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Major renovation of Beachland set to get underway next year
week of February 11, 2016

The Indian River County School Board appeared ready this week to move ahead with a staff recommendation that will enable the long-overdue major renovation of Beachland Elementary to finally get fully underway a year from this summer. For years, parents have begged the School Board to fix the many problems that ail Beachland, including leaky, moldy buildings with rotted beams and wet carpets that parents say have made their children sick. Now, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Carter Morrison has found a way to move up the timetable for Beachland renovations by restructuring some of the School District’s debt. District staff explained that by restructuring debt, the School Board could proceed right away not just with building a new multipurpose cafeteria at Beachland, but also a two-story classroom wing that would replace temporary classroom pods located elsewhere on campus. As part of the project, the School District would demolish the buildings closest to the corner of Beachland Boulevard and Mockingbird Drive which currently house the cafeteria and an administrative wing. The buildings, which are nearly 60 years old, once housed classrooms, but kids were moved out to protect them from dilapidated conditions. READ FULL STORY


Brown tide in the lagoon creeps toward Vero
week of February 11, 2016

A new outbreak of brown tide – the nasty little phytoplankton that wreaked havoc in the lagoon several years ago – has begun in the northern lagoon and spread as far south as the Sebastian Inlet, according to St. Johns Water Management District officials. The lagoon is noticeably brown between the Inlet and Melbourne, and last week the swimming area in the State Park near the mouth of inlet was so murky visibility was only a few inches. “It’s creeping south,” said St. Johns spokesman Ed Garland. The outbreak started in the Banana Lagoon, up near Titusville, the same place the destructive 2011 “superbloom” began. That unprecedented over-growth of phytoplankton was a catastrophe for the lagoon, killing off 60 percent of the sea grass and decimating game fish populations. There were also large-scale bird and marine mammal die-offs, with hundreds of pelicans and exceptional numbers of bottlenose dolphins and manatees washing up on shore. The 2011 “superbloom” was not caused by brown tide, which first appeared in the lagoon under mysterious circumstances in 2012, but by a different kind of phytoplankton. However, brown tide algae causes the same type of damage as the superbloom bug, consuming oxygen, raising chlorophyll levels and clouding the water, cutting off light seagrass needs to live and smothering marine life. READ FULL STORY


Woman indicted in hit-and-run death of Orchid resident
week of February 11, 2016

When word came last week that the woman who killed Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer 13 months ago in a hit-and-run incident had been indicted, Pat Walsh said he “breathed a sigh of relief.” Apparently, he wasn’t alone. “There was always a lingering concern among his friends here and former colleagues at Merrill,” said Walsh, Meyer’s close friend, Orchid Island neighbor and former work colleague. “The indictment against the woman makes it clear this was strictly her fault,” he said. “They found his eyeglasses in the crosswalk, so he wasn’t even jaywalking. So, yeah, that was a big relief for us.” The accident happened in Savannah, Ga., and it was a Chatham County grand jury that indicted Darcia Wilson Hymon, 50, of Jacksonville for “homicide by vehicle” last week, less than three months after she was arrested by Savannah police, who received an anonymous tip called in through the Crimestoppers hotline. Police charged Hymon, who used the name Wilson when she was arrested, with one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death. She was booked into the Chatham County Jail. READ FULL STORY


The ‘essence’ of Vero’s old diesel power plant
week of February 11, 2016

As city officials sat down last week to review bid proposals for the historic diesel power plant, City Manager Jim O’Connor got straight to the essence of the issue. Essence, as in odor. The place reeks of diesel fuel that for six decades drove its mammoth generators. Under the one engine remaining in the plant, everyone has always expected diesel contamination. Now, it turns out, there’s trouble on the outside, too. Despite years of environmental cleanup that finally earned the city a notice of ‘no further action required’ from state environmental authorities in November, new soil and water samples taken around the plant’s exterior revealed unacceptable levels of petroleum-related compounds. The results are from two environmental engineering firms. One set of results, showing generally higher levels of contamination, was from a firm hired by B-B Redevelopment, the holders of the lease on the property from 2001 until this past November. B-B was required to do the environmental testing when it returned control of the diesel plant back to the city in a court-approved stipulation in its long-running suit with the city. READ FULL STORY


Stormwater utility tax details being worked out by Vero
week of February 11, 2016

The City of Vero Beach has spent $51,000 so far studying how to implement a stormwater utility tax, and city officials plan to spend at least another $15,000 convincing residents that it’s a good idea. The question of whether or not to impose the tax will likely go on this fall’s ballot, but the City Council must decide a few things first. A report received from consultants last week outline numerous options for raising the nearly $6 million the city says it needs between now and 2020 to fund projects to minimize the impact of stormwater runoff on the Indian River Lagoon. The stormwater tax would only be charged to residents within the city limits, and it would be charged based upon Equivalent Residential Units, or ERUs, that correspond to the amount of stress each property places on the stormwater system, as determined by the amount of permeable and impermeable area on the property. The formula for how the city would calculate and assess the ERUs is still up for consideration and four options are detailed in the consultant’s report, compiled in conjunction with city staff. But to raise $1 million per year for stormwater projects, each ERU would need to be charged at least $5 per month. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores back to square one on cell tower
week of February 11, 2016

For a while, it looked like the biggest hurdle to erecting a cellular tower within the Town of Indian River Shores might come from some distant federal agency or Native American tribal council, but the process seems to have come to a screeching halt due to local politics. Twenty Shores families have banded together to hire beachside attorney Michael O’Haire to represent their concerns over the tower design and placement. The Town Council, in an effort to mollify those objecting to the tower, is now in the market for a consultant to re-open the whole issue of what kind of tower should be built and where it should be erected. A clock tower and a bell tower are two options likely to be explored by the firm that is chosen to conduct a workshop or a focus group to seek some ever-elusive consensus on the tower project. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the new consultant, for whom the Town Council authorized an initial budget of $15,000, would work in tandem with Datapath Tower, the company previously hired to permit and build the tower. READ FULL STORY


Woman who claimed assault by police officer weighs appeal
week of February 11, 2016

A 62-year-old woman who lost a lawsuit against a former Vero Beach police officer she accused of using excessive force while arresting her outside her Sea Oaks home must decide in the next 2 ½ weeks whether to take her case to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta. "At this point, we're considering our appeal options," Allison Landsman said Monday, after consulting with her Stuart-based attorney, Guy Rubin. "We have until March 2 to file. I want to go forward and I believe we have grounds, but I'm not sure if I can afford to." After a federal court jury in Fort Pierce rendered a verdict in favor of former police officer Fletcher McClellan in November, Landsman sought a new trial, basing her motion on a technical glitch that prevented jurors from reviewing the police's dash-cam video, which Rubin called the "most key and critical piece of evidence." U.S. District Court Judge Donald Graham, who presided over the trial, denied the motion last week. READ FULL STORY


Construction set to start at the Surf Club
week of February 11, 2016

Foundation work is about to begin at Surf Club – the newest and what could be one of the last multi-family residential projects along Vero Beach's virtually built-out oceanfront. Surf Club will consist of 11 British West Indies-style luxury townhomes spread out along approximately 400 feet of ocean frontage on a prime 2.57-acre parcel at 4700 N. A1A, for many years the location of the old Surf Club Hotel. “We chose the name partly as an homage to a piece of Vero Beach history and partly because it is a great name,” said Premier Estate Properties broker associate and project co-developer Clark French, who, with his partner Cindy O’Dare and fellow Premier broker associate Kay Brown, is handling sales and marketing for the project. A sizable group was on hand for the official groundbreaking, which took place on the bright blue and blustery afternoon of Feb. 5, as a compactor put finishing touches on the dirt. For weeks, a parade of dump trucks had hauled in some 14,000 cubic yards of fill, while dozers smoothed and leveled it, raising the level of the lot and ultimately bringing the first floor elevation of the planned homes to 16.7 feet above sea level. A retaining wall to contain the fill has been built along A1A. READ FULL STORY


Power, water failures leave the island dark and dry
week of February 4, 2016

A complex electric breakdown involving multiple major components and 15,000 customers, plus a malfunction at the Vero Beach Water Treatment Plant, added up to a dark and confusing couple of hours for Vero Utility customers last Sunday night. The good news is that water service was restored in less than 30 minutes and power came back on system-wide in about two hours, and as of press time city utility officials were testing all effected equipment to ensure the same problems won’t happen again. Power went out at 6:25 p.m. Sunday when Substation 7 in the 1800 block of 53rd Avenue went down, leaving approximately 15,000 customers – nearly half of Vero’s electric system – in the dark just after sunset. City Manager O'Connor said a resistor burned out that was regulating power coming into Substation 7 from two high-voltage feeder lines. When fail-safe mechanisms sensed the incoming power was not in balance, they shut down the substation. With the substation shut down, city officials think the incoming power backed up into the system and burned out the feeder lines. READ FULL STORY


Scully-Welsh director focused on ‘building top quality teams’
week of February 4, 2016

Dr. James Grichnik, an international expert on the treatment of melanoma, says he plans to focus on “building top quality teams” to tackle other forms of cancer in Vero before developing a program here in his own specialty. In his first interview since becoming director of the newly opened Scully-Welsh Cancer Center, Grichnik said he hopes to eventually recruit specialists to tackle the most common cancers found in Vero, including lung and bronchial cancer, colorectal cancer, breast and pancreatic cancers, prostate cancer, liver cancer, leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphomas, and ovarian and esophageal cancers. “As word begins to spread that Scully-Welsh has incredible talent, more and more talented people will want to come here to work,” he said. But it won’t happen overnight, he added. “It's not like opening a department store,” Grichnik said with wry smile. “It's all about building top quality teams. Basically we are in a growth phase,” he said. “Right now we have our radiation oncology program being quite active, seeing something on the order of 40 to 50 patients a day. Our infusion services are also active with something on the order of 10 infusions a day.” READ FULL STORY


High bidder on diesel plant has detailed plan for a craft distillery
week of February 4, 2016

Five years ago, Guy D’Amico, a lifelong collector of off-beat brands of spirits, was on his honeymoon in Tahiti when he and his wife took a sip of rum and noticed a vanilla bean in the bottle. “It went from ‘This is good,’ to ‘This is the good life,’ to ‘Why can’t we do this?’” he recalls. “Why shouldn’t we just make our own liquor in Florida with home-grown ingredients?” His dream is now part of a national trend: craft distillers making high-end, small batch spirits. Today, he has channeled that dream into the Treasure Coast Distilling Company, hoping to not only manufacture rum with distinctly local ingredients, but to create a tourist destination. Key to his vision: the long-defunct, 90-year-old diesel-generated power plant in downtown Vero Beach. D’Amico, who oversees a petroleum distribution site in South Florida, is now the highest bidder of three competing for the city-owned plant. City Manager Jim O’Connor, one of four review committee members, stresses the amount of the bid is not the deciding factor. “My questions are about proposed use and sustainability,” he says. “We don’t want to go through this (again) three years down the road.” READ FULL STORY


Vero intrigued by possibility of annexing South Beach
week of January 28, 2016

Some South Beach residents fed up with problems caused by vacation rentals in their neighborhoods want the City of Vero Beach – which prohibits short-term rentals – to provide preliminary data on the impact of annexation on their property taxes and other costs. At first glance, it seems some costs would go up while others would be reduced. If annexed, South Beach property owners would pay Vero’s property tax rate of $2.38 per $1,000 of taxable value instead of Indian River County’s municipal tax of $1.07 per $1,000 and they would be subject to a 10 percent “utility tax” city residents now pay, but they would cease paying a 6 percent franchise fee to the County on water-sewer and electric bills. South Beach residents would also give up any hope of getting off the Vero Beach electric system, either by a partial sale, by a decision of the Florida Supreme Court or by some legislative tactic. Issues with garbage collection would also need to be worked out, as Vero operates its own solid waste collection operation. South Beach is already on Vero’s water and sewer system. READ FULL STORY


Charter schools demand remedy for unequal funding
week of January 28, 2016

Ever since Indian River Charter High School was established in 1998 as the first charter high in the state, its backers have fought to remedy the lopsided disparity in funding between the county’s traditional and charter schools. Charter schools are public schools entitled to state funding, but the Indian River County School District gives them far less money for building construction and upkeep, equipment and other expenses than it allocates to the traditional public schools. Indian River County’s five charters – the Charter High School, North County Charter School, St. Peter’s Academy, Sebastian Charter Junior High and Imagine School – all say they are underfunded. As a result, more kids are squeezed into portable classrooms than the cramped units were meant to accommodate, while areas such as the rotunda at the Charter High have been pressed into service as assembly and performing arts spaces and even for storage. Faculty carrying expanded workloads are under stress. Today, with new School District leadership – Superintendent Mark Rendell was hired last year – there is some hope positive changes are coming. But key differences remain unsolved, and the charters still plan to take their grievances to the 19th Judicial Circuit Court or the State Department of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee. READ FULL STORY


Detectives still probing death of school assistant principal
week of January 28, 2016

Indian River County Sheriff's detectives are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the Christmas Eve death of a local school administrator who was struck by a pickup truck driven by her boyfriend. The late-night incident might have been alcohol related, according to the case report filed by the deputy who responded to the scene. "It's still under investigation," Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Eric Flowers said, adding that both a traffic homicide investigator and regular detective are working the case. Glendale Elementary assistant principal Janai Cooper died early Dec. 24 from injuries she suffered when her boyfriend, Brian Coffey, drove his 2011 Chevy Silverado into her on the driveway in front of the couple's Roseland Road home. In his report, Sheriff's Cpl. Rick Daniel said he arrived at the home minutes before midnight to find Cooper's body on the ground behind the truck and her boyfriend "over top" of her. Cooper was unresponsive, not breathing and did not have a pulse, prompting Daniel to begin CPR, which he said he continued until paramedics arrived. She was taken to Sebastian River Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 12:33 a.m. READ FULL STORY


Vero airport among the many seeking to cut their Vero electric bill
week of January 28, 2016

Among the customers seeking ways to reduce their Vero electric bill is the city’s own airport, but time is running out on federal subsidies designed to encourage renewable energy. The Vero Beach Regional Airport budgets $120,000 annually for utilities, and roughly 90 percent of that goes to electricity. In hopes of cutting its electric costs, the airport is working with ConEdison Solutions to determine whether some of the airport’s 1,700 acres can be used to produce electricity with rows of solar panels – perhaps even between runways and taxiways. “We are presently gathering data on three possible locations for solar farms,” said Airport Director Eric Mengar. “We hope to have the feasibility study completed in time for the next Airport Commission meeting on February 25.” Airport Commission Chair Barbara Drndak pointed out that the airport covers approximately a quarter of the city’s total acreage, much of it not suited for development. Pete Ricondo, the consultant completing Vero’s airport master plan required by the Federal Aviation Administration, added, “This airport has plenty of land that does not need to be used in the 20-year plan.” READ FULL STORY


Surprise! Only three contenders bid for the old diesel power plant
week of January 28, 2016

When the bids for the remains of the city-owned century-old diesel plant were released last week, the list was more striking for its omissions than for the contenders. Former NBA team owner and now Lemon Tree diner owner George Shinn’s idea for a nonprofit car museum appeared to have run out of gas, or at least stalled out. Shinn didn’t return our calls and emails. Then there was the Cultural Council’s proposal to turn the plant into an arts center, with various display areas downstairs along with a coffee shop, and upstairs, cubicles rented to artists who would be watched by visitors as they worked. With the backing of the late Dick Stark, the arts center seemed to have a fighting chance. Then it hit a snag: Stark, renowned for his local philanthropy, turned out not to be bankrolling the arts center, as some had whispered. Instead he balked when the city wouldn’t agree to lease the building for a dollar a year, like the land lease enjoyed by the Vero Beach Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre. READ FULL STORY


Vero tells court it cannot dictate low electric rates
week of January 21, 2016

According to the City of Vero Beach and its lawyers, courts have no say over what the city charges for electricity. Vero says its rates are its business, plain and simple. The Town of Indian River Shores has sued Vero for breach of contract, contending that the city’s rates are “unreasonable” to a degree that violates a 1986 franchise agreement in which Vero agreed to only charge reasonable rates. The Shores is seeking damages amounting to the excess that Shores ratepayers have been charged since 2008. That number could add up to $18 million or more. “Vero Beach alone is vested with the exclusive authority to regulate electric rates and neither the Court, nor a jury, can override Vero Beach’s express right, granted to Vero Beach by Plaintiff, to regulate Vero Beach’s electric rates,” Vero says in its response to the Shores’ lawsuit. The document also argues that the subject of the Shores’ cause of action allegedly occurred in 1986 when the franchise agreement was executed, which puts it outside the five-year statute of limitations period for a breach of contract lawsuit. READ FULL STORY


Shores wants PSC answer on electric controversy
week of January 21, 2016

The Town of Indian River Shores, having been bounced back and forth between state regulators and the courts, is now asking the Florida Public Service Commission for a straight-up answer about how to defend its sovereign rights under Florida’s Constitution – putting the PSC in a tight jurisdictional spot. The Shores’ legal team asserts Florida law affords the Town, as a municipality, the right “to be protected from unconsented exercises of extra-territorial powers by another municipality, namely the City of Vero Beach.” That is the question scheduled to be debated at a Public Service Commission meeting on March 1. PSC meetings normally are held in Tallahassee, but sources close to the issue say there’s a chance the Shores could petition to have the proceedings held locally to afford the rate-paying public an opportunity to provide input. Shores attorney Bruce May has filed a 212-page document with the PSC that outlines the history of the case and explains why the Shores feels its rights would be violated if Vero keeps operating within the Town and using public rights of way in the absence of a valid franchise agreement. READ FULL STORY


Plea deal now seen possible in bike fatality
week of January 21, 2016

Sixteen months after a young Vero Beach bicyclist was struck by a car and killed on the 17th Street Bridge, the case against the woman charged with DUI manslaughter isn’t close to going to trial – and it might not. Both a state prosecutor and the attorney for Jamie Williams, now 22, said a plea deal is a possibility. “This was a tragedy that impacted two young lives and their families,” said Alan Landman, Williams’ Melbourne-based attorney. “We’re trying to find an equally fair, just and comfortable compromise to resolve the case.” Assistant State Attorney Steve Wilson, who has handled the case since lead prosecutor Daryl Isenhower was appointed a St. Lucie County Judge in December, said the possibility of a plea deal is “always on our minds” but there’s “nothing definite” on the table. “I wouldn’t say any firm offer has been extended,” Wilson said. Such an offer could come after the defense’s accident-reconstruction expert is deposed by attorneys from both sides, Landman said. The deposition was scheduled for last week, but it was postponed until State Attorney Bruce Colton assigns a new lead prosecutor to the case. READ FULL STORY


New culverts link Bee Gum Point wetlands to lagoon
week of January 21, 2016

The Indian River Land Trust is in the midst of a large-scale scientific experiment at its 111-acre Bee Gum Point property that could have a major positive impact on the imperiled ecology of the entire Lagoon. Some years ago, the natural flow of water from the Lagoon into the wetlands at the western end of Fred Tuerk Drive was artificially cut off to aid in mosquito control. Only one small culvert was provided to create a minimal wintertime flow of water into the wetlands. Now, seven additional culverts have been installed and two more will be put in place in the weeks ahead. All the culverts will remain closed from late April to early October for mosquito control purposes. But in the winter, the added pipes are already providing much greater connectivity between the wetlands and the open lagoon. As the tides rise and fall and wind pushes waves ashore, more water can now wash into and out of the wetlands, allowing small fish to enter and – hopefully – large fish to exit. READ FULL STORY


County to Miami: ‘Leave our sand alone. Get yours from Bahamas’
week of January 21, 2016

The County Commission voted unanimously last week to oppose pumping sand from the seabed a mile off Round Island Park and sending it south to replenish beaches in Miami. The County fears sending offshore sand south could deplete reserves that might be needed for beach repair here after future storms. At the same time, the Commission came out in support of Miami leaders who want to purchase Bahamian sand instead of taking sand from Indian River County. The Bahamians are willing sellers, but the federal government will only allow “domestic sand” to be used in beach replenishment projects. Commissioners told county staff to use whatever pull the County has with legislators to help get the regulations changed to permit Bahamian sand to be used. County Coastal Engineer James Gray brought the issue to the commission on behalf of the Beach and Shores Advisory Committee. “There’s an ongoing (controversy) – in the press, it’s called the sand wars,” Gray said, explaining that the proposal now being considered would ship bulk sand southward to complete projects that are partially funded by federal dollars. READ FULL STORY


Ocean views big draw for prospective buyers of $3 million condos
week of January 21, 2016

The first thing Alloy Development built at its condominium site in Indian River Shores was a sturdy, two-level observation platform above the beach that lets prospective buyers sample the ocean views that will be available from the 18 luxury homes that will be built there. To put it mildly – the views are spectacular. On a recent sunny Saturday, when the ocean was calm, and white-fringed waves broke gently on the shore, the vista north and south along the coast was both soothing and inspiring, encompassing a sweeping sensation of natural beauty that Alloy is counting on to attract buyers for the $3-million-and-up residential masterpieces. The 3-bedroom homes will have 4 or 4.5 baths and 3,300 to 3,900 square feet of air-conditioned living space, along with 950 to 1,840 square feet of outdoor terraces and balconies. All homes will be oceanfront. The site, which is marked by several large vermillion-colored planters on the east side of A1A north of John’s Island, was large enough for 21 units but Alloy chose to build fewer. READ FULL STORY


IRNA urging county to act on septic systems
week of January 14, 2016

The Indian River Neighborhood Association has added its voice to those calling on the County Commission to undertake and complete a comprehensive plan to deal with septic systems that are contaminating the Lagoon. Cities in Indian River County and counties to the north and south have weighed the scientific evidence of massive septic pollution and put in place plans, programs and infrastructure to begin eliminating the most harmful septic systems, and hooking homes and businesses to sanitary sewers. But the current slate of Indian River County Commissioners has not devised a plan or authorized any infrastructure to deal with the county’s 35,000 septic systems, many of which were built prior to 1983, when state regulations required only a six-inch separation between groundwater and the bottom of septic drain fields and allowed drain fields within 25 feet of the lagoon. “Not only has nothing been done, worse, there is not even a plan – or for that matter, the beginnings of a plan to do anything,” IRNA executive board member Carter Taylor wrote in an email to 32963. “The county’s comprehensive plan is completely silent on septic and sewer.” READ FULL STORY


More hurdles for Shores’ cell phone tower
week of January 14, 2016

Indian River Shores residents desperate for cell phone service that actually works thought their years of waiting might be nearing an end when town officials settled on a relatively remote site adjacent to the Bee Gum Point conservation area. That site, which would be more than 500 feet from residents of any of the communities that have blocked previous proposed tower locations, is on the eastern edge of the 111-acre lagoon-front parcel that the Indian River Land Trust purchased in 2011 to provide habitat for migratory and endangered birds. Now that location has been called into question by a warning letter from the United States Department of the Interior, and the need to get permits from a laundry list of government agencies that oversee construction near waterways, along with approvals from interested parties which include, in this case, as many as 11 Native American tribes. In a Dec. 22 letter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed the town that “we recommend new towers are not sited in or near wetlands and important bird areas, such as Bee Gum Point,” and warned that the Endangered Species Act “prohibits the taking of any federally listed endangered or threatened species. . . (and) provides for civil and criminal penalties for the unlawful taking of a listed species.” READ FULL STORY


Reward money still unclaimed in hit-and-run
week of January 14, 2016

An arrest was made. A woman has been charged and jailed. A plea bargain appears likely, given that police say she has admitted to driving the vehicle that struck and killed Peter Meyer last January in Savannah, Ga. So what happened to the reward money – $10,000 from the victim’s family and $117,000 from his Orchid Island neighbors, former Merrill Lynch co-workers and longtime friends – offered for information leading to a conviction in the tragic hit-and-run case that went unsolved for 10 months? The money is still there, waiting to be claimed. The Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s Crimestoppers program has the original $10,000. The rest is sitting in an escrow account opened by Meyer’s close friend, Orchid Island neighbor and former Merrill Lynch colleague Pat Walsh, who organized the fundraising campaign for the reward money. “The police received an anonymous tip,” Walsh said, “but no one has come forward.” Darcia Wilson, 50, of Jacksonville, was arrested in November, after police received a tip from an anonymous caller to the Crimestoppers hotline. According to Walsh, the caller simply gave police Wilson’s name and address and said, “She’s the one who killed Peter Meyer,” then hung up. READ FULL STORY


Mayfield bid to rein in FMPA narrowly survives first hearing
week of January 14, 2016

TALLAHASSEE – Despite the Florida Municipal Power Agency’s efforts to trash Vero Beach before the Florida House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee Monday, legislators moved forward a bill that could force the electric co-op to better account for the ownership share of its members, including Vero Beach, in the co-op’s assets and liabilities. A heavily watered-down version of the bill introduced by Rep. Debbie Mayfield passed its first legislative hurdle on a squeaker of a vote with Chairman Dane Eagle, a Republican out of Cape Coral, breaking a 5-5 tie by supporting House Bill 579. The original bill filed by Mayfield – before ever making it to a vote – had been stripped of two major components in order to appease members of the subcommittee. Originally, House Bill 579 was designed to bring the Florida Municipal Power Association under the regulation of the Florida Public Service Commission. The bill would have also tasked the Office of Public Counsel with keeping a better eye on the FMPA, in the wake of a troublesome audit in 2015 showing a lack of accounting controls, massive losses from risky investments and flagrant spending on top-management benefits and employee perks. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian hospital seeking to undertake major expansion
week of January 14, 2016

The Sebastian River Medical Center is asking state regulators to approve a major expansion just 14 miles up the road from the Indian River Medical Center. Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based conglomerate that owns SRMC and more than 200 other hospitals in 29 different states, is hoping to add 94,000 square feet – or just over 2.1 acres – of new space to the Sebastian hospital while renovating another 20,000 square feet. A three-story tower with some 48 additional private patient rooms along with 10 new operating rooms are the key features of the planned expansion project. The expansion and renovations would raise the facility’s capacity from around 150 to over 200 beds. CHS has yet to release any details on the proposed multi-million dollar expansion or the total projected cost, the name of the architectural firm it is using, the builder or builders it has selected, or artist's renderings of the proposed additions. It does say construction is slated to begin in mid-2016 with a projected completion date targeted for mid-2018. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council asked to revisit 2 controversies
week of January 7, 2016

Mayor Jay Kramer and newly elected Councilman Harry Howle on Tuesday asked the Vero Beach City Council to revisit a couple of controversial items of business from last year. Kramer suggested that city staff and consultants take another look at the $64 million price Vero countered with after Florida Power & Light offered $13 million cash to purchase Vero’s electric customers in the Town of Indian River Shores. Howle sought to halt creation of a stormwater utility before the city spends any more on studies and experts who have been hired to devise a proposal to put to voters later this year. The $64 million price tag Vero put on its Shores electric customers caused major sticker shock in its neighbor to the north, as the city had previously accepted an FPL offer of $100 million cash plus nearly $80 million in other considerations for the entire electric system. Even more grumbling emanated from the Shores when the rationale behind the $64 million was revealed. Vero’s consultants were basically asking the Shores to cover all of what would have been the town’s share of the city’s fixed costs for 30 years after the town’s customers were gone from the system. READ FULL STORY


TSA scanners in full use at Vero Airport
week of January 7, 2016

The Transportation Security Administration’s scanning equipment arrived at the Vero Beach Regional Airport just in time for the holiday rush. Installed and tested two Mondays ago, the metal-detector-type scanners were in full use Sunday morning, when two Elite Airways flights departed for Liberty Airport in Newark, N.J., serving both northern New Jersey and the New York City area. “The regular flight filled up fast, so they added a second jet,” Vero Beach Regional Airport Director Eric Menger said. “The service has been very well received, which isn’t surprising. There are a lot of people here from the New York-New Jersey area. “We’ve been very busy during the holidays, and the feedback on both sides has been positive,” he added. “I know Elite is very pleased with the bookings.” The passenger-scanning equipment at the local airport, where Elite began twice-per-week service between Vero Beach and Newark on Dec. 10, are not the new, full-body, advanced-imaging scanners installed by the TSA at major airports throughout the U.S. shortly before the busy holiday travel season. READ FULL STORY


County actions to clean up lagoon sparse, ineffective
week of January 7, 2016

Four years after it became clear an ecological disaster was underway in the Indian River Lagoon, the County Commission has done little to remedy existing problems or prevent future destruction of the waterway, once considered the most biologically diverse estuary in the nation. To be fair, commissioners have talked a lot about the problems in the lagoon and the need to protect the waterway that is the area’s most valuable economic and aesthetic resource, and the county has proposed and done some planning for a number of lagoon-friendly projects. But actual accomplishments are surprisingly few. Pollution in the lagoon is mainly caused by leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff, polluted road runoff and muck deposits, all of which load the water with nutrients – mainly nitrogen – that feed destructive algae blooms, clouding the water and smothering sea life. Septic seepage and stormwater runoff add coliform bacteria, heavy metals and toxic chemicals. In the past few years, pollution has led to catastrophic seagrass loss, widespread disease in marine mammals, drastically reduced fish populations and occasional instances of life-threatening infections in humans. READ FULL STORY


County lags in dealing with septic problem
week of December 31, 2015

More than two years after county commissioners made dealing with septic systems polluting the Indian River Lagoon a top priority, Indian River County has not stopped the flow of poison from a single septic tank. County commissioners freely acknowledge septic tank pollution is a serious threat to the lagoon and they have paid for two small septic-to-sewer feasibility studies and one set of construction drawings that covers part of one study area. There are more than 35,000 septic systems in Indian River County, many of them built prior to 1983, when state regulations required only a six-inch separation between groundwater and the bottom of septic drain fields, and allowed drain fields within 25 feet of the lagoon. Many of the poorly designed old systems are now failing, discharging toxic chemicals into the groundwater and estuary. To date, the county has not launched any projects to eliminate septic systems, and it does not have any such projects scheduled at this time. READ FULL STORY


Will New Year’s bring an end to our endless summer?
week of December 31, 2015

The record-breaking heat wave that lasted through all of December finally seems about to break, but in the meantime, summer temperatures through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have been good for local business. Restaurants were full, and even though the unusual warmth hung around well into the evenings, al fresco diners didn’t seem to mind. There was a rare Christmas full moon rising over the ocean, and a cool sea breeze to enjoy at beachside eateries. The beaches were crowded over the Christmas weekend, by Vero standards anyway, and no one complained about the heat wave. A couple from Canada having lunch on the outside patio at Cobalt said they just love it here. “Heat at Christmastime? It’s just great.” Not everyone, of course, was happy. “83 degrees on Christmas is just WRONG!” said Catherine Anne Faust. “My 16-year-old daughter wants to go over to her grandma’s house, turn the a/c way down to make it colder and light a fire in the fireplace to toast marshmallows.” READ FULL STORY


Vero electric customers get tiny $2.50 rate cut; nothing more until mid-2016
week of December 31, 2015

Vero electric customers may not even notice a $2.50 rate reduction when they get electric bills for a summer-like December that has kept their air conditioners working overtime, but that small break is all anyone can expect until the middle of next year, according to city officials. The City Council in October voted to enter into an amended bulk power agreement with the Orlando Utilities Commission, with the promise of twofold savings – a bit now due to reduced costs of wholesale power, and more later after Big Blue is totally shut down. “Rates went down effective December 1, 2015 by $2.50. The current rate per 1,000 kWh residential customer is $119.58,” said Vero’s Finance Director Cindy Lawson, who has analyzed the city’s rate sufficiency on a quarterly basis since being hired in 2011. The bills reflecting that $2.50 rate reduction will start going out next week. Vero has adjusted rates up or down slightly by a percent or so these past few years, depending on how revenues matched up with projections. READ FULL STORY


South Beach murder suspect faces death penalty
week of December 31, 2015

A South barrier island man remains in the Indian River County Jail without bond, potentially facing the death penalty for shooting his estranged wife in her home on Nov. 3. Last week a grand jury heard the evidence against 57-year-old Asbury Perkins, who was found at the home on the 2100 block of Seagrape Drive that he’d once shared with 63-year-old Cynthia Betts, with Betts’ body, shot dead. When deputies arrived, Perkins was preparing to dispose of the body and flee, and when interrogated, the Sheriff’s Office said he confessed to shooting Betts. “On December 22, 2015 the Grand Jury in and for Indian River County returned an Indictment charging Asbury Lee Perkins II with one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted escape,” Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor said. The charge of first-degree murder with a firearm, if Perkins is convicted, could carry the death penalty as prescribed in Florida. One month before the Grand Jury met, the court entered an “order directing examination of the defendant’s mental condition.” READ FULL STORY


Will better cell service be a late holiday gift for Shores?
week of December 24, 2015

Is this the year residents of Indian River Shores get a delayed Christmas present sometime in the New Year in the form of a cell tower? The Shores Town Council is moving forward with a variance from its 50-foot height limit on structures that would make the planned new cell phone tower conform to town’s building code. A new town ordinance to lay the legal groundwork for the construction of the cell tower, which would end years of complaints by residents and officials about inadequate cell phone service in the area, was first introduced at a town council meeting last week, and was not expected to face any major opposition because of the groundwork laid by town staff at community meetings. After passage of the new ordinance exempting the tower from the current height restrictions, the initial plans for the tower will be sent for review to the Indian River Shores Planning, Zoning and Variance Board. READ FULL STORY


Our miracle baby: Kaiden Bracken’s second Christmas
week of December 24, 2015

This Christmas, Kristin Bracken says, is the happiest of her life. Her little boy Kaiden, who turns 2 next month, is back from the brink, chasing a noisy, lit-up toy car as it wobbles recklessly through his grandparents’ living room. Only one year ago, the noise and flashing lights were coming from monitoring equipment surrounding Kaiden in the only home he knew: Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, two hours south of Vero in Hollywood, FL. It was there that he had been rushed by specially equipped ambulance at the age of four months, his heart enlarged and perilously close to stopping. Eight months later, just weeks before last Christmas, Kaiden entered surgery for a rare pediatric heart transplant, and became the first baby in South Florida to get a heart from a donor of a different blood type. This Christmas, instead of a tiny tree in that hospital room, Kaiden is celebrating under a real tree eight feet tall, with his stocking hanging on the nearby mantel. His grandparents, Linda and George O’Malley, south island residents and former owners of a downtown art gallery, are blissfully blasé after so many months of worry, waiting for a signal from the remarkably good-natured boy that he’s finally ready for a nap. READ FULL STORY


Hospital exec’s ouster remains a Vero mystery
week of December 24, 2015

Two weeks after Indian River Medical Center CEO Jeff Susi stunned the medical community by announcing that Chief Operating Office Steven Salyer had “resigned,” nobody believes the resignation was voluntary – and nobody believes Susi’s explanation for Salyer’s departure. The big remaining question is whether the residents of our community – who own the tax-supported hospital – are entitled to know what precipitated the latest bizarre event to rock the hospital? Or is this to remain one more hushed-up Vero Beach story that never comes out? Val Zudans, the newest member of the Hospital District trustees, at a meeting last week voiced what numerous hospital staffers and physicians have been saying: “We need to know what happened. Would you get rid of someone who’s successful – and if so, why?” But a majority of the members of the current Hospital District board – which oversees the millions of our tax dollars directed to the hospital for indigent care – seems to have little appetite for enlightening the community. READ FULL STORY


2016 may offer hope on Vero electric front
week of December 24, 2015

The City of Vero Beach started and ended 2015 mired in litigation with its neighbors in Indian River County and the Town of Indian River Shores, with little progress and only attorneys and consultants, as usual, benefitting. But 2016 may hold some promise on the Vero electric front. Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot says he’s realistically optimistic after a 30-minute meeting last week with Vero Beach Mayor Jay Kramer. The two met informally in a neutral location. Barefoot said he and Kramer did not talk specifics, but discussed how the changes on the Vero Beach City Council (Councilman Harry Howle’s election and Kramer becoming mayor) might improve relations between the City and the Town going forward. “There is a good mutual understanding of the issues,” Barefoot said. “Mayor Kramer understands our position, and we understand the city’s position.” The Shores is staring down the expiration of a 30-year franchise agreement and Shores leaders have told Vero they’re not renewing. What happens in Nov. 2016 is still a toss-up, with a pending circuit court case, a Florida Supreme Court ruling on an appeal by the County still months away, and potentially another petition to the Florida Public Service Commission in the works. READ FULL STORY


Hospital COO is surprised to hear of ‘resignation’
week of December 17, 2015

Steve Salyer, who in a year and a half as the second-in-command at Indian River Medical Center was credited by many staffers and local physicians with greatly improving operations at the hospital, was told to his surprise last Thursday that he was resigning, effective that very afternoon, to “pursue career opportunities,” according to informed sources. Neither hospital CEO Jeff Susi, who announced Salyer’s “resignation” in a cryptic late afternoon email to IRMC staff, nor Salyer returned multiple calls from Vero Beach 32963 seeking comment. But as word of the unexpected departure of IRMC’s chief operating officer spread though the Vero Beach medical community, it was met with shock and disappointment by many on the hospital staff, as well as by independent doctors with privileges at the hospital. Doctors, staff and others who spoke to Salyer earlier on the day of his “resignation” said that he had talked about upcoming plans at the hospital, including himself in them, suggesting that he was unaware he was about to resign. READ FULL STORY


High court weighs county case against Vero electric
week of December 17, 2015

Of all the questions the Florida Supreme Court justices asked last week during 48 minutes of oral arguments in the appeal of a decision placing Vero electric’s territorial rights above Indian River County’s property rights, the most important was never raised. That question would have been “Why is this issue before us?” and the fact that it was not asked could be a good thing for the county, and potentially for the town of Indian River Shores. In short, the judges “got it,” their questions revealing they understood the challenge placed before them to hand down an opinion on the merits of the legal arguments, and not sidestep the issue by letting stand the earlier Public Service Commission ruling in favor of Vero electric’s “permanent” territory. Vero’s attorney Robert Scheffel “Schef” Wright elaborately tried to mystify the panel of justices with how “complex” it all is. But to put it simply, Florida law grants powers to different bodies and agencies. READ FULL STORY


Will Elite fly more Northerners to Vero?
week of December 17, 2015

Elite Airways kicked off the century’s first regularly scheduled direct air service from Vero to the New York City area last week, and full planes taking off from Vero Beach Regional Airport made it pretty clear there is considerable pent-up demand among local residents for flights that will take them nonstop to and from the north. But can this small airline generate similar enthusiasm among residents of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey for flying from Newark’s Liberty Airport to Vero? That remains the $149 question, because the 50-passenger Bombardier jets Elite is using made the return trips to Vero last weekend “not nearly as full,” according to airline managers. For the first few weeks, they said, most of the traffic seems to be northbound. The challenge: While Elite Airways has attracted considerable attention in Vero Beach – quite naturally since it’s the only airline serving this community – the news of new nonstop flights from Liberty Airport to Vero hasn’t reached most residents of the New York metropolitan area. READ FULL STORY


Quail project sparks development on Royal Palm Pointe
week of December 17, 2015

Vero Beach developer Bob Nelson says the restaurant and hotel Quail Valley Club is building at the end of Royal Palm Pointe was what prompted him to launch a luxury townhouse venture 200 yards further west on the peninsula. “I took a drive out there on Aug. 19 because I was curious to see what was going on with the new Quail project,” Nelson says. “When I saw the for sale sign at 21 Royal Palm, it occurred to me this would be a great spot for a small upscale townhome development.” Nelson says the project, called 21 Royal Club, is on a fast track for completion. He closed on the property Dec. 1, paying $1.9 million, and says the existing commercial building, which formerly housed a chandelier store and years ago the old Café Du Soir restaurant, will be torn down before the end of the year. He says no variances are needed from the city and expects a quick permitting process. He hopes to start construction next spring and have the four luxury residences complete by Sept. 30, 2016 – less than 14 months after the idea first popped into his mind. READ FULL STORY


Story changes after hospital suit is settled
week of December 10, 2015

A month after a lawsuit between the parent company of Sebastian River Medical Center and defendants Indian River Medical Center, its CEO and COO was settled and closed, Indian River hospital CEO Jeff Susi reopened the suit to correct a key date he had testified to under oath. “I went through my deposition twice after the case was closed and wanted to correct the record,” said Susi. In early September in his sworn deposition, Susi had said he told Indian River’s general counsel Val Larcombe between January and late February 2014 that Steve Salyer, CEO at the Sebastian hospital who was about to be hired by Indian River, had a noncompete clause in his Sebastian contract. Since Susi offered Salyer the Indian River COO job on March 21, 2014, the date of the disclosure would have given attorney Larcombe one to two months to look into the noncompete clause and make sure it didn’t present a problem. But documents in the case suggested that the hospital attorney did not research the noncompete before Salyer was offered the job. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s innovative sewer system will help lagoon
week of December 10, 2015

While county commissioners continue to talk big about their love for the Indian River Lagoon and their determination to save it, Vero Beach utility director Rob Bolton and his staff at the city’s water and sewer department are actually doing something about it. With little fanfare, Vero Beach since spring has been installing an innovative sewer system on the barrier island that eventually will replace hundreds of worn out septic tanks, capturing 40,000 pounds of lagoon-killing nutrients each year, along with other poisonous chemicals that now flow from island septic tanks into the lagoon. The nutrients, mainly nitrogen, feed algae blooms that smother sea life, while coliform bacteria and household chemicals further pollute the water, making it dangerous for humans and spreading disease among bottlenose dolphins and other marine animals. It was an uphill battle to get approval for the STEP hybrid sewer system, which is already serving as a model for other cities with septic pollution problems. (STEP is short for Septic Tank Effluent Pump system.) READ FULL STORY


Views diverge on future development of Vero’s riverfront
week of December 10, 2015

Former mayor Dick Winger and former mayor Pilar Turner could not be farther apart in their views of how best to approach to the future of Vero’s riverfront. Be practical and do what we can realistically afford, Turner says. “This is a wealthy city,” Winger counters. “We can do whatever the public wants. We shouldn’t get confused that money is a problem. Money isn’t a problem.” Winger said the city needs to establish a vision that creates “the best future for Vero Beach”, even if it means going into debt $5 million to move the sewer plant (based on commissioned studies, that is a very low estimate) or $20 million to handle the Big Blue site. “We’ll worry about the money later on.” Winger didn’t detail how much of that money would be rolled into utility rates paid for by all of Vero’s 34,000 utility ratepayers – including residents of Indian River Shores and unincorporated County areas. He suggested that electric rates would remain flat, via creative financing. Though much energy is being spent on brainstorming what recreational amenities or commercial projects could be developed on the site of Big Blue, and its sister parcel to the south where the sewer plant sits, huge financial and logistical obstacles need to be addressed before any of these pie-in-the-sky ideas are undertaken. READ FULL STORY


Shores moves ahead with electric lawsuit against Vero
week of December 10, 2015

Now that a judge has sidestepped the issue of Vero’s electric service territory and referred it to state regulators, the Town of Indian River Shores has narrowed its lawsuit against Vero Beach to two counts, with a new one focusing on the use of public rights of way by utilities. A 20-page amended complaint filed last week by the Town of Indian River Shores also underscored the single count of the original lawsuit not dismissed in November – the count alleging that Vero has breached its current franchise agreement with the Shores by mismanaging its utility and charging unreasonable rates, with the Shores seeking monetary damages. This count – which at some point will almost surely be tried before a jury – will force Vero city officials to prove that rates which soared to 58 percent higher than Florida Power and Light in 2009, and which still hover at close to 30 percent higher than FPL, were and are justified. In her order refusing to dismiss this count, Judge Cynthia Cox wrote “the Town seeks an award of damages in an amount reflecting the difference between the amount the City has charged the Town and the amount the Town would have paid if such rates had been reasonable.” READ FULL STORY


Nor’easters hit beaches harder than Vero has seen for years
week of December 3, 2015

Local beaches have not had time to recover from a rapid succession of Nor’easters, leaving steep drop-offs, and laying bare wooden dune crossovers after this past week’s rough seas. County Coastal Engineer James Gray surveyed the damage Monday afternoon from the storms’ war of attrition against the shoreline, and said after his tour that there was no need for drastic repair measures. He did say a couple of spots need to be closely monitored to make sure there is no further erosion. “In general I observed moderate dune erosion and beach profile lowering to the majority of the county’s shoreline. The most recent strong northeast wind and high surf resulted in two- to three-foot escarpment formation along the upper portion of the berm and in some areas erosion extended several feet into the dune,” Gray said. But it wasn’t this last round of gusty conditions, high seas and a full moon, per se, that made such an impact, Gray said. It was the cumulative effect of this fall’s weather. READ FULL STORY


Creeping vine from Japan threatens to take over beaches
week of December 3, 2015

It’s being called the “Kudzu of the Coast.” Japanese beach vitex, an invasive, salt-tolerant and fast-growing plant that has plagued the Carolinas for a dozen years, has reached Vero’s shores. And just as the nefarious kudzu plant was an “experiment” by government agencies as part of a publicly-funded roadside vegetation project, the vitex species were reportedly introduced onto beaches by scientists tinkering with nature. The intent was good – to rebuild and stabilize the shoreline devastated by hurricanes, including the monster Hurricane Hugo – but a quarter-century later, the plant is now making engineers all over the Southeastern United States scratch their heads wondering how to get rid of it. Castaway Cove resident Debbie Hernandez first noticed the plant, which she describes as “bright green with waxy leaves and purplish-pinkish flowers,” growing under her dune crossover. She didn’t think much of it at first, and thought the flowers were attractive, but every time she returned to Vero after travels, she noticed the plant was thriving. READ FULL STORY


Hundreds attend mass for ‘Joey,’ the face of Bobby’s
week of December 3, 2015

No one who knew Joe Kazen, the general manager at Bobby’s Restaurant for 34 years, was surprised at the standing-room-only turnout for his funeral mass at St. Helen Catholic Church two Mondays ago. “There were people at the church I hadn’t seen in 25 years, and I think that says a lot about him,” said Bobby McCarthy, owner of the popular Vero Beach establishment where Kazen worked since its opening in 1981. “I can’t think of anybody who wasn’t there. “He lived here a long time and knew a lot of people, and as long as I knew him, I never met anyone who didn’t like him,” he added. “He was just a nice guy, a friendly guy, and he was a big part of the success of this business. “I could take off for a vacation and the place never missed a beat.” Kazen, 62, died at his Vero Beach home on Nov. 14 after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer, leaving behind his wife of 25 years, Shannon, and sons Joey, Matt and Chris. He was buried Nov. 23 after a private, family-only service at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach. READ FULL STORY


Will new Mayor Kramer steer Vero Council back to the right?
week of December 3, 2015

With Jay Kramer back in the Vero Beach mayor’s chair, political observers are wondering how his leadership will be affected by his effort to move up from the City Council to a seat on the Indian River County Commission. Will he vote with outgoing mayor Dick Winger and Randy Old, who was elected vice mayor at the council’s organizational meeting? Or will he vote with Council members Pilar Turner and newcomer Harry Howle in an effort to appease GOP budget hawks? Though Kramer’s technically mayor for the next 12 months, the first eight are critical as they lead up to a Republican primary against incumbent and fellow Central Beach resident Commissioner Bob Solari. The two men have been on opposing sides of most important issues since Kramer was swept into City Hall in 2010 with the slate of candidates favoring sale of Vero electric, but then became the standard-bearer of the contingent that argued the municipal utility could not and would not be sold to Florida Power and Light. READ FULL STORY


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