green zone for low community transmission, according to the CDC’s criteria, but cases rose 32 percent in a single week, from 15,623 to 20,680 as of Friday’s report. In mid-March, the whole state reported between 8,000 and 9,000 new cases per week. Increasingly popular in-home rapid tests are the big unknown factor in the official case numbers, as people who test positive on DIY test kits typically do not report these results to the Florida Department of Health. These cases go unrecorded unless the individuals seek medical attention, or must report their illness due to their job or school attendance. READ FULL STORY


Graves family pleased by plans for sports and recreation complex
week of April 28, 2022

The school district is doing what former City Councilman Joe Graves said couldn’t be done – creating the public-private partnership needed to build a community sports and recreation complex on the 11.6-acre parcel across 16th Street from Vero Beach High School. And, yes, he’s surprised. But he’s also thrilled, knowing his vision for the property he donated to the school district could become a reality. “What the school district has come up with is amazing,” Graves said earlier this month, after the plan became public. “I couldn’t be happier. It’s an answered prayer.” Graves, a local attorney, bought the property from the county in 2017, hoping to build a youth sports complex in memory of his 15-year-old son, Jimmy, who died in a 2016 boating accident. However, Graves was unable to attract enough public or private support to fund his effort and attempted to sell the property to a developer who wanted to build housing there. Amid threats of legal action by the county, which said the land must be used for recreational purposes, Graves decided to donate the parcel to the School District last year. READ FULL STORY


School Board cleared after review of children’s books
week of April 28, 2022

A six-week investigation by the Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit has cleared the School Board and School Superintendent David Moore of any criminal charges related to the district’s process for reviewing library books a local parents’ group claimed were inappropriate for children and violated state law. In a 74-page report released last week, Sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Scranton concluded that he was “unable to establish that a crime had occurred,” adding that no further investigation was necessary, and the case was closed. The three books at issue were “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Johnathan Foer, and “Perfect” by Ellen Hopkins. A parents’ group headed by Jennifer Pippen claimed they were “three of the most sexually grotesque books” and that their contents violated state law that prohibits the sale or distribution of harmful material to minors. Although Scranton reported that his investigation uncovered some content that could be legally defined as appealing to “prurient, shameful or morbid interests,” he found that the passages composed only a tiny percentage of each book. The statute requires that content appealing to such interests must be the “predominate” subject matter of each book. READ FULL STORY


Here come the Blue Angels!
week of April 21, 2022

The Vero Beach Air Show next weekend is expected to be the climax of a booming local tourist season, attracting tens of thousands of aviation enthusiasts to the Vero Beach Regional Airport to see the U.S. Navy’s famous Blue Angels plus an impressive, three-day lineup of attractions. Normally the show happens every two years, but the 2020 show was cancelled due to pandemic restrictions on large gatherings, so anticipation for this year’s show has been building for quite some time. All tickets purchased for the 2020 show will be honored this year, according to show sponsors. “We are very excited to have the air show back in Vero Beach, and expect to have between 20,000 to 30,000 attendees each day of the Air Show. The show is a wonderful event and helps instill pride in our nation’s accomplishments,” said Robert Paugh, President of the Vero Beach Air Show. Spectators will see the Blue Angels Demonstration Team roar overhead with their new F-18 Super Hornets. Added to the April 29 through May 1 schedule this year is a Friday night event which is a first for the Air Show. READ FULL STORY


Insurance costs to be addressed by Legislature
week of April 21, 2022

Skyrocketing homeowners’ insurance costs with renewal rate hikes of 20 to 30 percent – or worse, non-renewal letters – are catching island property owners off guard, and the problem is so serious that the Florida Legislature will return to Tallahassee to try to solve it. On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a special session in May to deal with property insurance reform, something lawmakers failed to complete in regular session, even though Florida’s rates are among the highest in the nation. The goal, he said, will be “to bring some sanity, and to stabilize and have a functioning market.” Local insurance, real estate and finance professionals who serve island clientele cite numerous causes for what amounts to a “perfect storm” resulting in jolting insurance quotes. Dave Greco of Gottzmann Insurance Group on Ocean Drive, an independent agent with 13 years experience, outlined some critical factors leading to the rate crisis – fraud, aging homes and inflation. Significant insurance fraud throughout Florida precipitated massive litigation expenses, financially draining some insurance companies and putting others out of business. Aging roofs – many on the island dating back to post-storm repairs after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 – are now nearly 18 years old and a growing risk. READ FULL STORY


Another luxury storage complex – for classic cars, big RVs, large boats – coming to Vero
week of April 21, 2022

The Vero Beach luxury storage craze roars on. Gound-breaking is planned for June for Fortified Storage, a new 15-unit, hurricane-ready luxury project which will have the largest storage units yet – each with 1,500 square feet of versatile, customizable space, and seven already reserved at pre-construction prices ranging from $269,000 to $299,000. “This is literally the definition of fast track,” said builder and developer Joe Foglia, who expects the metal buildings, which will surpass Florida wind resistance requirements, to be complete by the end of the year. Fortified Storage is the fourth luxury storage project in the Vero in the past several years, which together have brought or are bringing more than 160 units to market. All have been co-developed by engineers at Schulke, Bittle and Stoddard and sales have popped at an exhilarating pace, as buyers, mostly from the island, snap up units to store valuable possessions, create luxe hangout spots and bolster their balance sheets with rapidly appreciating real estate assets. READ FULL STORY


Expansion of City Marina will not impact island dog park
week of April 21, 2022

The popular Vero Beach Dog Park got good news last week when Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls told its directors the planned expansion of the city’s marina will not impact the dog park as initially feared. When the first draft of the marina plan showed a considerable section of the southern end of the dog park being taken for a new roadway, Park President Robert Joy, along with board members Penny Chandler and Jill Jones, met with Mayor Robbie Brackett, City Manager Monte Falls and Marina Director Sean Collins on March 22 about the plan. Dog park officials produced a copy of the park’s original leasing agreement along with its survey and pointed out the intrusion. City officials recognized the error, promising the Marina Master Plan would be altered to move the proposed road as to not encroach upon the existing boundaries of the dog park. “There will be no physical impact on the dog park from Phase One of the marina improvements,” Falls wrote to Joy to confirm that the city’s consultant would modify the plan as discussed. READ FULL STORY


Shores voters to consider charter amendments
week of April 21, 2022

Indian River Shores voters are expected to be asked to consider several amendments to the town charter laying out new provisions for town staffing, land use, potential highway widening and participation in special taxing districts. The town’s Charter Review Committee, with the help of Town Attorney Pete Sweeney, combed through the 25-page governing document, consolidating and moving legal definitions to an appendix, correcting word capitalizations and tightening up housekeeping matters to make sure the charter is consistent to state law. The Town Council reviewed the recommended changes at a council meeting in March, and directed staff to work with Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan to coordinate a mail-out ballot packet to be sent out likely next January when the most voters are in town. Four proposed substantive changes would impact the Town Clerk position, protect Shores property owners from condemnation for private development, to make it tougher for Highway A1A to be widened within the town limits, and to give voters a say on special taxing districts. READ FULL STORY


Rosario warns School Board on books harmful to children
week of April 21, 2022

Jackie Rosario, who is facing a stiff challenge in her bid for re-election to her District 2 School Board seat, said last week board members could face “felony charges” for returning to school libraries books with sexually explicit content and other materials state law deems harmful to children. Rosario said the board’s Feb. 28 adoption of a protocol giving parents the option to restrict the level of access their children have to books in school libraries – she cast the lone vote against it – doesn’t preclude board members from being criminally charged. Speaking at the board’s workshop session, Rosario called the parental-consent policy an “illegal option” because it allowed the books in question to remain in the libraries. Her remarks appeared to stun the other three board members in attendance. (Mara Schiff missed the meeting.) School Board Chairman Teri Barenborg immediately challenged Rosario’s assertion, saying, “Please don’t say you think that’s the case – because it needs to be found true.” “But it is the case,” Rosario replied, adding, “The law is the law. There’s no getting around what the law says. It is a felony. … I didn’t say that we are being charged. I said the law trumps parental consent in this case. Parental consent does not trump the law.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections again rising here; hospitalizations also starting to increase
week of April 21, 2022

As expected, the number of new COVID-19 infections here has begun to rise significantly, with 97 new cases reported to public health officials this week – up from 65 cases last week. That 49 percent increase in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics does not include people who tested positive on rapid home test kits, as those cases are typically only reported if the patient seeks medical treatment. The CDC estimates that about 86 percent of the new infections across the nation, and nearly 40 percent of the new infections in Florida right now are the result of the BA.2 variant sometimes referred to as “Stealth Omicron.” Over the past four weeks, the prevalence of Stealth Omicron nationwide, based upon genetic sequencing of samples, has climbed week after week from 39 percent to 54 percent to 72 percent, and now 85.9 percent. States with the highest prevalence of the BA. 2 variant include many of the places the island’s tourists and snowbirds hail from – New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, Maryland and Illinois. Washington, D.C. is also among the locales where the Stealth Omicron variant is running rampant. READ FULL STORY


Subs evoke memories as Harbor Branch celebrates 50th
week of April 14, 2022

The Johnson-Sea-Link Program at Harbor Branch had it all – romance and tragedy, camaraderie and practical jokes, adventure on the high seas and extraordinary discoveries. The Johnson-Sea-Link sub- mersibles – JSLs for short – look like illustrations for a Jules Verne novel. Now retired, the 20-foot long, 4-person craft could go down 3,000 feet into the ocean, to places utterly unknown across the whole expanse of human history until the 1970s when they began to carry eager, young researchers into the deep. At a lecture last month that was part of Harbor Branch’s 50th anniversary celebration, four of those researchers, a little older now, recalled the scientific excitement and personal wonder they felt exploring new worlds during the four-decade Sea Link program, which was headquartered here on the shore of the Indian River Lagoon just south of the county line. “Between 1971 and 2010 we made over 9,400 dives around the world,” said John Reed, a research professor and coral expert who came to Harbor Branch in 1976, straight from graduate school, just in time to help discover the Oculina Reef, a vast marine treasure unique to the east coast of Florida that is home to more than 300 species of marine life. READ FULL STORY


Longtime renters being priced out by soaring rates
week of April 14, 2022

Rental rates on the island have surged so high so fast that many longtime Vero snowbirds were priced out of paradise this season, or forced to drastically alter their travel plans in order to get a place. “A number of repeat Vero Beach renters, people who have been coming here since I was a child, were unable to secure a rental this year as they have in the past,” said Angela Waldrop, who runs the property rental division at Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “Some were able to find a place, eventually, but only on different terms. They could no longer do the month of February alone or a six-week rental as they may have done for decades. “To rent this past season, you had to rent for three plus months. “Sadly, many others were unable to secure rentals on the island at all, due to the enormous price increases that have occurred over the past two years. Many of these prospective renters ended up in West Vero,” or in nearby communities where prices are more affordable than on the island. READ FULL STORY


Popular laundry closes, leaving patrons wondering how to get their clothes back
week of April 14, 2022

Many barrier island residents, who had come to rely on Vero Beach Dry Cleaners to brighten and freshen everything from dress shirts to formalwear, recently have been wondering not only where else to turn for cleaning – but how to get their clothes back. Finding the doors to the cleaner locked, readers contacted Vero Beach 32963 hoping to find out what happened, and some even called the Vero Beach Police Department for help retrieving their garments. “They do not respond to calls and their (voice) mailbox is full so no message can be left,” one island resident told the newspaper. They also were not responding to email requests for information, he said, appealing to our news staff to investigate. Police Chief David Currey said last week that his officers looked into the matter, “We did receive some calls and intervened to include contacting the owner.” Currey said his officers were informed the shop would re-open limited days and times “to allow for the return of patron items. I know some have already received their clothing items back.” READ FULL STORY


Historic Jones House on Jungle Trail to reopen to public in late 2024
week of April 14, 2022

Indian River County plans to elevate and renovate the century-old Jones House on Jungle Trail and reopen the Florida Cracker-style wood-frame structure in late 2024 or early 2025 as an interpretive center. However, county officials are preparing to give sneak peek tours of the environmental improvements on the surrounding 16-acre Jones Pier Conservation Area as construction winds down. “We would like to start the sneak peeks in the next 30 days or less,” interim county Parks and Recreation Director Elizabeth Powell said Monday. “It might be once a week for an hour or an hour and a half, where a limited amount of people can sign up for a sneak peek and then they’re guided throughout the site,” Powell said. “They’re with a staff member the whole time.” Currently, Powell said, “we open the site to volunteers and guests associated with specific programming. It’s not open for general access.” The county may reopen the grounds at 7770 Jungle Trail for regular public use by the end of the year, Powell said. The key is pouring 42 concrete piers and placing the Jones House on top. READ FULL STORY


COVID hospitalizations again down, but infections edge up
week of April 14, 2022

As a second round of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots became available to those age 50 and older, and the world closely monitors virus hot spots in Asia and Europe, new cases here edged up 10 percent last week, rising from 59 cases to 65 cases. Hospitalizations of COVID-positive patients at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital declined from four on April 4 to three at press time Monday. Even better news is “none are in the ICU,” said hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell on Monday. With more and more people are using convenient, do-it-yourself home COVID-19 test kits, the official testing numbers countywide declined 11 percent last week from the last report, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are a few settings in which people who test positive for COVID-19 are more motivated to report their cases to health officials, such as in the schools, because kids and teachers get to take a few sick days at home. But the Indian River School District’s COVID-19 dashboard as of Monday was showing zero positive cases among students and zero positive cases among teachers. READ FULL STORY


Island house cleaner hopes to trade bucket for badge
week of April 14, 2022

Frances Marie Ramirez Camacho has paid her dues, cleaning barrier island homes for three years. Now, she aims to clean the county’s streets of crime. The 19-year-old dropped out of Vero Beach High School at 16 to work as a house cleaner to support her family when her mother became seriously ill and was unable to work. Since then, she’s earned her high school diploma, and has been accepted into the Indian River State College Criminal Justice Institute – the fulfillment of a dream to become a police officer. Camacho will be one of 28 cadets to start classes April 18. While completing the six-month program, she’ll continue to help her mom, Jennifer Camacho, with the family business, Surfside Cleaning Solutions, cleaning homes to pay her $4,000 tuition and other expenses. Advancing to the police academy was no ordinary accomplishment as Camacho has struggled with school since childhood. Born in Puerto Rico, English is her second language, and she moved with her mother several times before settling in Vero Beach to be near her maternal grandmother. Adjusting to different school systems, learning English and trying to fit in was a challenge. READ FULL STORY


Next Friday will be end of an era for Jaycee Park’s Seaside Grill
week of April 14, 2022

Next Friday, April 22, will be a bittersweet day for the scores of regulars who have come to consider the Seaside Grill a home away from home, and who think of operators Dan and Rose Culumber and their staff as family. After a terrific three-decade run, the Seaside Grill’s doors will close for good, says Dan Culumber. The City of Vero Beach is working on choosing a new operator of the Jaycee Park concession, but the successor has yet to be named. The hugely popular, sand-in-your-shoes “great little breakfast-and-lunch restaurant” overlooking the beach – when it ultimately reopens in some new incarnation – will no longer be under the management of the Culumbers and their longtime staff. Patrons for at least a time will miss enjoying the sunrise over the ocean with a steaming coffee and a stack of warm, soft, buttermilk pancakes, dripping with real maple syrup; or watching beachgoers playing in the surf, or seagulls diving for snacks, while tucking into a grilled chicken or fish sandwich with a side of homemade coleslaw. READ FULL STORY


COVID still low here. Is a surge on way?
week of April 7, 2022

Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, China and the vast majority of Western Europe – they’re all being plagued by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the BA.2 Omicron variant. How long until it hits Vero? As of press time Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had cast all of Florida in green as areas of “low community transmission.” Other states in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest are starting to see numbers rise and urgent care waiting rooms fill up. But people don’t stay put, especially during the busy spring break travel season. Based largely upon data from Israel, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last Tuesday that people age 50 and older could now get a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, provided their third shot was at least four months ago. Officials also said that yet another booster – which could be a fifth shot for older Americans and immunocompromised people, or a third (or fourth) shot for everyone else – will likely be in the cards this fall to prepare for a potential winter surge. READ FULL STORY


TCCH appears set to take over nursing at jail
week of April 7, 2022

The Sheriff’s Office is in negotiations with Treasure Coast Community Health to takeover the healthcare of inmates at the Indian River County Jail on a long-term basis, both parties have confirmed. TCCH would provide 17 registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) – two more than sources said previously were on the Sheriff’s Office staff – to care for a jail population that often exceeds 500 inmates, according to Colette Heid, community relations director for the local nonprofit. As the week began, no contract had been signed, but Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Debbie Carson said “conversations are taking place.” TCCH, which primarily serves people who have limited access to healthcare, has been providing medical service at the jail on a month-to-month basis since last May, according to Heid. Subsequently, Heid said, the Sheriff’s Office approached TCCH with an eye to outsourcing medical services at the jail permanently. If the parties can agree on a contract, TCCH would become one of the first such nonprofit organizations to “venture into jail services,” she added. READ FULL STORY


Neighbors want Castaway Cove home condemned for code violations
week of April 7, 2022

A group of neighbors in the Wave VI neighborhood of Castaway Cove on South Beach are circulating a petition to have a house on Spanish Lace Lane condemned due to persistent code violations stretching back at least five years. The petition is just one in a long series of efforts by residents, the Wave VI Home Owners Association (HOA), and city and county officials to force the owner of the property at 1215 Spanish Lace Lane to repair the home or tear it down. The house, which has belonged to the same family since it was built in 1988, has lacked a finished roof for three years – no shingles, tiles or metal, just a fading layer of blue peel and stick underlayment – according to neighbors and city officials. Until recently, there were sections of rotted exterior wall, holes in the roof and collapsing interior ceilings, with drywall and insulation hanging down, according to a county report. “This is a beautiful neighborhood and that house doesn’t belong here,” said Angelique Padulo, who lives across the street from 1215 Spanish Lace Lane and is involved in the petition effort. “There hasn’t been a roof on it since we moved here in 2020.” READ FULL STORY


After 6 years, prosecutor asks judge to set ‘date certain’ for trial of Asbury Lee Perkins
week of April 7, 2022

Assistant State Attorney Bill Long has asked Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn for a “date certain” when former South Beach resident Asbury Lee Perkins finally will be tried for the premeditated murder of his estranged wife and business partner Cynthia Betts. Perkins, 64, was arrested on Nov. 4, 2015, and initially was represented by a court-appointed public defender, but then decided to represent himself. Perkins has dismissed numerous attorneys appointed over the years to help him prepare the case – citing disagreement over defense strategy among the reasons. Court documents indicate Perkins’ defense will hinge on convincing the jury that decades of false accusations and police reports against him by 63-year-old Betts and her father caused a downward spiral in his life, including heavy drinking, repeated arrests and financial ruin. Then on the evening of Nov. 2, he snapped and shot Betts in the bedroom of the Seagrape Drive home they once shared. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases here decline to under 6 per day
week of March 31, 2022

As a new stealthier virus subvariant causes surges in COVID-19 infections in Europe and lockdowns in China, cases here continued to decline last week to a daily average in single digits. Indian River County had only 59 new COVID-19 cases for the week ending March 24, and on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an even lower number of 37 new cases for its seven-day moving average – fewer than six new cases per day. For comparison, at the worst of this winter’s surge, Indian River County reported 2,255 new COVID-19 cases here during the week ending Jan. 13. Of the 37 new cases reported to the Florida Department of Health last week, the CDC said only two people with COVID-19 had been hospitalized. Hospitalization numbers topped 100 new admissions per week during the winter surge. But the big question was: How long does Indian River County have to enjoy very low virus transmission before the BA.2 subvariant – sometimes known as “stealth Omicron” – begins spreading rapidly in the Florida? READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways again flying from Vero Beach Airport
week of March 31, 2022

Elite Airways last week resumed its wildly popular, commercial-jet service between Vero Beach and Newark, returning to town with a schedule that now also includes year-round flights to and from Portland, Maine, and White Plains, New York. The boutique carrier had temporarily moved its Vero Beach service to Melbourne in September to accommodate a runway resurfacing project at the Vero airport. “So far, the loads have been very good,” Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said Monday. “The number of passengers has been in the 40s, which isn’t bad, considering our security program currently limits us to 50 seats. “We’re seeing almost-full flights.” Elite customers also will notice a slight change in the airline’s schedule, particularly for service connecting Vero Beach and Newark. The airport here will no longer see those flights arrive and depart the same days. While Newark-bound flights will depart from Vero Beach on Mondays and Thursdays, the return flights are scheduled for Tuesdays and Fridays. READ FULL STORY


Island residents with ‘classic cars and other toys’ power luxury storage boom
week of March 31, 2022

By the time partners Joe Schulke and Vic Lombardi got site plan approval for their third luxury storage project two weeks ago, island residents had already reserved more than a third of the available units – and remaining spots were going fast. “110 percent,” Lombardi told Vero Beach 32963 when asked what percentage of his buyers live on the barrier island. “Seriously, almost all are from the island. I think we might have two so far who aren’t.” “The people on the island are impacted by the ocean,” said Schulke. “Their classic cars and other toys are detrimentally affected by salt air. They like the idea they can get their treasured items off the island and out of that corrosive salt environment.” Besides providing super-secure storage for vintage Corvettes, valuable boats and luxury RVs, the solid concrete units – which range from 880 to 1,320 square feet and cost between $199,000 and $319,000 – are designed to serve as hurricane shelters for the owners. READ FULL STORY


Neurosurgeon Basil Keller, slowed by long covid, retires
week of March 31, 2022

Neurosurgeon Basil Keller wasn’t planning to retire, though he is among the longest practicing physicians in the area. What prompted his decision, after nearly six decades of treating everything from spinal injuries to brain tumors, is that Keller has a patient he can’t seem to cure – himself. Keller, 84, is suffering from the neurological effects of long COVID, having come down with the virus a few days before Christmas. “I got up on Christmas Eve, and it felt like I’d been slammed into a wall. It just knocks all the energy out of you.” Keller was fully vaccinated, but the booster shot he got just two days before he tested positive would not have had time to kick in with protection. He ended up sick enough to be hospitalized for five days. In the three months since his hospitalization, COVID-19 symptoms have never completely resolved. Along with severe fatigue, he suffers cognition problems and memory loss, keenly annoying for a doctor who has treated brain-related conditions most of his life, and whose own high-functioning brain has driven his success. READ FULL STORY


Changing streetlight bulbs: It’s not a joke
week of March 31, 2022

How many calls to utility departments does it take to change a streetlight bulb? Well, when that bulb illuminates an island street, or one of Vero Beach’s bridges, the answer can get a bit complicated. It depends on who owns that particular light – the City of Vero Beach, Florida Power & Light, the Florida Department of Transportation, or Indian River County. Each of the entities is responsible for specific lights. Vero Beach 33963 has been contacted recently by residents who have noticed lights out around town, including on and around Ocean Drive on the barrier island and on the Barber Bridge, and Vero Beach Public Works Assistant Director Richard Mutterback says the city fields quite a few calls as well. But if the light or lights in question are not owned and/or maintained by the city but by one of the other entities, Vero workers can’t pop over and fix the problem. READ FULL STORY


Former nursing assistant gets 12-year sentence for stealing from John’s Island seniors in her care
week of March 31, 2022

Former nursing assistant Chiquita Lashae McGee, 33, had a wild ride while it lasted – stealing more than $300,000 in cash and luxury goods bought on the credit card of two 80-something-year-old John’s Island residents in her care. Last week, she found out she’ll be 45 when she gets out of state prison, will miss her oldest daughter’s high school graduation this spring, and just about every major milestone of her two younger daughters’ lives. "I hope it was worth it," Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn told McGee. Vaughn doubled security before handing down the stiff 12-year sentence in a courtroom filled with two dozen McGee supporters and close friends, who testified to her good character, to her involvement in her Ft. Pierce church and to her being a good mother to her three daughters. In what appeared to be an effort to deflect blame for the crimes onto McGee’s older sister, co-defendant Sophia Monae Shepherd (aka Sophia Brown), who is yet to be tried, several of those who came to the courtroom portrayed McGee as the good sister led astray by a bad influence. READ FULL STORY


Strunk Funeral Homes president responds to libel lawsuit
week of March 31, 2022

Strunk Funeral Homes & Crematory president Mary Kopchak has responded to a libel lawsuit by defending her social-media comments about the owner of a company that claims to have purchased the properties on which her family’s longtime Vero Beach business operates. The libel suit, filed in late November by Millennium Funeral Home & Crematory owner James Young Jr., is a spinoff of the slow-moving legal drama surrounding the dispute over those properties. Young also has filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee, where he’s seeking to have the Strunk Funeral Home’s license revoked by the state funeral board, which still hasn’t approved the company’s change of ownership. In a 13-point answer to the libel action, Kopchak – daughter of Glenn Strunk, who owned and operated the Strunk Funeral Home for 47 years before he died in February 2020 – argues the remarks she posted on a Facebook page were legally protected because they were made in response to news-media coverage of matters under litigation. Kopchak claims her comments about Young were “pure opinion,” true or substantially true, and made in a good-faith effort to rebut false allegations he made to Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Ron and Nancy Rosner donate $10 million to hospital
week of March 24, 2022

Philanthropy is a deeply ingrained Rosner family value. Giving back. Paying it forward. It’s how longtime John’s Island residents Ron and Nancy Rosner show gratitude for their success, and compassion for those in need. From children’s literacy to college scholarships, programs to help homeless women and children, free medical clinics and the YMCA, the Rosners have generously contributed to causes and charities from Virginia to Vero Beach. So it was natural that when the family was reeling from a heartbreaking loss, instead of turning inward, the Rosners stretched out their arms to help others in a big way. Their grandson Evan was a stellar student and a heavily recruited baseball player, a left-handed pitcher. A caring and selfless young man, their Evan took a Xanax pill that was laced with fentanyl, and died. READ FULL STORY


Craig Fletcher, 79, twice Vero mayor, urged electric sale
week of March 24, 2022

In a tragic end to a life of service to his country, to science and to the City of Vero Beach, two-time Vero Mayor A. Craig Fletcher was found dead in his home Sunday evening. He was 79. No matter what personal troubles dogged him in his last few years as he approached his 80th birthday in April, Fletcher will be remembered gratefully by many electric ratepayers from Indian River Shores to the far reaches of the South barrier island, and by restaurants and businesses on the mainland, too. Fletcher, who served a total of eight years on the City Council, was one of the stalwart city officials who, in the early days, pushed the wheelbarrow of the Vero electric sale uphill, sometimes through the mud. After a tour in Vietnam back in his Army days, maybe Fletcher was primed for that fight. Former Mayor Pilar Turner said Monday she was in shock about Fletcher’s passing. “I am grateful for Craig’s years of service to Vero Beach and his fervent support for selling Vero electric to FPL,” she said. READ FULL STORY


Will planned new home construction bring an early end to the real estate crunch here?
week of March 24, 2022

Is the real estate inventory crunch in Indian River County about to come to an end? A quick look at the number of new houses, condos, townhouses, duplexes and triplexes planned or approved in the county stirs a sense of optimism. Figures compiled by the Community Development Department show nearly 4,500 new single-family homes have been proposed but not yet approved, along with about 1,200 condos and townhomes. In addition, the county approved another 2,595 lots or units in 2021. That is 8,295 new front doors proposed or approved and in some cases under construction. While some are on the island, most are on the mainland. And that number does not include subdivisions that were green-lighted in 2020, 2019 or earlier that are now being built – places like the latest phases of Waterway Village. READ FULL STORY


French government honors Vero Beach veteran for WWII heroism
week of March 24, 2022

Lots of Vero Beach residents knew 97-year-old Harold Granitur was so successful in business he could afford to embark on a second career, pursuing his passion as a reading teacher championing the cause of literacy. But it wasn’t until his grandchildren started asking him about his experiences during the Allied Forces invasion of France in 1944 that his true heroism during World War II came to light to his family and friends. Among his exploits as a Private First Class in the U.S. Army were single-handedly accepting the surrender of more than 180 German soldiers, risking his life to warn commanders about an enemy tank position and getting wounded twice in battle. “Despite his injury, he continued to fight in Normandy and Northern France (at Avranches, Le Ham, Saint-Jores and St. Hilaire-Petitville),” according to an account provided by the French Consulate in Miami. Granitur’s unit landed on Utah Beach on June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day, and he spent the next year fighting for the liberation of Europe. “While progressing to the East of France, he participated in combats in Chateau Thiery, Verdun and Fort Driant,” the French account says. READ FULL STORY


Brightline upgrades to cause traffic delays on south end of island in April
week of March 24, 2022

Residents of 32963 seeking to enter or exit the island at the south end in Fort Pierce can expect to face a month of delays and detours while Brightline upgrades the railroad crossing at the west end of the North Causeway Bridge. Construction is set to start 6 a.m., Monday, April 11 and continue through Wednesday, May 11 on the railroad crossing just west of Harbortown Drive. The construction will require the full closure of the railroad crossing from 6 a.m., Monday, April 18 until 6 p.m., Thursday, April 21, Brightline said last Friday in a news release. Brightline will also fully close the railroad crossing from 6 a.m., Monday, April 25 until 6 p.m., Thursday, April 28, the company said. Motorists seeking to get on or off the island on those days will need to use one of the bridges in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach will vote in November on pay hike for City Council members
week of March 24, 2022

Vero Beach voters will decide in November whether future mayors and City Council members should get a $175-per-month pay raise, starting with their next terms. If approved, the mayor’s annual salary will increase 15.5 percent from $13,500 to $15,600, while City Council members’ annual salaries will jump 19.4 percent from $10,800 to $12,900. The City Charter requires that such raises be approved by the voters. “We just followed the Charter Review Committee’s recommendation,” Mayor Robbie Brackett said after the City Council unanimously agreed to put the proposed pay hikes on the Nov. 8 ballot. “It hadn’t been done in years, and I believe it’s the right thing to do, but I’m glad the committee recommended relatively small increases,” he added. “Our pay should provide some compensation for our time, but it’s not supposed to be a livable wage. You take this job to give back and serve your community.” READ FULL STORY


COVID threat greatest now for 65+group
week of March 17, 2022

The pandemic continues to wane in Indian River County. The number of new weekly COVID-19 cases here declined another 21 percent last week to just 78, and only four COVID-positive patients were hospitalized locally during the seven-day period. Statewide case numbers have plummeted as well, from 427,514 cases reported to the Florida Department of Health for Jan. 7-13 to 10,288 cases for March 4-10. But the more interesting statistic this week was in the demographic portion of the statewide report. The age 65 and older group last week made up 25 percent of reported cases of COVID-19 statewide. Looking at the past two years of case data, that same age group accounted for only 12.9 percent of cases since the start of the pandemic. Historically, the two age groups accounting for the most Indian River County cases have been the 25-to-34- year-old group and the 55-to-64-year-old group. But recently, people age 65 and older have accounted for slightly more than one in five new infections. READ FULL STORY


New step taken in effort to satisfy school deseg order
week of March 17, 2022

A federal judge this week approved a joint request from the Indian River County School District and local NAACP chapter to disband the district’s Equity Committee and replace it with a work group tasked with satisfying the remaining aspects of a 55-year-old desegregation order. The eight-member work group will consist of four representatives each from the school district and NAACP. According to the order issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams, who presided over a 90-minute, in-person hearing last week in Miami, the newly formed work group must file its first status report by July 31. Her order modifies a Joint Plan approved in 2018, when the school district achieved some key requirements of the 1967 federal court order, specifically those concerning facilities, non-instructional staff and administrative staff. School Superintendent David Moore said the judge’s ruling is yet another sign that the district is serious about addressing the issues cited in the order and continues to make progress toward resolving them. READ FULL STORY


Detective says home nursing aide showed ‘no remorse’ in defrauding island seniors
week of March 17, 2022

Indian River Shores Public Safety Detective Ken Barrett has seen just about everything in his nearly four-decade law enforcement career, but the case of former nursing assistant Chiquita McGee and her crimes against an elderly John’s Island couple really got under his skin. As lead detective on the case, Barrett felt strongly enough to write a letter to Judge Dan Vaughn, the 19th Circuit’s criminal felony judge in Vero, asking him to hand down a “medium to harsh sentence” at McGee’s March 24 sentencing. On Feb. 21, McGee entered an open plea of “no contest” to felony exploitation of the elderly and defrauding a financial institution, minutes before jury selection was set to begin in her trial for stealing from Michelina Martinelli and her late husband Alfred, both in their 80s. The Martinellis had been diagnosed with dementia while in the care of McGee and her sister and co-defendant Sophia Shepherd (aka Sophia Brown). Brown has yet to be tried. The mandatory minimum sentence for the first-degree felony exploitation of the elderly plus the second-degree felony scheme to defraud a financial institution is 37 months, with the maximum sentence Vaughn could impose being 45 years. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor: Riverfront club ‘experiencing a renaissance’
week of March 17, 2022

New development is gearing up rapidly at Grand Harbor where two prime clusters of lots have been sold in the past three weeks, putting 64 new homes in the pipeline. A third parcel with 78 additional homesites was just listed for $18 million by ONE Sotheby’s broker associate Michael Thorpe. The burst of land sales and impending building activity comes amidst a major rebound at Grand Harbor, where members 14 months ago took over control from billionaire Carl Icahn, bringing a new sense of optimism and ambition to the community, according to Thorpe and club manager Michael Gibson. Millions have been spent on facility upgrades, with more projects in the works, and membership has grown from about 580 to nearly 750, according to Gibson. “Grand Harbor is experiencing a renaissance,” said Thorpe. “Having the members take over the ownership and future of the club is a wonderful thing that has a big psychological impact. They have taken charge of their own destiny, and everyone is happier now. The buy-in has been tremendous.” READ FULL STORY


Good news for island homeowners: Hospital District plans further cuts in property tax rate
week of March 17, 2022

As it shifts from primarily funding indigent hospital stays to investing in primary and preventative health for the poor and uninsured, the Indian River Hospital District expects its property tax rate to continue to decrease this fall. That’s good news for island residents, who account for nearly half of the revenue the district collects. Over the past seven years, the Hospital District has reduced its tax rate by 28 percent. In 2015, property owners were billed 99.51 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value. But in 2021, that tax rate was down to 71.44 cents, bringing in nearly $14.2 million in real estate taxes plus another half million in tangible property tax. Island residents pay 49 percent of Hospital District property taxes annually, or an average of $600 per 32963 household. READ FULL STORY


‘Battle of the Pros’ tennis exhibition to be held as fundraiser for local pro injured in auto crash
week of March 17, 2022

For nearly 30 years, local tennis pros have rallied to the cause of improving the lives of the community’s children, helping raise funds for the Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy by competing in the annual King of the Hill doubles tournament. On March 29 at The Boulevard Tennis Club, they will play for one of their own. Teaching pros from the Vero Beach area’s clubs – including John’s Island, Quail Valley, Sea Oaks and The Moorings – will participate in a “Battle of the Pros for Billy” in an open-to-the-public doubles exhibition to raise money to help Aquarina Tennis Director Billy Almeyda cover his medical expenses. Almeyda, who spent six years as an assistant pro at Grand Harbor before taking the Aquarina job, was seriously injured in a head-on collision on State Road A1A on the morning of Feb. 16, while en route from his Sebastian home to the Melbourne Beach club. READ FULL STORY


State Attorney’s Office rolls with changes in Vero
week of March 10, 2022

At a time when the State Attorney’s Office is losing some of the most senior members of its prosecuting team, long-time Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor is out on leave, creating a void in leadership of operations at the Indian River County Courthouse. It’s unclear if 60-year-old Taylor will return to work full time, but in his 30-year career, Taylor has been the go-to prosecutor in first-degree murder cases punishable by the death penalty. He also handled most every Indian River County felony case as it came in, managing attorney assignments and scheduling. Soon after Taylor and Assistant State Attorney Bill Long tried the Andrew Coffee case in November, Long began making court appearances for Taylor and on Dec. 10 it was clear that something was very wrong. Taylor was deactivated from prosecuting former South Beach resident Asbury Lee Perkins for first-degree murder. Long, a lawyer since 2008, was assigned to the case that Taylor had worked on since 2015. READ FULL STORY


Historic Patio may soon be filled with diners again
week of March 10, 2022

The historic building in Vero’s old downtown that long housed the Patio Restaurant has been sold to a prominent Boca Raton restaurant broker who plans to lease it out to a new operator. Athan “Tom” Prakas, owner of Prakas & Co., bought the property from Patio Restaurant of Vero Beach, Inc., paying $600,000 in a deal that closed on Feb.17. It was listed with Billy Moss at Lambert Commercial Real Estate for $950,000. “We have people looking at it and we hope to see it back in operation three or four months from now,” Prakas told Vero Beach 32963. “I think it would be perfect for a Mexican place. Could also be Mediterranean or Italian.” Built in the 1930s by iconic Vero Beach developer Waldo Sexton, who also built the Ocean Grill and Driftwood Inn on the island, the colorful, quirky building at 1103 21st St. had been in the Sexton family for more than 80 years at the time of the sale. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases here drop to pre-Omicron surge levels
week of March 10, 2022

New COVID-19 infections reported to the Florida Department of Health declined another 34 percent this week, approaching pre-Omicron surge levels, so the focus of public health officials has shifted from managing large numbers of COVID-positive patients to fast action for the most vulnerable. As Indian River County is still in the green or “low” community spread category, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention recommends that anyone at risk of serious COVID-19 illness have easy access to rapid testing, and not wait to seek medical treatment upon testing positive. The CDC also reminds anyone infected with COVID-19 to stay away from others – especially from those most vulnerable to serious covid illness – for at least five days, or while they still have a fever, or symptoms like sneezing and coughing that spread the virus. READ FULL STORY


Newcomer Hiltz to challenge Brackett for legislative seat
week of March 10, 2022

Sebastian resident Karen Hiltz, a conservative Republican who served in the U.S. Navy for seven years and held several civilian jobs in the federal government before earning two graduate degrees, has filed to run for the Florida House of Representatives District 54 seat currently occupied by Vero Beach’s Erin Grall. Thus far, her only opponent is Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett, a fellow Republican who announced his candidacy for state office in December. “We’ve met and it was friendly, but I don’t really know her,” Brackett said. “It’s an open seat and we’re both Republicans, so it ought to be an interesting race. But I have a track record, and we’re going to focus on our campaign – not my opponent’s.” Grall, who is closing out her third term in the House, announced last month that she will seek the Florida Senate seat representing a newly drawn District 25, which will include all of Indian River, Okeechobee, Highlands and Glades counties, along with most of St. Lucie County. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach and Shores differ on pace of lawsuit over water-sewer service territory
week of March 10, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | When Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Foley and Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett met on Dec. 21 to discuss a pending federal antitrust lawsuit about Vero’s water-sewer territory, Brackett told Vero Beach 32963 he wanted to resolve this matter between the neighbors rapidly. Two months later, Vero appears to want to slow-walk the case. “One thing we agreed upon was to move as quickly as possible. They want to move the process along and so do we,” Brackett said back then, adding that Vero needs an answer to the questions about its service territory as soon as possible because the city is designing a new wastewater treatment plant, which sources say could cost $60 million to $80 million or more. Indian River Shores says Vero’s claim to a perpetual water-sewer service territory is illegal, and the town’s legal team is on track to try the case in December. But Vero’s lawyers say they have a solid defense that will make for a winning case. Vero wants the trial set for Sept. 25, 2023, just days before the Shores must put Vero on notice as to whether or not the town will renew its October 2012 franchise agreement. READ FULL STORY


Children’s Trust referendum called off
week of March 10, 2022

Proponents of an initiative that would’ve created a special taxing district to fund children’s services throughout the county withdrew their request for a November referendum after both Indian River Shores and Orchid opted out of the venture. Even with the city councils of Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere having joined the County Commission in endorsing the Children’s Trust proposal, promoters of the decades-old, grassroots effort feared the referendum would fail without the participation of the affluent beachside towns. Had the island town councils embraced the initiative, which was to launch in 2023-24 and be funded by property taxes, the towns would have provided a disproportionate share of the revenues. Instead, the County Commission hopes to expand and enhance the county’s children’s services programs through increased funding when needed, improved oversight and greater accountability. READ FULL STORY


New downtown office building completed
week of March 10, 2022

The exterior of the first new class-A office building in downtown Vero Beach in more than a decade is complete and the interior is being designed this week to suit a buyer who put the property under contract in February. Developer Joe Foglia said he got the handsome, two-story, Federal-style building built just in time. The brick-clad structure was erected in 2020 and 2021, during the period when the cost of building materials went through the roof at the same time as many essential construction products became hard to get in a timely fashion. But Foglia had ordered the bulk of the material before COVID-19 and supply-chain problems disrupted the building industry. “The good news is that most of the material for the site work and shell – the concrete, block, brick, trusses and other key materials – were purchased before the craziness really started,” Foglia told Vero Beach 32963. “All that stuff was already contracted for when prices jumped. “If we had started a year later, the costs would have been 25 percent higher.” At least. READ FULL STORY


Vero finally in ‘Green Zone’ for
COVID-19
week of March 3, 2022

Most of Florida has stayed in the public health ‘Red Zone’ throughout the Omicron surge this winter, but as our community enters March, new federal criteria has finally moved Indian River County into the ‘Green Zone.’ The number of new infections dropped another 47 percent with 151 new cases this past week – down from 286 the previous week. That’s still about 21 new cases per day, three times the infection rate here during the lull between the Delta and Omicron surges. From the standpoint of new COVID-19 infections reported to the Florida Department of Health, Indian River County has made big progress from our record week of 2,225 new cases. But on this basis, we still would have been in the ‘Orange Zone.’ But the CDC is now focusing on hospital capacity, and Indian River County’s weekly hospitalization rate also has been steadily declining, with only 10 new admissions in the past seven days. On Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital reported only six COVID-positive patients in its facility. That number is down drastically from 20 patients the previous week, and 41 patients the week before that. READ FULL STORY


Economic impact of tourism here at all-time high
week of March 3, 2022

This is no secret to anyone who has spent time sunning on the island’s beaches, dining in its restaurants and especially visiting its hotels: Tourism is booming here. “More and more people are choosing to vacation where we live,” said County Commissioner Joe Flescher, who serves as the chairman of the county’s Tourist Development Council. So many tourists are flocking to the Vero Beach and Sebastian areas, in fact, that Indian River County officials expect to see annual bed tax revenues reach $4 million for the first time this fiscal year. “We’re at an all-time high now, and the numbers have been headed there for a while,” said Flescher. According to the latest numbers provided by the TDC, bed tax revenues for the first quarter of the 2021-22 fiscal year are up 49 percent – more than $330,000 – over the previous year. That’s 85.7 percent, or more than $475,000, above the TDC’s budgeted projections for the quarter, which began in October and produced record-high collections in each of the three months. READ FULL STORY


Douglas Elliman opens beachside office. Is top agent Fredrik Eklund on the way?
week of March 3, 2022

New York residential real estate powerhouse Douglas Elliman announced last Tuesday it has opened a boutique office in Vero Beach with the goal of quickly becoming a dominant force in the 32963 luxury market. The office launched with seven agents, including the complete team from Daley & Company Real Estate and The Josephs – Joseph O’Neill and Joseph Schlitt – with their associate Chris Mickley. The office will be located next door to the Red Onion restaurant in the Park Place building at 3001 Ocean Dr. across from Humiston Park. The space is being built out now with a goal of completion in late March. In the meantime, Daley and her agents will continue to operate from their current offices, listing properties and doing deals under the Elliman banner. The Josephs will operate from a temporary office. Elliman’s Florida CEO Jay Phillip Parker says Vero fits like a puzzle piece into the company’s network of high-end markets and its strategy of having a strong presence in “places our clients want to be.” READ FULL STORY


St. Edward’s senior Benjamin Evans headed to West Point
week of March 3, 2022

Family, friends, classmates and teachers were elated at the news that St. Edward’s School senior Benjamin Evans has been accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point. The 18-year-old Evans was checking his email at 3:30 in the morning when he learned his years of focused scholastic work and community volunteerism had been rewarded with a spot as a West Point cadet. “It’s truly an honor to represent Vero Beach,” said Evans, “and I will do everything in my power to represent it well.” Homeschooled by his mother through eighth grade, Evans has been preparing for his future during the four years he has attended Saint Edward’s. “In my 40 years of teaching, Ben Evans is one of the most disciplined, committed students I’ve met,” said Terrance Mitchell, a St. Ed’s advanced placement teacher and advisor to Evans. READ FULL STORY


Four more years? Would you believe two new 17th Street projects?
week of March 3, 2022

Nearly a year and a half into the epic 17th Street bridge repair project, the Florida Department of Transportation unveiled plans to keep crews working on the bridge, and on East Causeway Boulevard, through 2026. Beginning in the summer of 2023, FDOT plans to embark upon a $12 million job replacing the eastern 400 feet of the bridge, sealing the entire deck of the bridge, and finally resurfacing and reconfiguring both the eastbound and westbound legs of the bridge, widening bike lanes to 8 feet, 3 inches. Immediately following that effort, East Causeway Boulevard at the island-side base of the bridge will be milled and resurfaced as part of a $1.5 million effort. The center turn lane will be reduced a bit to provide for wider bike lanes to match those on the bridge. FDOT will upgrade the lighting and signage at the intersection of Highway A1A and East Causeway Boulevard. That phase of the construction is expected to be complete by spring 2026. READ FULL STORY


Trial begins of civil suit against deputy in fatal shooting of wife of Dr. Dudley Teel
week of March 3, 2022

More than 4 ½ years after his wife was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, Vero Beach doctor Dudley Teel entered the U.S. District Courthouse in Fort Pierce on Monday for the long-awaited start of a trial that will determine the fate of his $10 million civil-rights lawsuit. As jury selection began, however, Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Lozada was the lone defendant. According to Todd Norbraten, who is serving as co-counsel to lead attorney Guy Rubin as a member of the Stuart-based Rubin & Rubin law firm representing Teel, a wrongful-death claim against the Sheriff’s Office was dismissed. “No matter what happens at trial, we still have an appellate right to claims against the agency,” Norbraten said. “But we can’t file that appeal until after the trial is over.” Instead, Teel’s legal team is focusing on Lozada, who they claim panicked and needlessly shot Susan Teel on July 26, 2017, after he responded to a 911 call at the family’s home where the petite, 62-year-old woman attempted to commit suicide by slashing her wrists. READ FULL STORY


Gas pipeline to island could be set by year-end
week of March 3, 2022

Peninsula Pipeline Corp. has obtained two of the five major approvals required to construct a natural gas pipeline to Indian River County’s barrier island, and hopes to have the pipeline finished by the end of the year. However, Florida City Gas may be able to provide natural gas service to residents and businesses even before the pipeline is completed if it can find sites for compressed natural gas trailers on the barrier island, a utility spokeswoman said last week. “The timing piece is still in flux,” said Bianca Soriano, a spokeswoman for FPL, FCG’s parent company. “Where and when is something we have to determine with private land owners, the county and local municipalities, and then we can arrange for temporary land use for the trailers,” Soriano said. “They are very common throughout the industry to transport compressed natural gas.” Construction on the 11.5-mile pipeline is set to start in the second quarter of 2022 and be completed by the end of the year, said Brianna Patterson, a spokeswoman for Peninsula Pipeline, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities Corp. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Town Council may move its town hall
week of March 3, 2022

The Orchid Town Council is exploring new locations for its town hall, including a planned DiVosta Homes development on the west side of the Wabasso Causeway about a mile and a half from the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club’s south entrance. At the Feb. 15 Town Council meeting, Town Manager Cherry Stowe said she’d been in touch with the developer who, at the time, was in the early stages of planning Bridge Marketplace, the commercial component of the residential development Harbor Isles. Stowe said the developer was “intrigued by the town’s interest in a new town hall facility on the property.” The current Orchid town hall location is in Wabasso almost 4.5 miles from the barrier island community across the intracoastal. The town hall occupies a 1,450-square-foot office in Proctor Plaza on U.S. 1, from which the town manager and town clerk have conducted Orchid’s administrative operations since 2013. READ FULL STORY


Some parents knew in advance of February 16 brawl at Vero High
week of March 3, 2022

Some parents had been aware that a fight was going to take place in advance of the Feb. 16 brawl at Vero Beach High School’s Freshman Learning Center, School Superintendent David Moore has discovered. “School administrators who reached out to parents learned that parents knew it was going to happen,” Moore said. “The whole thing could’ve been avoided, but nobody said anything. Unfortunately, that’s too often the case.” While Moore said there were no fights on-campus anywhere in the county last week, 358 students have been combatants in on-campus fights this school year, according to the school district. Of that number, 56 were referred to law enforcement, a spokesman said. “Sometimes, good kids make bad decisions and get into fights,” Moore said. “An A-B student, in heat of the moment, can make a bad decision. They’re not the problem. It’s usually the continually disruptive and disconnected kid that ends up in a lot of these fights.” READ FULL STORY


The Orchid Town Council nixes Children’s Trust
week of March 3, 2022

The Orchid Town Council at its February meeting voted down a resolution that would have included the small oceanside community in the proposed Indian River County Children’s Tax District referendum. By a vote of four to one, the Orchid council joined the only other barrier island municipality, Indian River Shores, in opting out. The referendum, planned for the November ballot, would create a special tax district to fund The Children’s Trust of Indian River County – creating a dedicated revenue stream to invest in a variety of programs and services including early child care, mental health, afterschool recreation and athletic programs, and others. Last year, the Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere city councils voted to be included in the proposed new tax district, and the county commission was unanimous in directing County Attorney Dylan Reingold to plan a November referendum. But with the loss of the county’s only two barrier island municipalities, the proposed new tax district’s available revenues would be significantly cut. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases again down sharply here
week of February 24, 2022

New COVID-19 infections here fell another 45 percent this past week – the case count down to 286 from 517 – and the number of people hospitalized here with the virus was down 49 percent, according to the Florida Department of Health. As of press time Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 20 COVID-positive patients, two of those in the intensive care unit. That’s down from 41 COVID-positive patients just a week ago. “As we continue to see reduced COVID-related hospitalizations and positivity rates in our communities, we have evaluated our visitation guidelines,” Cleveland Clinic spokesman Scott Samples said Monday. Effective Tuesday, Feb. 22, Cleveland Clinic Florida moved to orange level visitation guidelines, increasing the number of visitors allowed from one to two (age 18 and older) per day for hospitalized patients, emergency department patients, and outpatient appointments and procedures. READ FULL STORY


Home health aide for elderly couple pleads no contest
week of February 24, 2022

Moments before jury selection was to begin, defendant and former home health aide Chiquita Lashae McGee decided not to take her chances with a jury deciding whether she’d charged hundreds of thousands of dollars of trips, luxury goods and dozens of pairs of shoes to the credit card of two John’s Island octogenarians in her care. With both sides ready to try the case, and Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans prepared to wheel in 10 large blue recycling totes full of colorful and expensive ill-gotten merchandise for a show-and-tell with the jury, McGee’s defense attorney James Regan asked to negotiate a plea deal. A negotiated plea deal would have given McGee some certainty as to how many years she’d spend in prison, but for Evans, it was way too late in the four-year-old case. “We have a policy of not negotiating pleas on trial day,” he said after the hearing Monday morning. After conferring with legal counsel, McGee took what’s called an “open plea” by which she entered a plea of “no contest” before Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn, subjecting herself to Florida’s sentencing guidelines and Vaughn’s mercy on March 24 when he will hand down her sentence. READ FULL STORY


Vero officials hoping for ‘yes’ vote on riverfront referendum this November
week of February 24, 2022

What will the city do with the so-called “Three Corners” property if a majority of Vero Beach voters reject the Nov. 8 referendum to allow the proposed development of the 17-acre riverfront parcel now occupied by an abandoned power plant? “That’s a good question,” Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett said. There don’t appear to be any good answers – or options. The City Council, which approved a Master Concept Plan for the Three Corners project with a 4-1 vote on Feb. 1, has been so committed to the development of a dining, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront that it has no Plan B. In fact, Brackett said there haven’t been any meaningful discussions of alternative uses for the property. “The council has been very supportive of this project, and based on my conversations around town, I’m optimistic it’s going to pass,” Brackett said. “People are excited about the possibilities. Waterfront property needs to be used. “Ultimately, though, it’s up to the voters,” he added. “If they say no, we’ll have some decisions to make.” READ FULL STORY


Riomar home goes under contract for an astonishing price
week of February 24, 2022

The island real estate market continues to astonish buyers, sellers and brokers as the 2022 season gets underway. In the latest stunner, an oceanfront home in Riomar that sold for $4,425,000 two years ago and was put back on the market for $18 million in November went under contract in January for close to the asking price. If it closes in March as expected, the deal will shatter the record for the highest price ever paid for a house in Riomar. “It is incomprehensible,” said Matilde Sorensen, broker at Dale Sorensen Real Estate, who handled both sides of both sales at 1804 Ocean Dr. “I ask people all the time where all this money is coming from. I guess it is the stock market. Luxury buyers have made billions and billions of dollars.” The sellers in the deal, who have moved to London, were Adrian Lismore, an international businessman, and Alexander Cepero, owner of an architecture and design firm that has done projects in Miami, New York City, London and the Bahamas. READ FULL STORY


No criminal charges expected in crash that killed bicyclist
week of February 24, 2022

Nine months after John’s Island resident Carl Cutler was fatally struck by a car while bicycling along the northern tier of Highway A1A, the Florida Highway Patrol’s traffic homicide investigation report still hasn’t been released to the public. However, the FHP captain assigned to Troop L’s Fort Pierce station said he has read the report and the investigation found no evidence the car’s driver, John Joseph Rampp, committed any criminal offense. “From what I’m looking at, there’s nothing in the report that would deem the driver’s actions as criminal,” FHP Capt. Allen Sapp said. “I don’t see anything about pending test results, so I don’t expect our findings to change. “The driver probably will be cited for a traffic violation,” he added, “but nothing has been issued yet.” READ FULL STORY


Florida Senate proposing drastic cuts in support for arts
week of February 24, 2022

Vero’s cultural community mobilized last week as word spread that the state’s budget appropriation for the arts was in danger of being slashed. The distressing information was relayed by Alicia Quinn, board chairman of the Cultural Council of Indian River County, via the council website and emails to all 500-plus council members. In what could be a significant hit to many art and culture nonprofits, or a fatal blow to some, Quinn said the Florida Senate, “is recommending arts funding at 9 percent of the amount requested from the Florida Division of Arts and Culture,” which administers grants to the state’s arts and culture entities. And this, she noted with irony, is in a year when the state is looking at $4 billion in surplus revenues. The Florida House recommendations, on the other hand, are in line with past grant awards, and the comparison is stark: For example, the House is recommending 70 percent of the total cultural and museum grant requests, compared to the Senate’s recommendation of .3 percent. READ FULL STORY


Shores Town Clerk Laura Aldrich retiring after 17 years
week of February 24, 2022

After nearly 17 years of service to the Town of Indian River Shores and a total of 23 years as a municipal clerk, Town Clerk Laura Aldrich is retiring, with this week’s town council meeting her final one. Some colleagues remember the care she put into organizing the annual town Christmas party. Town officials say she always took time to explain things, and that she is an excellent listener. Former Shores mayor Brian Barefoot, who now serves on the Indian River County School Board called Aldrich “Indian River Shores’ rock” because she’s been the constant that has held town government together since she joined the staff in August 2005. “Laura is loyal to the town, she’s dealt with a number of town managers and council members, and lots of changes. She took care of all the residents’ requests and answered all their questions and we’re going to miss her,” Barefoot said. “She’s had a lot on her plate, and I wish her well.” Former vice mayor Michael Ochsner – who was either a council or committee member for all of Aldrich’s tenure with the town – coincidentally used the same words, “the rock,” to describe Aldrich’s role of holding things together. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases continue to decline here
week of February 17, 2022

New COVID-19 infections locally fell by another one third over the past week, down from 758 to 517 as of Friday’s report to the Florida Department of Health, but five more COVID-positive people died, bringing the total to 50 since Christmas. The current case rate is less than one fourth of Indian River County’s record number of cases which topped out at 2,225 one week in early January. For the first time in six weeks, the rate of people testing positive for the virus has dropped below 20 percent and at least for now sits at about 17 percent. Most at-home tests are not captured in this number, and as the free test kits began arriving this month, home testing now could make up a significant amount of local testing. New hospitalizations dropped significantly over the past week, with 12 COVID-positive people admitted to hospitals – half the 24 admissions the previous week. But the number of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized at Cleveland Clinic Indian River increased to 41 from 27 last week, according to hospital spokesman Scott Samples. READ FULL STORY


Island filling up as holiday weekend approaches
week of February 17, 2022

Frigid northern weather – combined with fatigue over big-city mask mandates and vaccine passports, and steep drops in COVID-19 infection rates here – were making Vero Beach a hot ticket this past week, with the island virtually booked solid for the Presidents’ Day weekend. Local residents who hope to dine out beachside, or put up visiting guests at an island hotel, may very well find themselves out of luck. Reservations will be tough to come by on an island packed with sun-seekers. The weekend forecast for them was promising. Chef Leanne Kelleher, owner of The Tides Restaurant on Cardinal Drive, said she has been entertaining a record number of dining guests, and she doesn’t see things slowing down as winter turns to spring. “We are busier than ever before. We’ve been sold out for the month of February and every weekend and most weekdays in March,” she said. “Easter is almost sold out and Mother’s Day is also getting full.” READ FULL STORY


Work on island natural gas pipeline halted for lack of proper permit
week of February 17, 2022

Florida City Gas contractors apparently jumped the gun last week on digging a trench for a proposed natural gas pipeline to serve Indian River Shores. Town Building Official Luis Martinez said he told the contractors to stop working after he noticed them digging a trench in front of The Strand on State Road A1A without the proper permits and approvals. “I received a visit the next morning from a Florida City Gas representative and (he) assured me all work would cease,” Martinez said Monday. Florida City Gas would need a right-of-way utilization permit from the town to work along A1A, Town Manager Jim Harpring said. The town may require additional permits, depending on the scope of the construction. The Town Council would also have to approve a utility franchise agreement with Florida City Gas to provide natural gas service to homes and businesses, Harpring said. READ FULL STORY


Land Trust planning research and education center for Coastal Oaks Preserve on U.S. Route 1
week of February 17, 2022

The Indian River Land Trust is moving forward with an ambitious plan to develop a $3.5 million research and education center on its 226-acre Coastal Oaks Preserve property on U.S. Route 1 south of Oslo Road. Land Trust leaders say the footprint of the project on what they call “an incredible piece of property” will be light, but the impact large and long lasting. “We are on the verge of submitting our site plan to the county and FDOT, which hopefully will be approved in short order,” said Vero Beach landscape architect Elizabeth Gillick, who chairs the committee overseeing the ecologically sensitive development. Land Trust executive director Ken Grudens is in talks with a wide range of potential partners interested in operating programs on the property, including the Brevard Zoo, Vero Beach Museum of Art and the Gifford Youth Achievement Center. Harbor Branch scientists are already working with high school juniors and seniors at the site, teaching field research techniques, and Grudens says the Environmental Learning Center is another area organization that could be part of the mix when the project is complete. READ FULL STORY


Shooting death of deputy remains unsolved
week of February 17, 2022

Today marks the five-year anniversary of the shooting death of off-duty Sheriff’s Deputy Garry Chambliss, who was visiting family in his Gifford neighborhood when struck by a stray bullet fired during a dispute 200 feet from where he was standing. The case remains unsolved. Apparently, detectives from the law enforcement agency he served for more than 27 years are no closer to arresting the shooter than they were on that ill-fated Friday night, four days after Chambliss’ 50th birthday. If they have made progress with their investigation, they’re not telling anyone – not even Chambliss’ family. “I don’t know what’s going on,” Chambliss’ daughter, Briyunna, said during a phone interview last week, adding that the last update on the investigation she received was from former Sheriff Deryl Loar, shortly before he left office in January 2021. “He would keep in touch and check on us to make sure we were OK, and told me the detective who was working the case had retired,” she continued. “That was over a year ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.” READ FULL STORY


State grant money at risk from proposed bill
week of February 17, 2022

Two bills have been introduced in the Florida Legislature that would disqualify municipalities like Vero Beach – which transfer utility revenues into their general funds – from state grants to pay for infrastructure projects. According to the city’s most recent budget, Vero Beach Utilities transfers $1,031,000 into the city’s general fund in direct transfers, plus another $1,232,000 in what they call “General Fund Admin Charges,” for a total of $2.36 million annually. If the bills were to pass and become law effective July 1, Vero would presumably need to choose whether to continue the transfers and give up potentially tens of millions of dollars in grant money to fund the new $80-plus million sewer plant at the airport, or for any other utility or infrastructure project. Stormwater grants could also be affected, as could grants for the expansion of the Septic Tank Effluent (STEP) system, and even the canal water reclamation project pending with John’s Island to provide millions of gallons of reuse irrigation water to the island. READ FULL STORY


Green withdraws from race for School Board
week of February 17, 2022

Three months after deciding to return to his education roots and run for the District 1 School Board seat currently occupied by Mara Schiff, Bruce Green said last week he was withdrawing from the race to support his older brother, who earlier this month was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “It was the easiest tough decision I’ve ever made,” said Green, a former assistant school superintendent. “Running for School Board was something that I really wanted to do – to serve and give back to the community that has given so much to me and my family. “But life’s priorities can change in the blink of an eye,” he added. “My last remaining brother has incurable cancer, and my family will always come first.” Green’s withdrawal from the School Board race left no candidates for the District 1 seat – but only briefly. Within days of Green’s withdrawal, Dr. Gene Posca, a general practitioner, filed to run. Contacted last week, Schiff said she had not yet decided whether to seek re-election and doesn’t know when she will. So, as of Monday, Posca was running unopposed in the nonpartisan race. READ FULL STORY


Covid claims 45 more lives here since Christmas
week of February 10, 2022

While the number of new COVID-19 infections reported to the Florida Department of Health declined another 41 percent last week, Indian River County is not coming out of the Omicron-variant surge unscathed. At least 45 local residents have died of COVID since Christmas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Indian River County COVID-positive residents died between Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, on top of five deaths the previous week. On average, one local COVID-positive resident has died every day since Dec. 25, bring the countywide death toll to 615, based upon Florida Department of Health reports and the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. To put those numbers into perspective, the Delta variant surge killed 33 local people in one week in mid-August. While nearly one-third of the county’s total COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began have been residents of long-term-care facilities, only one-fifth of the deaths of COVID-19 positive people between Christmas and Jan. 29 were people from local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. READ FULL STORY


Million Dollar Island
week of February 10, 2022

If Thurston Howell III ran aground on the Riomar Reef and paddled ashore with Gilligan and the Skipper, he would feel right at home on Vero’s barrier island these days among residents who – even if they aren’t all multi-millionaires like him – do mostly wake up in the morning in million-dollar houses. “There is nothing in Central Beach, east or west of A1A, for under a million,” said Buzz MacWilliam, broker at AMAC Alex MacWilliam, Inc., the oldest real estate agency on the island. It was Jan. 27 and MacWilliam was sitting behind his desk in his office on Ocean Drive, looking at MLS data. “The lowest price is $1,095,000 for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath on Indian River Drive and the highest price in Central Beach is $2,385,000 for a 4-bedroom, 3-bath on Gayfeather.” And Central Beach is not an anomaly. “The lowest price in Riomar is my listing at 1971 Club Dr. at $2,345,000, which is basically lot value,” said Charlotte Terry, the top luxury agent at AMAC. “From there it jumps to $5.9 million, then $7.9 million and then up to $18 million for a property on the ocean.” READ FULL STORY


Sheriff Flowers hoping vague apology on Facebook will save his job
week of February 10, 2022

Five days after Vero Beach 32963 reported that Sheriff Eric Flowers had been caught having an extramarital affair, he issued an in-house memo to his 500-plus employees Monday in which he apologized to his wife, to the agency and to the community for “not living up to my own personal high standards.” He later published the statement on his personal “Sheriff Eric Flowers” Facebook page – but not on the “Indian River County Sheriff’s Office” Facebook page. He did not face reporters at a news conference. Flowers didn’t mention the affair in his statement, which began with him writing that he was “publicly apologizing” to his wife, Rachel, and their family “for all the hurt, embarrassment and anger I caused.” He went on to state that he would not allow his “personal life and these challenges” to affect his job performance, adding that he will remain focused on leading the law enforcement agency. READ FULL STORY


Gold jewelry, exotic cars, luxury hotels figure in trial of caregivers for elderly island couple
week of February 10, 2022

A staggering amount of evidence is expected to be used later this month against former home-health nursing assistant Chiquita LaShae McGee when she goes on trial for exploiting an elderly John’s Island couple for 10 months in 2017. Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans recently sent the court a list of allegedly fraudulent credit-card transactions – totaling more than $115,000 – that he intends to enter into evidence at trial. The arrest warrant affidavit accuses McGee of taking pleasure trips to New York and Miami, and purchasing pricey electronics, gold jewelry, sporting goods and apparel for herself and for family members. The credit card charges on the list don’t seem to fit the lifestyle of McGee’s patients, 89-year-old Alfred Martinelli and his wife, then-86-year-old Michelina Martinelli. Vero Beach internist Dr. Garrick Kantzler is expected to testify that both had dementia at the time, and it was noted in their medical records. READ FULL STORY


Initiative set for November on $50 million bond to buy up more land for conservation
week of February 10, 2022

If a planned initiative is approved by county voters in November, island homeowners would have to pay about $100 more annually for 15 years to enable more land to be bought up for conservation. Lands along the Indian River Lagoon, the Sebastian River Greenway and the Atlantic Ridge near Interstate 95 would be targeted for purchase. So would working cattle ranches in western Indian River County. County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Feb. 1 to direct county administrators to prepare for a referendum on Nov. 8 on the initiative to borrow $50 million to acquire and preserve environmentally significant land. The county would repay the loan with the proceeds from a proposed property tax rate of nearly 19.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. If the proposed tax is approved, the owner of a house with a taxable value of $500,000 would pay $98 more annually – and the owner of a $1 million home would pay $196 more annually – in county property taxes. READ FULL STORY


Sandridge golf course to build a new clubhouse
week of February 10, 2022

Barring any setbacks, the county-owned and wildly successful Sandridge Golf Club will have a new 18,000-square-foot clubhouse – with a restaurant, bar and banquet facilities – in the fall of 2023. The new clubhouse will be built in a now-vacant area northwest of the existing clubhouse, which will remain operational until the new place opens and then be leveled to create an expanded golf-cart staging area and additional parking. In fact, the architectural design approved by the County Commission last week would increase Sandridge’s parking capacity from 80 to 206 vehicles. The plan also includes construction of a new 1,100-square-foot turn station immediately east of the practice green. The facility would offer grab-and-go food service, a unisex restroom and self-service breezeway where golfers can get water and ice. READ FULL STORY


New Covid cases, hospitalizations dropping sharply
week of February 3, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Indian River County were down by 34 percent this week from the previous seven days, and the number of new hospitalizations of COVID-positive patients was lower by half. Indian River County cases declined slightly more last week than in the state of Florida as a whole, where newly reported infections dropped 31 percent from 288,793 to 198,719 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. As the first batches of free COVID-19 test kits begin to arrive in mailboxes from the federal government, and health insurance companies began reimbursing members for multiple test kits per month, it’s important to note that the number of people who tested positive via rapid antigen tests at home and didn’t report their positive results to the County Health Department is a big unknown. In the seven days leading up to Monday press time, 31 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 62 people the previous week, and the total number of COVID-positive people in the hospital declined markedly. READ FULL STORY


Study: County able to provide water to Shores
week of February 3, 2022

The long-awaited results of a study investigating whether it would be possible and sensible for the Town of Indian River Shores to get utility service from Indian River County Utilities has finally arrived and, legal disputes aside, consultants say getting county water-sewer service can be done. The report arrived last Friday, but Town Attorney Pete Sweeney had to review it for potential redaction of exempt information before releasing it publicly on Monday afternoon. Town Manager Jim Harpring summed the report up in three points. “Connecting town customers to Indian River County Utilities is certainly feasible. The county has the capacity to serve Indian River Shores, notwithstanding the city’s many public representations to the contrary,” Harpring said. “While the cost is high, it is as expected and there is a clear and obtainable pathway for funding.” READ FULL STORY


United Airlines partnership brings surge in applications to Skyborne flight academy
week of February 3, 2022

Skyborne Airline Academy Vero Beach’s new partnership with United Airlines’ Aviate program, which will provide the flight school’s trainees with a pathway to the cockpit of a major carrier, already is impacting enrollment here. “We have seen a significant rise in applications, and we expect this to accelerate over the coming months,” Skyborne Chief Executive Officer Lee Woodward said. “United has made it very clear in its announcements that it is looking to recruit more than 10,000 pilots over the next 10 years. “A large proportion of these pilots will come through the Aviate program,” he added. “So, to partner with United in this way is important for Skyborne, but it’s also important for United. “In choosing Skyborne as an Aviate partner, the airline can rely on us to select, train and mentor their next generation of first officers – their future captains – and we take this responsibility very seriously.” READ FULL STORY


New oceanfront condos and villas on island selling rapidly
week of February 3, 2022

Trucks and bulldozers are rolling at Indigo, a much-anticipated condo and detached villa project adjacent to Tracking Station Park on Vero’s barrier island. Developer Yane Zana broke ground on the 24-unit oceanfront community in January, ahead of schedule, and expects residents to begin moving in during the first quarter of 2023. “We’ve already closed on the seven oceanfront villas, and we will be building them all at the same time,” said Zana. “We’ll put all the pilings in at the same time, pour all the foundations and erect the shells simultaneously, which will be more efficient from a construction standpoint. We expect to have a master building permit from the county covering all seven in the next couple of weeks. We are down to final comments in that process.” Zana originally planned 10 oceanfront villas, along with five oceanview villas and six oceanfront condos in a single building, but has now decided to build a second condo building in place of the three northmost villas. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Beach closing for sand project
week of February 3, 2022

Surfers hoping to spend their spring break riding waves at Wabasso Beach may find the park gates locked and the beach teeming with dump trucks and heavy equipment, as county crews will close the beach at dusk this Friday. “The contractor will lock the gate that evening following the park closure, and will mobilize into the park on Saturday, Feb. 5. On-beach construction activities and on-road sand deliveries will start on Monday, Feb. 7 at Wabasso Beach Park and move south, county spokesperson Kathleen Forst said. Forst said it’s uncertain how many thousands of cubic yards of sand will be placed just north and south of Wabasso Beach Park. “Pre-construction surveys are currently being conducted to determine the amount of sand material needed based on existing conditions. Current estimates predict that approximately 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be placed on the beach to complete this portion of the Sector 3 Phase 2,” Forst said. “Wabasso Beach Park will reopen following completion of construction activities.” READ FULL STORY


More than 7,300 newcomers moved here during last two years
week of February 3, 2022

More than 7,300 newcomers moved into Indian River County from the start of 2020 to the end of 2021, and if the five-year estimates from 2015 to 2019 are a good projection, most of the new residents came here from the South Florida and Tampa Bay regions, followed closely by the New York metropolitan area. Nearly 14,500 new residents arrived during the past four years, increasing the population by nearly 10 percent to 161,000, according to county estimates. The growth numbers were provided by the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which based its estimates on permits issued for new residential construction, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau’s average of 2.47 people per household and migration tables included in its annual American Community Survey. “We’re in a period of above-average growth – some of which has been driven by low interest rates, more affordable auto insurance and no state income tax in Florida – but it’s not going to last forever, or even too much longer,” said Phil Matson, the county’s community development director. READ FULL STORY


Brightline not a worry to public safety officials
week of February 3, 2022

When Brightline’s new upgraded train tracks between Orlando and West Palm Beach are complete in 2023, 32 passenger trains per day will zip through Indian River County at speeds of up to 110 mph in addition to the 10-to-20 daily freight trains rattling along at 40-to-60 mph. With Brightline accidents increasingly common in South Florida, are public safety officials concerned about the possibility of more rail accidents here? Incidents here along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks until now have been relatively infrequent and typically involve poor judgment by an individual as a train is passing through, public safety officials said. “Historically, Sebastian has not experienced any of the issues that the southern counties have as it pertains to either pedestrians and/or vehicles and contact with FECR freight trains,” Sebastian Police Chief Daniel Acosta said Monday. “The City of Sebastian has experienced minimal train incidents to date, which are typically the fault of the car (or) pedestrian’s failure to heed the active crossing warnings,” Acosta said. READ FULL STORY


Covid may have peaked, but not hospitalizations
week of January 27, 2022

New COVID-19 infections here reported to the Florida Department of Health eased slightly last week with 1,929 cases, down 14 percent from Indian River County’s all-time high of 2,255 cases, but unfortunately, the hospitalization of patients with COVID seems to still be on the rise. As of Monday afternoon, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 57 COVID-19 positive patients, up from 48 the previous week. Of those 57 patients who had been admitted, 54 were in the COVID unit and three were in the intensive care unit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker for Indian River County, 74 COVID-19 positive patients were hospitalized in the past seven days, up from 61 hospitalizations the previous week. READ FULL STORY


We get no train service, but pay $440K a year for rail crossings
week of January 27, 2022

Indian River County’s legal settlement with Brightline passenger trains for installation of $31.6 million worth of safety improvements won’t spare local governments from paying an average of $440,000 annually to Florida East Coast Railway for maintaining railroad crossings here. Three local governments in Indian River County paid more than $2.2 million to FECR during the past five years for the maintenance and licensing of 29 public railroad crossing, records show. Florida Department of Transportation paid another $117,132 to FECR over the past five years for the twin crossings for State Road 60 at 19th Place East and 20th Street in downtown Vero Beach. The costs of maintaining the 31 public railroad crossings in Indian River County can only increase as Brightline ramps up construction this year, including furnishing additional safety measures in the FECR right-of-way under a June 2021 settlement agreement. The extra safety features include pedestrian gates and additional warning signals, signs and road markings at railroad crossings. Fences will be built in hazardous areas along the tracks. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council sets rare night session for riverfront vote
week of January 27, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council has now scheduled a rare 6 p.m. session next Tuesday, Feb. 1, for the climatic public hearing at City Hall on the proposed Master Plan for the Three Corners riverfront. At the Jan. 18 council meeting, Councilman John Cotugno had suggested Vero hold regular evening meetings to better accommodate people who work daytime jobs and cannot attend the 9 a.m. meetings currently held on the first and third Tuesday of the month. Cotugno said evening meetings would encourage participation from a more diverse group of citizens, and from students. Mayor Robbie Brackett responded that when an issue is big enough, and when people are worked up about a potential city action, residents pack the chambers no matter what time meetings are held. The other council members also rejected shifting to night meetings, but agreed that for especially important votes like the one on the future of Vero’s riverfront, an evening meeting is warranted. READ FULL STORY


Fate of vacant Press Journal building again seems up in the air
week of January 27, 2022

When automobile enthusiast Wayne Gould bought the former Press Journal building on U.S. 1 in December 2020, the longtime island resident said he wanted to open a classic-car museum on the 3.75-acre parcel, similar to his Wayne’s Toys Tucson Classic Car Museum. Now there’s an “Available for Lease” sign on the property – and Gould isn’t talking. Contacted by email, Gould wrote: “We have nothing to say regarding this property at this time,” then didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry from Vero Beach 32963. His refusal to provide an explanation for the sign was puzzling, considering he had not previously been shy about discussing with local media his plans for the two-story building, located between 18th Street and 18th Place. Even more curious was Gould being quoted by a local niche publication as saying, “I have not authorized that sign,” adding that he had made “no final determination yet” on the future of the property. READ FULL STORY


Soaring real estate prices on island make finding fair comps tough
week of January 27, 2022

The speed at which prices have rocketed upward over the past 18 months on the Vero Beach barrier island has made it hard to settle on an offering price for new real estate listings, and has complicated the homebuying process when a mortgage is involved. Bankers, mortgage brokers, real estate appraisers and island agents all say that comps – the abbreviation for comparable sales in your area and long the standard by which property is valued when it is put on the market – have become less accurate in many cases, and often “irrelevant,” in Vero’s high-flying market. Comps are the main way real estate agents traditionally zero in on a list price for a property going on the market, one that nets the highest return but doesn’t sit on the market. READ FULL STORY


Shores, Vero declare impasse in federal lawsuit
week of January 27, 2022

After nearly two hours of talks refereed by a mediator, attorneys for the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach have reached yet another stalemate in a federal lawsuit in which the Shores alleges that Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer utility territory violates antitrust law. Several proposals were tossed out by the mediator and by Vero’s negotiating team, including two deals that would have extended the amount of time the Shores would be tied to Vero’s utility system. But as the Shores’ attorney Kevin Cox from the Holland and Knight law firm explained, none of the scenarios pitched did anything to address the town’s biggest immediate concern – the fact that it cannot pursue competitive options for an essential service. READ FULL STORY


New rental community near hospital moving forward
week of January 27, 2022

Though it won’t be finished in time to house the current wave of people moving to Vero Beach, a new 189-unit rental community, Grand Pointe, could in a few years become a very convenient housing option for people working in Vero’s 37th Street medical corridor. A Master Site Plan for the apartment and townhome development was vetted on Jan. 6 by the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Board and the site plan presented was found to be in compliance with code, and approved to move forward. Grand Pointe will be located just south of Harbor Chase and Regency Park, and across Indian River Boulevard from Solaris Senior Living and the new $22 million, 70,000-square-foot Vero Orthopaedics and Neurology facility. The driveway-to-parking lot commute to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital will be three to four minutes. A total of 349,727 square feet of three-story buildings with an overall height of 46 feet is planned on the 23.6-acre parcel, including an amenity center, community swimming pool, landscaped courtyards and a leasing office. READ FULL STORY


First of elder care fraud trials set for February
week of January 27, 2022

Chiquita McGee, a 33-year-old Fort Pierce woman accused of defrauding an elderly John’s Island couple in her care by charging luxury purchases to their credit card, will be the first of two co-defendants to be tried in the case on Feb. 21. McGee’s cousin Sophia Monae Shepherd, 34, aka Sophia Brown, of Vero Beach will be tried second. Both defendants will go to trial with different lawyers than the ones who have represented them for nearly four years. Shepherd was set to go to trial this past Monday but her longtime private attorney, Bob Stone, backed out of the case. He filed a motion to withdraw on Jan. 10, noting he’d represented Shepherd since her arrest in 2018. “During that period of time there have been several events that have caused delay. There have been ongoing plea negotiations between the undersigned and the State. During said period there has been a pandemic that closed down the Court system for almost a year,” Stone wrote. READ FULL STORY


Covid surge sees hospitalizations more than triple
week of January 20, 2022

New COVID-19 infections here set another record this past week, and the number of people hospitalized with the virus more than tripled. As of Friday’s Florida Department of Health weekly COVID-19 situation report, 2,255 people tested positive for the virus in Indian River County during the seven-day period, up 60 percent from 1,407 new cases the prior week. More than 320 people per day are being added to the ranks of people here contending with COVID-19, whether that positive test means no symptoms, a head or chest cold, or more severe illness leading to a doctor visit or trip to the hospital. During the same period that cases rose 60 percent, new hospitalizations of patients positive for COVID-19 more than tripled, from 20 hospitalizations on the Jan. 7 report to 61 on the Jan. 14 report. Those numbers increased over the weekend, and by Sunday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker showed 74 new hospitalizations here in the previous seven days. As of Monday morning, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 41 patients in its regular COVID wards, plus another seven in the COVID Intensive Care Unit, for a total of 48 Covid-positive patients, according to hospital President Dr. Greg Rosencrance. READ FULL STORY


California buyers fuel high-end real estate boom
week of January 20, 2022

In a dramatic turn of events worthy of a Hollywood thriller – or maybe a romance – California buyers suddenly discovered Vero Beach in 2021. In a very big way. Up until 2021, they were seldom seen on Beachland or A1A. Even when the Los Angeles Dodgers had their spring training camp here and California fans showed up for the most hopeful part of the baseball season, they didn’t stick around. Then, last year, suddenly and without warning, they began arriving daily in sufficient numbers and with enough cash to become a driving factor in the island’s record-breaking real estate market. “If we look back, I think we’d find that we had more California buyers last year than in the entire 42-year history of our company prior to 2021,” said Dale Sorensen Sr., founder of Vero’s top-selling brokerage. Partners Cindy O’ Dare and Richard Boga at Premier Estate Properties said the extraordinary influx of buyers from the West Coast accounted “for a huge percentage of the increase in sales,” as they more than doubled their transaction volume in 2021 READ FULL STORY


Brightline passenger trains starting test runs through county
week of January 20, 2022

Brightline trains started practice runs through Indian River County on the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks this week in anticipation of completing the high-speed passenger line’s $2.7 billion extension to Orlando by the end of the year. For these test runs, the Brightline passenger trains were to operate at a maximum speed of 60 mph, same as the FECR freight trains, from Palm Beach County to Brevard County and back. The route includes the St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge, a 1,625-foot-long structure built in 1926 that Brightline is replacing with twin concrete railroad bridges. But the trains were to carry only crew members, not passengers, company spokeswoman Katie Mitzner said Monday. Brightline expects to operate one qualifying train per day on the FECR tracks, so engineers and conductors can learn about the new route and its railroad crossings, Mitzner said. READ FULL STORY


FAU appears to gain more authority over Harbor Branch funds
week of January 20, 2022

Florida Atlantic University appears to have won greater authority over the $74 million endowment controlled by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation. State Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Metzger ruled the HBOI Foundation’s operating budget shall be approved by both the foundation’s board of directors and FAU’s board of trustees. Metzger found that state statutes governing the HBOI Foundation’s Direct Support Organization agreement with FAU “provided for FAU review and oversight of the Foundation’s budget.” Metzger’s Dec. 3 ruling also determined the HBOI Foundation failed to meet its burden of proof for the allegation of anticipatory breach of contract regarding FAU’s attempts to take control of the endowment. However, Metzger ruled all appointments made to the HBOI Foundation’s board of directors after July 1, 2018 do not require the approval of the FAU board. READ FULL STORY


Work may resume soon on bridges of Indian River County
week of January 20, 2022

Projects that dead in the water under two heavily traveled bridges spanning the Indian River Lagoon – Vero Beach’s 17th Street bridge and the Wabasso Causeway bridge – should be back on track in a couple of months, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. The 17th Street bridge project – reinforcing the beams to repair cracked, flaking concrete – had already been delayed several times since it began in 2020, mainly because more work had to be done than originally anticipated. Then, on Oct. 22, work on both bridges stopped after the contractor, multi-million-dollar, international DBi Services Company, abruptly announced it was immediately shutting down all operations. Since then, the Florida Department of Transportation has been furiously “seeking new contracting methods” to get the impacted projects back on track. The good news is that soon, work may be resuming. READ FULL STORY


Man to be sentenced for hiding camera in bathroom
week of January 20, 2022

The defendant in a May 2020 case in which two teenage girls found a camera hidden in their bathroom in the island estate commonly known as the “Wackenhut House” has pled no contest to two felony charges of video voyeurism and is scheduled to be sentenced next month – not to prison, but to probation. The defense attorney for Lennon Ford Starkweather, 38, negotiated a plea deal with State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office that would keep the home electronics and information technology contractor in the community, with some minor restrictions. The Indian River Shores Public Safety Department caught Starkweather retrieving the camera allegedly planted in the home in Bermuda Bay while he was doing electronics work for the family, and analysts from the Indian River County Sheriff’s office analyzed Starkweather’s computers and found supporting evidence. READ FULL STORY


Vero, Shores set for utility mediation
week of January 20, 2022

Legal teams from the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach entered pre-trial mediation this week in a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by the Shores against Vero over the city’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory which includes the town. In the lawsuit, Indian River Shores claims a 1989 agreement splitting Indian River County into water-sewer service territories – placing the Shores in Vero’s territory – is a violation of federal antitrust laws because, if enforced, it prevents the Shores from seeking competitive rates for an essential service. Vero claims the 1989 agreement clearly grants the city a permanent service territory, and that it was the intent of the local elected officials at that time to make the territories permanent. Retired Judge Paul Kanarek, who was hired to mediate the dispute, recently sent the parties a list of 10 questions for them to answer to better prepare for the session. Among the things Kanarek wants to know are why the Shores wants to leave Vero’s system, and how much it would cost for Indian River County to add the Shores to its utility system. READ FULL STORY


Ellie McCabe: She liked to find things that were missing in our world, and fill the gap
week of January 13, 2022

When Eleonora “Ellie” Wahlstrom McCabe, one of Vero’s most prominent philanthropists, passed away on Dec. 26 at age 87, she left behind a legacy of compassion that has touched every corner of the county, from the renowned arts organizations on the barrier island to underserved individuals and agencies throughout the county. McCabe always said that she inherited a “moral responsibility to give back philanthropically” from her parents, Magnus and Agnes Wahlstrom, who in 1956 established the Wahlstrom Foundation in Bridgeport, Conn. Upon the death of her father, she assumed leadership of the foundation, and in 2003 it became The Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation. McCabe was predeceased by her beloved husband, Bob, in April 2020. Their foundation was dissolved April 2017, but its philanthropy continues through a donor-advised fund and the Fund for Better Mental Health in Indian River County endowment, both held by the Indian River Community Foundation. At the time of the McCabe Foundation’s dissolution, McCabe said, “Although we were never a large foundation, our community impact far surpassed our asset size. I am filled with pride when I think about the organizations, initiatives and projects we helped over the years.” READ FULL STORY


Tom Segura: He worked unbelievably hard to see our hospital remained vibrant, and grew
week of January 13, 2022

Thomas N. Segura, who died Dec. 29 at 74, will be remembered as a champion of the community he loved, especially as it related to our local hospital, the Visiting Nurse Association, and the United Way of Indian River County. A proud Marine, Segura served in Vietnam and moved to Vero Beach from Ohio in 1993, where he continued his career with Merrill Lynch as a wealth manager and vice president. “He was loving, and he was so devoted to family and community,” said Ann Marie McCrystal, who recruited him to join the board of the VNA in 2019, following his time on the board of the Indian River Medical Center. Segura served for 10 years on the IRMC board, including as treasurer, vice chairman and chairman, presiding during a time in which the hospital experienced great growth, with the development of the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center and the Welsh Heart Center. READ FULL STORY


Covid surge closes iconic restaurants
week of January 13, 2022

New COVID-19 infections more than doubled again this past week – setting a seven-day pandemic record with 1,407 new cases – and at least two iconic Ocean Drive restaurants had to close temporarily due to staffing shortages. Both the Ocean Grill in Sexton Plaza and Waldo’s Restaurant at the Driftwood Resort closed for nearly a week, citing COVID-19 precautions as the cause. Waldo’s posted on social media on Jan. 4, “Ok friends of Waldo’s. Unfortunately we will be closed until Monday January 10th. We had several of our employees test positive for Covid. So in the over abundance of caution for our employees and guests we will be closed until then. Please keep us in your thoughts and see you on the 10th.” The Ocean Grill posted a similar notice, saying, “Due to staffing shortages and the recent rise in COVID cases, The Ocean Grill has decided to close until Tuesday, January 11th to protect our employees and customers.” Patrons of both restaurants responded to the Facebook notices with well wishes for the staff, and with appreciation for their honesty and the efforts to keep everyone safe. READ FULL STORY


Since Christmas break, COVID-19 spreading at a faster rate among school personnel here
week of January 13, 2022

In the first few days since classes resumed after the Christmas break, COVID-19 was spreading among school personnel at a far faster rate than during the fall half of the school year, according to Superintendent David Moore. “This variant is spreading much faster than the spikes we’ve seen in the past,” Moore said Sunday. But while the now-raging Omicron variant has proven itself more transmissible than the Delta variant, which became the dominant strain last summer, the latest version of COVID has generally produced milder symptoms that don’t last as long and aren’t nearly as deadly. Thus, Moore said, Omicron’s impact on the county’s public schools thus far hasn’t been as devastating. During the four-month stretch between the first day of classes in August through the start of the Christmas break in December, 221 school district employees tested positive for COVID-19. Among those infected were teachers, administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and district-office personnel. READ FULL STORY


Dale Sorensen Real Estate tops $1B for new record here
week of January 13, 2022

Dale Sorensen Real Estate sold more than $1 billion worth of property in Indian River County last year, a sales milestone that company founder Dale Sorensen Sr. never thought he would see. From Jan. 1 to the moment the ball dropped in Times Square bringing pandemic year 2021 to a close, Dale Sorensen Real Estate closed a record $1,001,254,441 worth of real estate sales here. “I started the company in 1978 and never once in all the years since then until late last year did I ever imagine that we – or any real estate company – could possibly sell $1 billion in our little county,” said Sorensen. “In my mind it is the most significant achievement in the company’s history.” The sales total here is nearly double what Dale Sorensen Real Estate did in the county in 2019, prior to the pandemic, and up 40 percent from 2020, when the company sold a then-record $700 million in and around Vero. Companywide, sales volume – for its 12 offices in Brevard, Indian River and St. Lucie counties – increased 50 percent, as Sorensen sold $1.5 billion in 2021, up from $1.05 billion in 2020. READ FULL STORY


Riverfront plan set for key Council vote
week of January 13, 2022

After more than two years of public input, design charrettes, committee meetings and several competing versions of the layout, Vero Beach’s Three Corners Master Concept Plan for the riverfront utility sites is scheduled for a City Council vote next Tuesday. The latest iteration of the plan, tweaked in December by architect Andres Duany of DPZ CoDesign, made the rounds last week before the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Board and the Three Corners Steering Committee, which was assembled for one purpose – to produce a plan that the council and city voters could support. A 75-word referendum explaining the Master Concept Plan is expected to go on the November ballot. That referendum is needed because the power plant property is protected by the city charter and the voters’ OK is required to execute a 99-year land lease with a developer to construct an upscale hotel, restaurants and retail buildings. The next step, should the Vero City Council approve the plan, is to market it to developers via a Request for Information process. City staff and consultants will research the responding developers and pre-qualify them based upon the success of past projects, resources and financial stability. Only pre-qualified developers will be eligible to submit formal proposals. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases triple here in just one week
week of January 6, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Indian River County tripled in one week over the Christmas holidays, jumping from 217 cases on the Dec. 24 report to 659 cases on the Dec. 31 report published by the Florida Department of Health. Locals who monitor the pandemic via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid Data Tracker will see a totally different set of statistics, but county Emergency Services Director Chief Tad Stone said on Monday the state report is always more accurate than the CDC’s numbers. “It’s not a mistake,” Stone said of the 659 new cases listed on the FDOH weekly report, pointing out that many of the popular and busy retail COVID-19 testing locations such as Walgreens pharmacies are not captured in the CDC’s numbers, and adding next week’s number will likely rise when the next report comes out on Friday. “We’ve been seeing 140 to 150 cases per day,” Stone said. READ FULL STORY


Pandemic complicates challenge of managing county jail
week of January 6, 2022

When a county jail goes from a place where most people who are arrested spend a few hours, days or weeks to a facility where inmates are incarcerated for months or even years, managing the operation of a 710-bed jail gets more complicated than feeding, housing and guarding prisoners. Add into the mix a pandemic that’s stretching into its third calendar year, quarantines, a crisis-level felony court backlog and a halt to in-person visitation, and that’s what Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Milo Thornton – who took over the job of managing the Indian River County jail just a year ago Jan. 5 – faces every day. “I have been working on a plan that will offset these costs to the taxpayers, while increasing the level of services to our inmate population,” Thornton said. It costs $95 per day to feed and house one inmate, a number that has increased from $65 just a few years ago. On top of that, the jail spends at least $2.2 million each year for medical care, plus $1.4 million per year for staffing of medical units by nurses and other professionals. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Airport seeing sharp increase in private jet traffic
week of January 6, 2022

If you spent any time near the Vero Beach Regional Airport the past couple of weeks, you probably noticed an unusual number of jets taking off and landing. Get used to it. Airport Director Todd Scher said jet traffic here has been increasing steadily throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as more travelers who possess the financial means are choosing to own and/or fly on private aircraft. “We’re seeing more charters, more private ownership and more fractional ownership, which is essentially a time-share for corporate jets and opens up ownership to a lot more people,” Scher said. “I don’t have exact numbers – while we record overall operations, we don’t break them down by types of aircraft – but I’ve been at this airport a long time and I’ve definitely noticed an increase in jet traffic.” READ FULL STORY


Team sets local real estate sales record: ‘Can you believe this is happening?’
week of January 6, 2022

Cindy O’Dare and Richard Boga had a hell of a year in 2021, closing $277.7 million in real estate transactions and putting another $18.9 million under contract for a total of more than $296 million in sales, according to company records provided to Vero Beach 32963. That number crushed the team’s previous record of $168 million, which they set in 2015 with then partner Clark French. During this past year, the O’Dare-Boga team sold the two most expensive oceanfront homes that changed hands in 32963 – including one for $27 million that set a new island price record – and it brought the buyer for the top riverfront sale. “They knocked it out of the park,” said Joe Liguori, co-owner of Premier Estate Properties, where O’Dare and Boga are based. READ FULL STORY


County to save $400,000 annually with pretrial release
week of January 6, 2022

Indian River County anticipates saving $400,000 annually by retaining neighboring St. Lucie County’s Criminal Justice Division to supervise low-level defendants instead of locking them up in the county jail. St. Lucie criminal justice administrators will set up an office with two pretrial officers in the Indian River County Courthouse by April 1, 2022 and oversee an average of 218 defendants per year. “That’s our current target date, but we anticipate being able to deliver sooner than that,” said St. Lucie County Criminal Justice Director Joseph Cowan. St. Lucie County started its pretrial program in 2007 and has supervised a total of 11,019 cases. Since then, St. Lucie County has provided pretrial services to neighboring counties in the 19th Judicial Circuit, adding Okeechobee County in 2015, then Martin County in 2018. The pretrial services include determining a defendant’s suitability for release on bail pending the disposition of their charges and monitoring Global Positioning Satellite devices attached to their legs. READ FULL STORY


Code-violation complaints down since passage of no-squealing law
week of January 6, 2022

Code-violation complaints filed with the county have decreased by as much as 20 percent during the six months since Florida enacted a new law prohibiting local governments from investigating non-compliance accusations filed anonymously. The new statute, which took effect July 1, was designed to deter frivolous complaints filed by feuding neighbors. But the county’s assistant community development director said the law might also be discouraging residents from alerting local officials to legitimate violations. “Obviously, for a law like this to become necessary, people were filing frivolous complaints somewhere in Florida, but it really hasn’t been a problem here,” Andy Sobczak said. Sobczak said the county receives 2,500 to 3,000 complaints annually – residents may phone them in or use a link on the Code Enforcement Division’s web page – but the number declined “15 to 20 percent” after the law required those filing them to provide their names and addresses. READ FULL STORY


Challenge of transitioning Indian River hospital to Cleveland Clinic exacerbated by the pandemic
week of January 6, 2022

As Marybeth Cunningham begins her fifth year as chairman of the Hospital District board, she concedes not fully anticipating the impact a pandemic would have on the concurrent challenge of transitioning the old Indian River Medical Center to the new Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. “Back in April 2020, if you’ll remember, everybody was in lockdown and thought we’d be through this in a month or two,” Cunningham recalled. “People were nervous, but they didn’t grasp the severity of it. We were being told to just take the proper measures and it’ll go away, and it didn’t. It got worse.” Cunningham’s phone jangled with agency directors trying to cope with the emergency. “There was a lot of scrambling to get prepared. We were running out of PPE because nobody knew how to deal with that.” All the while, the public was panicking. “By May and June, the hospital and a lot of the support staff at Whole Family Health and Treasure Coast Community Health were just buried with people trying to get COVID tests and trying to figure out what kind of mask you needed, and just what was going on.” READ FULL STORY


New community planned just west of Wabasso beach
week of December 30, 2021

Good news for homebuyers having a tough time finding a house they like and can afford on the barrier island – DiVosta Homes is about to begin building 270 single-family homes less than 2 miles from Wabasso Beach Park. That is more units than the total number of new homes and condos currently planned or being built in all of 32963. Harbor Isle, which Divosta describes as a “boutique coastal-themed community,” will be built on a 100-acre tract on the south side of route 510, just east of U.S. 1 where a community called Orchid Quay was planned but never built. Homes will range from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet, with preconstruction prices for the smallest homes starting in the high $300,000s, according to Brent Baker, division president for PulteGroup in South Florida, which operates DiVosta as its luxury home brand. “We will open sales in late spring or summer of 2022, with move-ins beginning in early 2023,” Baker told Vero Beach 32963. “We closed on the property on Dec. 20, once all the technical land development permits were in place, and will begin model homes soon. We think this is a phenomenal location, close to the beach and about midway between downtown Vero and Sebastian.” READ FULL STORY


Happy New Year from FDOT
week of December 30, 2021

The iconic, gnarled Australian Pines that for generations graced the little “parks” along the Wabasso Causeway, providing a serene, shady crossing of the Indian River Lagoon at this mid-island gateway to 32963, are now gone. Totally. This highly visible outpost of the Aussies, it seems, had to be retaken, and the invaders had to be wiped out. The Florida Department of Transportation, which controls the causeway and lagoon banks on either side, has plans for the area which include new landscaping, but some locals are dismayed at the startling removal of each and every Australian Pine. As one unhappy resident, Cal Justice, lamented, “In one area, a dozen 40-plus-year-old trees were removed and now the area looks blighted, with no shade or beautiful trees. “It was very disheartening to see tall, mature trees giving everyone a positive experience turned into a lunar landscape. On Saturdays, it was always busy with families and fisherman enjoying the water and shade. Now no one is there,” Justice said. READ FULL STORY


Residents express concern about growth of Vero marina
week of December 30, 2021

A handful of Central Beach residents, most of whom live near the Vero Beach Municipal Marina, have voiced an array of concerns about the city’s master plan to transform the marina into a world-class facility. More than two years ago, the City Council decided to make the city marina a priority after years of delayed upkeep in which the popular facility had languished in various states of disrepair. The City Council brought a new harbormaster on board and hired engineering consultants Coastal Tech/GE in early 2019 to develop a marina master plan. In the months since, the master plan has been discussed at length during numerous public meetings, and citizens have had many opportunities to comment and ask questions. But at a Dec. 7 meeting, several insisted they had only recently learned about plans for the marina complex and adjoining boat dry storage house, and complained that neighborhoods near the marina had not been consulted before the plan was developed. READ FULL STORY


Marybeth Cunningham looks back on six years of change in Vero healthcare
week of December 30, 2021

Marybeth Cunningham was stunned when Indian River Medical Center Foundation president Jan Donlan asked her to run for the Hospital District board. It was 2014; few people knew who Cunningham was, she claims, even though she had vacationed in Vero since 1972, when her parents bought one of the first golf cottages in John’s Island. “I remember coming here when I was 16 and 17 and there was nothing there,” she said. “The guys working construction cut a path so my girlfriend and I could get to the beach.” It was the year before her dad, the late Jim McDonald, would succeed John DeLorean in heading up Chevrolet; McDonald would later become General Motors’ president. Three decades later, a fund-raising executive with the Vero hospital was asking Cunningham, herself a lifelong automotive executive, to run for a board that held sway not only over the hospital but a dozen healthcare agencies treating the county’s indigent population. READ FULL STORY


‘Historic’ support: Island resident Miller donates $50M more to Johns Hopkins
week of December 30, 2021

Legendary investor and seasonal Orchid resident William H. “Bill” Miller III continued to embrace his philanthropic nature earlier this month, donating $50 million to support Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Miller’s gift follows a $75 million donation to the university’s philosophy department in January 2018. His most recent commitment will fund 10 endowed professorships and 10 post-doctoral fellowships, as well as provide ongoing support for graduate research, laboratory equipment and other research-related infrastructure on the university’s Baltimore-based campus. As a result of Miller’s largesse, the number of faculty positions in the department will grow from 33 to 46 over the next five years. In a statement released by Johns Hopkins, University President Ron Daniels called Miller’s support “historic,” adding that the billionaire benefactor’s most recent gift will propel one of the nation’s most-storied physics departments to new heights – expanding research into emerging fields of study and attracting promising young scientists. READ FULL STORY


Mayors meet, but utility dispute still seen headed to court
week of December 30, 2021

Mayors Brian Foley and Robbie Brackett met last week about water-sewer utility territory issues at the crux of the Town of Indian River Shores’ federal antitrust lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach. While the meeting was friendly, the case still seems headed to a judge. Vero’s claim that a 1989 territorial agreement with Indian River County granted the city a permanent utility service territory which includes Indian River Shores is the issue in dispute. Brackett and his Shores counterpart met for about 15 minutes on Dec. 21 at the Indian River Shores Community Center, with their respective managers and lawyers on hand. Including introductions, greetings, a break and good-byes, the whole exchange lasted roughly 35 minutes, Foley said. “It was a nice, cordial discussion. No fireworks,” Foley said, adding that he appreciated Brackett’s respectful, businesslike manner, and his desire for progress. “It was a very good meeting. I have the utmost respect for Mayor Foley and I think he’s doing a good job. We just have a difference of opinion on this one issue,” Brackett said. “One thing we agreed upon was to move as quickly as possible. They want to move the process along and so do we.” READ FULL STORY


Driver in Vero Christmas Parade crash faces felony charge for leaving the scene
week of December 30, 2021

North island resident Susan Harvey, arrested after running into two elderly island residents with her Lexus following the Vero Beach Oceanside Christmas Parade, is now facing a felony charge for leaving the scene of the crash. Harvey, 72, was arrested again on Dec. 22 at the jail on the third-degree felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, as well as a first-degree misdemeanor driving under the influence with damage to property and/or persons. She was released less than an hour later after posting a $50,000 bond. Initially, on the night of Dec. 4, Harvey was charged with DUI and released on $500 bail. Police say Harvey drove her 2022 Lexus into two pedestrians at the 3400 block of Ocean Drive as the crowd was breaking up after the parade and heading to their vehicles. The two elderly island residents, who are not named in court documents, were taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce and hospitalized overnight after the crash. READ FULL STORY


Libel lawsuit is the latest twist in Strunk Funeral Home legal drama
week of December 30, 2021

The legal drama surrounding the dispute over the ownership of the property on which the Strunk Funeral Homes & Crematory operate has spawned a new lawsuit. This time, it’s a libel action filed in circuit court here by James Young Jr., owner of the Millennium Funeral Home & Crematory, which claims to have purchased the Strunk properties in Vero Beach and Sebastian from Glenn Strunk’s widow, Dorothy, for $3.1 million in June. In the lawsuit, Young accuses Strunk’s daughter, Mary Kopchak, of “falsely and maliciously” posting defamatory comments about him on a Facebook page titled “Indian River County Community Round Up” on Nov. 23. The filing states that the remarks written by Kopchak, who succeeded her father as the Strunk company’s president in the days prior to his death in February 2020, damaged Young’s reputation for “honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in this community and in his profession.” Young claims in his complaint that Kopchak’s social-media post has subjected him to “hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt and disgrace,” and that he should be compensated for the “mental anguish, torment and humiliation” he has suffered as a result. READ FULL STORY


Brightline ramps up passenger rail construction in south Vero
week of December 30, 2021

Brightline ramped up construction along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in South Vero and mobilized a massive crane at the Main Relief Canal near Vero Beach Municipal Airport in anticipation of completing its $2.7 billion expansion from South Florida to Orlando in late 2022. Brightline contractors recently placed a Terex crane alongside the FECR tracks north of Aviation Boulevard for the construction of a new concrete bridge just west of the existing Main Relief Canal bridge. Brightline expects the project to cost $1 million and take six months to complete. Construction activity, including pile-driving, will be conducted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Brightline contractors HSR Constructors and Rail Pros also expanded the railroad bed from the U.S. 1 overpass at the county line to Highland Drive in recent weeks using bulldozers, graders and rollers. In addition, Brightline contractors started construction on the expansion of railroad bed between Highland Drive and Oslo Road. But Brightline has done relatively little preparatory work along the railroad tracks from Oslo Road to Aviation Boulevard, including downtown Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Turning the lights back up at Riverside Theatre
week of December 23, 2021

After a season of darkness, it will be “Lights up at Riverside” on Jan. 4 when the cast of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel” takes to the Stark Main Stage in a production that runs through Jan. 23. Unless the surge in cases from the Omicron variant forces another delay, this will be the first major production at Riverside Theatre since it, along with theaters worldwide, went dark in March 2020. “We are finally, after all this long time, able to put people back in the theater and produce a show on stage. It’s been a long time coming,” said Allen Cornell, producing artistic director and CEO of Riverside. Cornell, who is also directing the show, said he appreciates the message of “Carousel” – as underscored by one of its signature songs, “Never Walk Alone” – that despite the isolation of the last couple of years, we are all still connected. “Every day the situation changes, but we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that we can do this, that people will be safe, and that we can get back to our lives.” READ FULL STORY


Replenishment of beaches to continue throughout season
week of December 23, 2021

Treasure Shores Beach Park just north of Windsor re-opened last week, marking the completion of the first phase of the north barrier island sand replenishment effort, but the second phase is scheduled to impact public beach access in Indian River Shores until at least Easter. The finishing touches at Treasure Shores included dune plantings to stabilize the shoreline and a post-construction restoration of the park after nearly 30,000 cubic yards of sand were placed to shore up the dunes this fall, after high tides delayed construction. The total project, started the previous year, added 326,000 cubic yards to 3.7 miles of north county beaches. The next phase from Sea Oaks to John’s Island will boost beach sand on that 2.9-mile stretch by 280,000 cubic yards in the coming months, followed by the planting of more than 302,000 dune plants. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Committee has done little, and drawn little notice
week of December 23, 2021

With no fanfare and scarce mention, Sheriff Eric Flowers established the first Citizens Advisory Committee in the agency’s history this past spring. It has already held three quarterly, open-to-the-public meetings – the most recent of which was two weeks ago – and has been pretty much invisible to date. Sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Abollo, chosen by Flowers to chair the nine-member committee, said the virtually subterranean profile of the panel was unintentional. “The sheriff has had a large number of tasks on his to-do list for his first 100 days, and not everything has gotten the same amount of publicity,” Abollo said last week. “We haven’t done anything big with it yet, but we will as we go down the list, thrown in with everything else we’ve got going on.” READ FULL STORY


Condo prices latest to catch fire in island’s hot realty market
week of December 23, 2021

Island condo prices jumped 40 percent in past year, with new luxury construction, large house-like condos, and properties with water views leading the ascent. As the pandemic migration from urban areas into Vero Beach continues, condos have become hot commodities for buyers who can’t find a house that suits them in the tight 32963 market and decide to buy a condo – either as a permanent residence, or as what broker Sally Daley calls “a placeholder property,” a place to live and gain equity in a rising market while continuing to look for a dream home. And then there is the basic fact that even as they rise in price, condos are still less expensive than houses. According to data provided by Daley, the median list price of a condo or townhome in 32963 in mid-December was $872,500, while the median asking price for a single-family home was more than double that at $1,949,000. “I first noticed something was happening about a year ago when a condo in Somerset Bay sold for $1.1 million,” said Daley, broker at Daley and Company Real Estate. “That has been a $700,000 to $800,000 community forever, so it caught my eye, and it has continued. READ FULL STORY


Covid-19 up slightly, but overall situation not bad here
week of December 23, 2021

COVID-19 made a slight comeback in Indian River County’s public schools in December, but there was no immediate indication that the rise in cases here was being driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Four students and two school employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week, bringing the total number of new cases to 17 for the month of December as Winter Break started on Monday. That was more than triple the total of five COVID-19 cases reported in the public schools during the entire month of November, school district records show. Countywide, among the general population, the number of new infections has been creeping upward, but nothing like the worrisome spikes seen elsewhere. As of press time Monday Indian River County was categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an area of “moderate community transmission” with a seven-day count of 71 new COVID-19 cases. READ FULL STORY


Professional tennis returns to Vero with Grand Harbor event
week of December 23, 2021

Professional tennis is returning to Grand Harbor, where the $25,000 Vero Beach International Open Tennis Tournament – a United States Tennis Association Women’s Pro Circuit event – is scheduled for Jan. 10-16. The clay-court event is expected to attract up-and-coming players representing more than 30 countries and ranked from No. 150 to 300 in the world. WTA Tour standouts Naomi Osaka, Laura Seigemund and Sofia Kenin played in the tournament here in 2014, when they were still building their reputations and the event was held at the Vero Beach Tennis Club. The tournament returned to Vero Beach in January 2020, when it was played at Grand Harbor for the first time. In fact, the women’s tournament will be the first of two pro events to be played next year in Vero Beach, also home of the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships, a men’s event held here since 1995. READ FULL STORY


Will voters have sufficient info for riverfront decision
week of December 16, 2021

NEWS ANALYSIS | Vero voters need information if they are going to make an informed choice next November about the future of the city’s riverfront utility parcels, but debate continues over how much should be finalized before the referendum vote. The city staff’s current schedule calls for finalizing a concept plan in January, then marketing that plan to developers who might be interested in leasing the land for 99 years to build a hotel, restaurants, shops and other amenities. But issuing a formal Request for Proposals and choosing a developer is not set to happen until after the voters give the long-term lease of the property a thumbs up. Both the Big Blue power plant site and the sewer plant site are protected by the city charter and cannot be sold, or leased for anything other than recreational use, before the referendum. So hopefully the city will get a good number of responses to its Request for Information and have several developers pre-qualified so at least the voters will know Vero will have a competitive proposal process to choose the very best developer with the most appropriate plan for Vero. READ FULL STORY


GHO Homes a new leader in island construction
week of December 16, 2021

GHO Homes, long known for its mainland subdivisions, is suddenly building more new houses than any other developer on the barrier island, with four communities totaling more than 150 new homes underway. It all happened very quickly. In May 2019, GHO president Bill Handler broke ground on his first two houses in the Orchid Cove subdivision at the eastern end of the Wabasso bridge. Orchid Cove, which was plated prior to the 2008 housing crash, had languished under several names for a dozen years. Today, it’s nearly sold out, with just two GHO homes remaining. Starting prices that were between $565,000 and $715,000 in 2019 have shot up with the rest of island market, and Handler says he has sold houses in the community for more than $1 million. Also in 2019, Handler bought a 26-acre tract of wooded land across from the Disney’s Vero Beach Resort where he has secured site plan approval to build 73 homes. His crews are now carefully clearing the land, working around stands of old oak trees that will be a signature feature of a community Handler is calling Seaglass. READ FULL STORY


Father of drowned student sues St. Edward’s School
week of December 16, 2021

The father of St. Edward’s senior Bidensky Termidor, who died on April 30 participating in a pre-graduation, celebratory rite of passage – seniors jumping off a school dock into murky lagoon waters – thinks the school is at fault. Termidor, 18, a star athlete and successful student headed to college on an academic scholarship, had never learned to swim, according to police reports. He might have been rescued when he went under, but another student began struggling and no one noticed Termidor’s disappearance until it was too late. The lawsuit alleging negligence and wrongful death, filed Dec. 7 by Bidensky Termidor’s personal representative and father Faniel Termidor in Indian River County circuit court, claims that St. Ed’s teachers and staff planned, announced and led the annual senior jump, and that parents were invited to come to watch. READ FULL STORY


The town of Orchid could determine fate of Children’s Trust
week of December 16, 2021

The Orchid Town Council could determine the fate of the Children’s Trust of Indian River County when it decides whether to participate in next year’s referendum on a new taxing district to fund proven and impactful programs to improve the health and well-being of the community’s youth. Orchid Town Manager Cherry Stowe said council members, who received a presentation from Children’s Trust representatives earlier this month, will vote on the issue at the Feb. 15 meeting. The County Commission voted unanimously in May to direct County Attorney Dylan Reingold to continue planning for a November 2022 referendum on the proposed property-tax increase and present the initiative to the county’s five municipalities. The Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere city councils already have endorsed their municipalities’ participation in the referendum, which, if approved by a majority of the county’s voters, would raise $5 million to $10.5 million per year. The Indian River Shores Town Council, however, voted unanimously last month to not be included in the referendum, delivering a considerable blow to Children’s Trust proponents. READ FULL STORY


Legal disputes over water-sewer utilities are moving into the mediation phase
week of December 16, 2021

While the City of Vero Beach moves forward with a water-sewer rate study aimed at establishing a “one rate” system in 2022 to fund operations and improvements, including the planned $70 million wastewater treatment plant relocation, two legal disputes over utilities move into the mediation phase. The Indian River Shores Town Council will host the Vero Beach City Council at 9 a.m. Jan. 20 in the Indian River Shores Community Center with retired Judge Paul Kanarek mediating the discussion. The Shores filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Vero alleging that Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory gives the city what amounts to monopoly power over the town in providing an essential service. Vero argues that a 1989 territorial agreement with Indian River County split the county up into water-sewer territories that were intended to be permanent. It is the legality of that 1989 agreement that will be challenged in federal court. READ FULL STORY


Backlog of felony criminal cases becoming a crisis
week of December 9, 2021

The unforeseen suspension of jury trials for seven months due to COVID-19, plus several other factors, has turned a bothersome pre-pandemic backlog of felony criminal cases in the Indian River County court system into a crisis that seems almost insurmountable with current resources. Taking into account only serious crimes punishable by time in state prison, more than 1,800 felony criminal cases initiated from 2012 to this week are currently pending here. Those 1,800 cases do not include juvenile felonies. They also do not include the multitude of cases classified as misdemeanors. And they do not include civil, probate, family court, dependency court or other cases halted or slowed for weeks or months in 2020. One Circuit Court judge, Dan Vaughn, holds all felony criminal cases on his docket unless the defendant has been diverted to mental health court, drug court or veteran’s court. READ FULL STORY


Hospital settles huge malpractice suit with family
week of December 9, 2021

On the eve of a scheduled all-day hearing, attorneys for Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and the family of a former patient apparently reached a settlement in what could have been the largest medical malpractice suit in the county’s history. Attorneys anticipated a possible jury award of $100 million in the case of a 42-year-old mother of five, Toshuua Hughes, who never awoke from anesthesia after a hysterectomy in June 2017. At a hearing in September to delay the trial until February due to COVID-19, hospital attorney June Hoffman said a $100 million award could “bankrupt” the hospital. Explaining the absence of any participants at the Thursday, 9 a.m. hearing on Zoom, Circuit Judge Janet Croom said it was her understanding that a settlement had been reached, though paperwork for the agreement had not yet been filed. The next day, Friday, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, David Carter and Dane Ullian, filed a motion for approval of a settlement on behalf of Hughes’ two minor children, as well as the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Hughes’ three adult children and her husband of 20 years are also plaintiffs in the suit, originally filed in May 2018. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian Inlet bridge set to be replaced in 2026
week of December 9, 2021

The 57-year-old bridge spanning the Sebastian Inlet to link the Brevard and Indian River barrier islands is set to be replaced in late 2026, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Indian River County Municipal Planning Organization Staff Director Brian Freeman said the project is budgeted “at $78 million. So far.” The 1,548-foot bridge with one northbound lane and one southbound lane and no median divider was repaired and rebuilt in 1978 and again in 2003, but the Metropolitan Planning Organization was set to discuss the planned full-replacement project this Wednesday. In addition to replacing an aging bridge, “the new bridge will address deficiencies in the bicycle and pedestrian network along Highway A1A by providing 8-foot-wide, paved shoulders, sufficient to accommodate buffered bike lanes, and 12-foot-wide, barrier-separated shared use paths for bikers and pedestrians along both sides,” Freeman said. READ FULL STORY


Driver charged with DUI after striking two seniors leaving Christmas parade
week of December 9, 2021

Two island residents in their 90s attending the Ocean Drive Christmas parade were rushed to Lawnwood Medical Center after being struck by a car operated by a 72-year-old island resident allegedly driving while intoxicated, according to Vero Beach police. The parade was breaking up, spectators were heading to their vehicles or to nearby restaurants, when Susan Harvey – driving away from the Ocean Grill where she’d just eaten dinner and, admittedly, enjoyed two Cosmopolitan cocktails – struck the two seniors, according to police. Master Officer Darrell Rivers, who visited the crash victims at Lawnwood, said on Monday the two island residents were doing well and were hopeful that they might be released from the hospital on Wednesday. Their names were being kept private in accordance with Marsy’s Law, Rivers said. Rivers confirmed reports the driver of the car that struck the two was prevented from leaving the crash scene near 3400 Ocean Drive by people attending the parade. “Officer Hector Hurtado was off-duty when the crash occurred and was in the area with his family when he saw and heard the commotion. Officer Hurtado ran towards the commotion and assisted in stopping the driver.” READ FULL STORY


Riverfront home prices on island soar to record levels
week of December 9, 2021

Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, the recent dramatic surge in prices of oceanfront homes on the barrier island now seems to be lifting 32963 riverfront home prices to record heights as well. Last Monday, partners Kay Brown and Luke Webb at Premier Estate Properties listed a 6,800-square-foot house that sits on a 1.3-acre lot in Little Harbour for $12,500,000. That is more than any riverfront home has ever sold for in Indian River County, according to multiple island brokers and public records, making it seem like an ambitious asking price. Or not. By the end of the week the estate was under contract for more than the asking price, according to Brown. Brown said interest in the property was intense, with multiple showings every day last week, leading up to Saturday when best-and-final offers were presented. Cindy O’Dare and Richard Boga, also of Premier, brought the successful buyer. Then, on Friday, near the end of the lightning-fast Little Harbour sales process, another marquee riverfront estate was listed for $27 million, a mind-boggling price that would more than double the new riverfront record if a buyer writes a check for that amount. READ FULL STORY


School Board will save $132,000 annually by switching law firms
week of December 9, 2021

The School Board anticipates saving $132,000 per year by retaining the Sniffen & Spellman P.A. law firm, making lemonade out of the planned retirement of longtime schools attorney Suzanne D’Agresta. The board voted unanimously last Monday (Nov. 29) to approve a five-year contract with Sniffen & Spellman with a monthly retainer of $11,000 per month for 90 hours. That amounts to $132,000 annually, but the actual amount could increase to a maximum of $250,000 per year, or more, depending on the board’s needs for legal services. The school district had been paying the Orlando-based firm of Garganese, Weiss, D’Agresta & Salzman P.A. a retainer of $22,000 per month for 120 hours, Schools Superintendent David Moore said. That amounts to $264,000 annually, but the board wound up paying an average of more than $600,000 per year in legal fees and costs to D’Agresta’s firm and several other attorneys during a seven-year period. D’Agresta had represented the School Board since April 1, 2009. READ FULL STORY


Covid-19 remains low in schools here after Thanksgiving break
week of December 9, 2021

Local public school students and employees largely avoided COVID-19 last week despite Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. Four students and two employees have tested positive for the virus since Thanksgiving Break, according to the School District’s COVID-19 dashboard on Monday (Dec. 6). One staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday (Dec. 5) at Fellsmere Elementary School and another at Gifford Middle School, school district records show. They were the first staff cases since Oct. 20. A student at the Wabasso School tested positive for the virus on Dec. 3. Two students at Citrus Elementary School and another at Sebastian River High School tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 30. However, no students have been quarantined for exposure to the virus since October. A total of 1,376 students have been quarantined since the school year started Aug. 10. Overall, a total of 1,129 students and 212 staff members have tested positive for the virus during the 2021-2022 school year. READ FULL STORY