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Harbor Branch trial delayed by judge’s recusal
week of December 13, 2018

District Court Judge Sherwood Bauer Jr. unexpectedly recused himself from a high stakes fight between Florida Atlantic University and the leaders of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation moments before opening arguments were scheduled to begin over control of a $72 million endowment. “I spent Wednesday afternoon studying the case and at about 4:37 p.m. discovered that there is a strong appearance of a conflict of interest,” Bauer explained to attorneys and representatives from both sides who appeared in court on Thursday. “I am good friends with one of the witnesses, (former FAU President) Frank Brogan, who has spoken at a family member’s funeral and at my daughter’s wedding,” Bauer said. “On occasion, we have had dinner together. “I want to apologize to everyone here this morning. I feel bad. I’ve wasted a lot of money and time.” Bauer said the two-year-old case will be turned over to Judge Lawrence Mirman, who will set a new date for opening arguments. READ FULL STORY

County sues to establish public access to Summerplace beach
week of December 13, 2018

Indian River County filed a lawsuit Nov. 30 seeking to establish public access to a 2,000-foot stretch of beach in the Summerplace subdivision north of Wabasso Beach Park, the first suit of its kind in the state since a new law affecting beach access took effect July 1, according to County Attorney Dylan Reingold. The state law took power away from local governments to simply declare beaches public through the “customary use doctrine,” putting in place a requirement for a court rulings to settle disputes about public beach access. The “dry sand” part of the beach above the “mean high water mark” is at issue. The “wet part” of the beach is declared public by the Florida Constitution, but the “dry” part of the beach may be property of a private landowner. However, if it can shown that the beach has a history of unfettered public use, then the landowner cannot block off his portion of sand. The suit was filed because Robert Jaffe, who lives in Summerplace, attempted to block access to the dry beach in front of his seawall after the law took effect, according to county officials. READ FULL STORY

Longtime harbormaster out as complaints about troubled Vero City Marina mount
week of December 13, 2018

The Vero Beach City Council doesn’t seem able to agree on what course to chart to fix the troubled city marina, but one thing has become clear: Longtime Harbormaster Tim Grabenbauer soon will be sailing off into the sunset. After a meeting with City Manager Jim O’Connor in the wake of the Nov. 22 council meeting where a long, unhappy and inconclusive discussion about the marina’s woes took place, Grabenbauer said he will retire in February, when he will have logged 22 years with the city. A short time later, the marina director position was posted on the city’s website – “full-time, $75,000 annually.” Grabenbauer has taken increasing heat over the marina’s dilapidated condition in recent years, and the latest delays in repairing one of two restrooms and completing other projects seem to have been the last straws. The top floor of the marina’s main building is rented as a private residence; the main floor houses a boaters’ laundry, lounge and restroom facilities on the north and south ends. Each end contains a men’s and a women’s 3-stall bathroom and shower. READ FULL STORY

The Strand about to emerge as the newest community in Shores
week of December 13, 2018

The developer building 21 Key West-style townhouses at The Strand – a new 36-acre waterfront community just north of Palm Island Plantation in Indian River Shores – says construction will begin before the end of the year. The townhomes, priced from about $800,000 to $1 million, will occupy 4.9 acres at the front of the development, adjacent to A1A. The Strand also will include 47 single-family homes that will be built on the remaining 31 acres, which extend back to the Jungle Trail. “We have been pushing hard to get out of the ground,” said a spokesperson for the townhome developer, The Strand Beach Cottages LLC. The homes have been listed, pre-construction, with Matilde Sorensen since last summer. “There has been quite a bit of interest in the development,” says Sorensen. “We have two reservations with deposits and 12 other buyers very interested. I expect that momentum to continue.” While there will be no clubhouse in the community, the townhomes come with memberships paid for by the developer in the nearby Grand Harbor Beach Club. READ FULL STORY

Laura Riding Jackson House moving to college campus
week of December 13, 2018

After going through a worrisome period of uncertainty during the past 18 months, the historic Laura Riding Jackson House has found a new home: a grassy acre and a half on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College. The agreement between the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation and IRSC became official Nov. 27 when the college’s Board of Trustees unanimously signed off on it. Both entities are thrilled with what they view as a strong, synergetic partnership. The 108-year-old house is significant as an example of traditional Florida ‘cracker’ architecture and because it was the longtime home of renowned 20th century poet and literary entrepreneur Laura Riding Jackson. The house was moved from its original Wabasso location to the nearby Environmental Learning Center campus 25 years ago. There it became home to writing classes and workshops, literary gatherings and the popular annual “Poetry and BBQ” fundraiser. Uncertainty about its future arose in mid-2017, when new ELC leadership informed the Foundation that the house would have to be moved to make way for a proposed multimillion-dollar expansion project at the Center. READ FULL STORY

State agrees to reduce speed limit on A1A in shores to allow wider bike lanes
week of December 13, 2018

State transportation officials have agreed to reduce the speed limit along a 2.3-mile stretch of State Road A1A in Indian River Shores to accommodate the 7-foot-wide, buffered bike lanes requested by local residents, cycling enthusiasts and government representatives. The upgrade will be part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s $7.3 million resurfacing project, which will cover nearly seven miles of the seaside highway from Tides Road (north of Vero Beach’s Jaycee Park) to Coco Plum Lane (near Wabasso Beach). In an email sent last week to Phil Matson, staff director of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, FDOT Project Manager Donovan Pessoa wrote that the agency’s design team investigated the community’s request and determined “it was appropriate” to reduce the speed limit from 50 mph to 45 mph between John’s Island Drive and Island Club Manor. Pessoa explained that the characteristics of the two-mile stretch through the town’s northern tier were “consistent” with those of the sections of roadway to its immediate north and south, where the posted speed limit already was 45 mph. READ FULL STORY

Virgin Group partnership seen big plus for high-speed train
week of December 13, 2018

Global giant Virgin Group acquired just a 3 percent stake in the Brightline high-speed rail enterprise last month, but the partnership is expected to provide the train company, now renamed Virgin Trains USA, access to billions of dollars along with a range of other benefits. The renamed rail company has failed to show a profit since beginning operations in 2016, and construction of the company’s West Palm Beach to Orlando route will cost an estimated $2 billion, with all of the funding not yet secured. Under those circumstances, gaining access to cash from Richard Branson’s worldwide conglomerate seems like a smart strategic move. But the company’s partnership with Virgin also is intended to help achieve other, long-term goals, such as eventually expanding high-speed railway services to other states, said Ben Porritt, vice-president of corporate affairs for Virgin Trains. “Virgin is a globally recognized brand,” Porritt told Vero Beach 32963. “The partnership could help to provide access to millions of customers with the potential for increased ridership from other Virgin branded travel and hospitality businesses, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hotels and Virgin Voyages.” READ FULL STORY

Orchid doesn’t plan referendum on an island Publix
week of December 13, 2018

Publix’s plan to build a supermarket-anchored strip mall in the southeastern corner of Orchid will impact, perhaps dramatically, the seaside town and its neighbors. It will change, for better or worse, the look and feel of State Road 510 from the Wabasso Bridge to Wabasso Beach, and alter to some degree the quality of life in the communities along that corridor. It also could affect the area’s property values. That’s why, with so much at stake and the potential for far-reaching ramifications, the Orchid Town Council must proceed wisely when weighing the pros and cons of the proposal. At the very least, the council’s five members, need to be sure they’re representing the will of the townspeople. “The community association already is trying to set up a meeting with Publix representatives, probably in early January, strictly for informational purposes,” Orchid Mayor Harold Ofstie said, referring to the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club’s homeowners association. READ FULL STORY

Judge refuses to dismiss charges in ‘pill mill’ case
week of December 6, 2018

A motion to dismiss charges against defendants accused of operating a “pill mill” in Vero Beach was rejected by Judge Cynthia Cox during a three-hour hearing on Nov. 30. Attorneys for the 12 defendants in the high-profile case argued the charges should be dismissed because undercover detectives “lied” about their identities and engaged in extreme methods to produce fake documents used to “entrap” those charged. “This is not about our clients breaking the law,” said Daniel Aaronson, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who spoke on behalf of the other attorneys present. “This investigation was started for political reasons and nothing else.” Aaronson alleged that investigators for the Indian River Sheriff’s Office began harassing Stuart Pain Management Center staff and clients the first day the clinic opened for business in Vero Beach in 2011. He claimed the Indian River Board of County Commissioners ordered the investigation after attempts to stop the clinic from opening failed. “Police began pulling people over every day as they left the clinic and used those opportunities to search and seize” drugs, Aaronson said. READ FULL STORY

Indian River hospital’s medical education program expands
week of December 6, 2018

Dr. George Mitchell, a longtime critical care physician at Indian River Medical Center, has been named the hospital’s first director of medical education. His appointment comes as the hospital launches an expansion of existing third- and fourth-year medical school rotations, potentially beyond the dozen or so students who train each year at IRMC as part of the current program with Florida State University’s Fort Pierce medical school campus. If the incoming Cleveland Clinic leadership agrees, and if in the weeks ahead Cleveland’s merger with IRMC passes regulatory hurdles, future graduate residencies and fellowships could be available here to medical school graduates from around the country and abroad. All parties speak guardedly about those more advanced programs, but it’s clear that the groundwork is being laid for graduate medical education should Cleveland Clinic choose to have it here. “We can certainly look at it and see what makes the most sense,” Cleveland Clinic Florida’s CEO and president Dr. Wael Barsoum told Vero hospital officials last March. READ FULL STORY

Great white shark Katharine returns to our waters
week of December 6, 2018

Along with the annual migration of snowbirds, another repeat visitor arrived for Thanksgiving and the holidays: Katharine the Great White Shark. Katharine, who is more than 14 feet long and weighs 2,300 pounds, popped up about 30-to-40 miles off Melbourne on Nov. 23, Black Friday, then surfaced three times about 30 miles off Fort Pierce on Nov. 28. Her whereabouts are tracked by a satellite tag she wears on her dorsal fin that was implanted by the nonprofit ocean advocacy group OCEARCH when it caught her off Cape Cod, Mass., in 2013. Whenever she surfaces, her location is beamed from the tag to a satellite and then downloaded to OCEARCH computers. The organization posts her tracks, along with those of numerous other sharks and marine animals around the world, on its website Katharine – named for Cape Cod native Katharine Lee Bates who wrote “America the Beautiful” – has attracted a large group of admirers over the 36,000 miles she has travelled in the past five years. With more than 56,000 Twitter followers at @Shark_Katharine, she is especially popular in Florida where she has made several trips to both the Atlantic and Gulf regions. READ FULL STORY

Historic day for Vero electric customers and staff two weeks away
week of December 6, 2018

Unless something goes awry, 50 Vero electric employees will clock-in for their first day of work with Florida Power & Light on Dec. 17. They’ll get new badges, new uniforms and new FPL fleet trucks. Then at 10 a.m., FPL and the city’s lawyers will host a public ceremonial closing in City Council chambers at Vero Beach City Hall. “Our attorneys in coordination with FPL attorneys will have most if not all the signatures prior to the seventeenth,” said Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor. O’Connor said the closing ceremony is being coordinated by FPL’s Regional External Affairs Manager Amy Brunjes, a key player who has been pushing for the Vero electric deal since the beginning, encouraging local leaders and pro-sale activists to hang in there. “There will be an appreciation luncheon [after the ceremony] ... to thank the many community leaders and customers who have supported us over the years,” said Brunjes. Vero’s Director of Electric Utility Operations Ted Fletcher will be one of the 50 employees – who know Vero’s system and customer accounts well – making the transition from working for a municipal-owned utility with 34,000 local customers to an investor-owned utility with 4.9 million customers statewide. READ FULL STORY

Opponents of island Publix launch campaign to stop project
week of December 6, 2018

Opponents of Publix’s plans to build a supermarket-anchored strip mall in Orchid have stepped up their efforts, asking residents of nearby subdivisions to join them in an email campaign to derail the project. Dozens of residents of the Old Orchid and Seasons at Orchid communities already had sent a barrage of emails urging town officials to reject Publix’s proposal, citing increased noise, traffic, crime, light intrusion and potential environmental damage they say would accompany the commercial development. Last week, a group that identified itself as “The Seasons 32963 Committee” distributed flyers in the Summerplace and Oceanaire Heights subdivisions, where residents were invited to “Come Join The Protest Against Publix.” The flyers, placed in mailboxes, asked residents to send emails to Orchid Town Manager Noah Powers expressing opposition to Publix’s plans. They wrote that they wanted Powers “to be deluged with emails from extremely upset neighbors saying ‘NO’ to Publix,” adding, “It is still fairly early in the overall process.” READ FULL STORY

Do-over Vero Beach City Council election set for Feb. 26
week of December 6, 2018

Thankfully for anyone who is sick of hearing about election challenges and lawsuits, Vero Beach has settled litigation filed by disqualified City Council candidate Linda Hillman and a trial will not be needed. On Nov. 29, Circuit Judge Paul Kanarek issued an order in response to a joint motion to settle the case filed with the court that day. “The City of Vero Beach will hold a special election at the City’s expense on February 26, 2019, and Plaintiff Linda Hillman shall be on the ballot, as well as the other candidates, as stated in the September 7, 2018 letter from the City to the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections in the order listed in the letter,” Kanarek wrote. That means Brian Heady who, like Hillman, was removed from the Nov. 6 ballot for incomplete paperwork, will benefit from Hillman’s fight. Per the judge’s order, Heady will be on the Feb. 26 special election ballot with Hillman, plus the four candidates voters had to choose from last month – incumbents Laura Moss and Tony Young, plus challengers Robbie Brackett and Bob McCabe. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic names future president of Vero hospital
week of December 6, 2018

With the merger of Indian River Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic all but a done deal, the trickle-down of talent has already begun. Two top physicians at the prestigious health system’s Cleveland flagship hospital have been tapped for leadership positions here. Gregory Rosencrance, an internal medicine doctor who heads Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute, has been named president of Indian River Medical Center. The publicly-owned hospital is expected to become Cleveland Clinic Indian River as soon as state and federal regulatory agencies clear the merger, expected sometime in January. Rosencrance, who joined Cleveland Clinic after a long tenure at West Virginia University, will replace interim IRMC President and CEO Karen Davis, who has led the hospital since the retirement of Jeff Susi at the end of 2017. Davis is going back to her previous position as a healthcare consultant with the firm Alvarez and Marsal. The move to Vero will be a return to Florida for Rosencrance. He formerly chaired the Department of Internal Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston. Since February 2016, he has chaired Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute, which includes primary care, family medicine, pediatrics and infectious diseases among other specialties. READ FULL STORY

County overrules attorneys to keep battling Brightline
week of November 29, 2018

Indian River County Commissioners have committed another million dollars to fight Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, and are proceeding with a federal lawsuit against the company – even though their own attorneys warned them a court victory will not keep high-speed trains from running through Vero Beach. Commissioners voted 4-1 on Nov. 21 to reject a multimillion-dollar offer from Virgin Trains USA to have the county drop its pending lawsuit opposing the company’s plans. Oral arguments for the lawsuit begin Nov. 27 in Washington. “I agree, overall, it’s not a perfect agreement; but as the outside legislative counsel to Indian River County, I recommend that the commission of IR County vote in favor of the proposed settlement agreement,” Steve Ryan, the attorney the county hired to represent it in the federal lawsuit, wrote in a prepared statement. The statement was read to commissioners by county attorney Dylan Reingold. Like Ryan, Reingold encouraged the commission to carefully consider Virgin Trains USA’s offer to pay millions of dollars to improve railroad infrastructure, including installation of more than $2 million for safety fencing and up to $8.2 million in maintenance upkeep over the next 14 years. READ FULL STORY

End of an era near
week of November 29, 2018

Three weeks ago, Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle signed more than 300 closing documents, and the paperwork was placed safely in escrow awaiting this Tuesday’s vote at which the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approvee the $185 million sale of the city's electric utility to Florida Power & Light. Former Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot announced last week at a town council meeting that FPL was gearing up to close the sale before Christmas should the vote go as expected. Vero City Manager Jim O’Connor confirmed that the city staff was planning to turn over the utility to FPL on Monday morning, Dec. 17 after a tentatively scheduled closing at the law office of Carlton Fields attorney Nat Doliner in Tampa. READ FULL STORY

New School Board declines to rubber stamp Rendell’s demotion of CFO
week of November 29, 2018

The new, post-election School Board seems more prepared than the prior board to keep an eye on Superintendent Mark Rendell. Shortly after being sworn in on Nov. 20, the board's three new members and returning member Laura Zorc refused to rubber-stamp Rendell’s demotion and transfer of Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison. In July, Rendell accused Morrison of transferring $2.3 million from one school district fund to another without his knowledge. Though evidence showed secretive inter-fund transfers were common at the district and known to Rendell – allegedly used as a way to hide money from the teachers union and charter schools, or to fund expenditures not approved by the School Board. Morrison was put forward as the sole culprit and an outside lawyer was brought in to conduct an investigation. Morrison has been missing in action since the July 31 meeting where Rendell made his public accusation, and the school district has refused to clarify his status or whereabouts, claiming the investigation into Morrison's actions exempts the district from fulfilling public records requests, as typically required under Florida's Sunshine Law. READ FULL STORY

Vero Council puzzler: What to do about City Marina
week of November 29, 2018

When it comes to the Vero Beach City Marina, the only thing City Council members agree on is that it isn’t living up to what they want in a first-class mooring, fuel service and storage facility to serve residents and tourists. After that, some council members want to lease the marina to a private company on a long-term basis, some favor hiring someone to take over the management and upkeep, and some want to give the existing staff one more chance to get the marina shipshape. After fishing around for management proposals for a while, the City Council had the purchasing department put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for companies wishing to lease the marina. hat effort resulted in two worthy proposals, including one from a company formed by a coalition of well-respected, established Vero families. Spearheaded by members of the Kennedy citrus family and Proctor Construction, the group pitched a deal to undertake the much-needed capital repairs, manage the marina and pay the City of Vero Beach $300,000 annually to lease the marina property. READ FULL STORY

Will undocumented immigrants still get free care at the E.R. after Cleveland Clinic takeover?
week of November 29, 2018

Within Cleveland Clinic’s otherwise generous financial aid policy, a little-noticed requirement of legal U.S. residency is getting closer scrutiny as the health system’s takeover of Indian River Medical Center inches toward implementation. As it stands, the policy indicates low-income immigrants without green cards or other documentation would not be eligible for free care at the soon-to-be Cleveland Clinic Indian River, apart from emergency room treatment when life or limb is threatened and stabilization is mandated by federal law. Currently, there is no requirement of legal U.S. residency to receive free or reduced-cost care at IRMC. The Hospital District does not ask the question on its application for a care card, and only asks whether the patient has lived in the county six months. Hospital District chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham said earlier this month it’s an issue that attorneys from Cleveland Clinic and the Hospital District are discussing. The requirement of U.S. residency for financial assistance is spelled out on the Cleveland Clinic Foundation website and several other places, but it apparently went unnoticed here until Vero Beach 32963 brought it to the attention of several trustees following a District meeting in late September. READ FULL STORY

Additional airlines seen interested in flying to Vero Beach
week of November 29, 2018

Nearly three years after Elite Airways began offering commercial, nonstop jet service between Vero Beach and Newark, N.J., the company’s success here has created a buzz heard throughout the industry – so much so that other airlines have taken notice. Some of them are now exploring the possibility of adding Vero Beach to their route systems. “We’ve been talking to different airlines all along, but now they’re seeing what Elite is doing here and it has gotten their attention,” Vero Beach Regional Airport Director Eric Menger said. “They see the numbers, that Elite has been profitable here, and they’re looking to see if there’s an opportunity for them.” Elite officials have said repeatedly that Vero Beach has become the airline’s most successful market, from which it offers year-round flights to and from Newark and seasonal service to Asheville, N.C.; White Plains, N.Y.; and Portland, Maine. According to the airport’s website, most flights are operating “at or near 100-percent capacity” through the winter months and “consistently in the 80 to 90 percent range” during the slower summer months. READ FULL STORY

Who will be named to fill property appraiser vacancy?
week of November 29, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott was preoccupied in recent weeks with his bid to become a U.S. Senator, so word on the streets is there’s no big rush to fill the Indian River County property appraiser’s office in the wake of David Nolte’s death. Nolte’s funeral was two weeks ago, but the vacancy was not a huge shock. The man who held the property appraiser’s job for nearly four decades died battling an extended illness – not of a sudden tragedy. The work of government must go on, but too much of Nolte’s term has elapsed to mandate a special election. So it appears there will be a gubernatorial appointment. Which governor – Scott or Ron DeSantis? Who knows. Nolte made it known that he wanted his loyal deputy, Sissy Long, to be elevated and serve out the balance of his term until January 2021, giving Long the strategic advantages of incumbency in the next election. But as news spread that Nolte had passed away in hospice care and his friends mourned, pragmatic party leaders floated names removed from Nolte’s immediate circle who could step into the job. READ FULL STORY