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Assisted living residents finally getting vaccine
week of January 21, 2021

Six weeks after long-term care facilities were given top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than a month after the first vaccines were authorized for use, residents and staff of Indian River County assisted living facilities are finally getting inoculated in significant numbers. Monday morning, a team from Walgreens arrived for the first of three vaccination clinics scheduled at Pelican Landing Assisted Living and Memory Care, a 100-bed facility on U.S. 1 in Sebastian. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said the community’s executive director, Kim Sviben. Sonata Senior Living in Vero was also getting vaccines Monday, with follow-up clinics on Feb. 8 and March 1. Sonata runs more than 20 facilities in the state and has partnered with both CVS and Walgreens to deliver the vaccines. In Vero, it was Walgreens giving the jabs this week. “For the amount of residents we have, it’s moving really good,” said Sonata’s concierge, Savannah Brown. “All the residents have been coming down, everything’s going really smooth and everybody’s doing good.” READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases here lowest since New Year’s
week of January 21, 2021

New COVID-19 cases in the county were down significantly last week from the previous two weeks and the daily hospitalization rate remained stable in the mid to high 30s, with more than one-third of the beds in intensive-care units available. The daily positivity rate of COVID-19 testing here was below 10 percent five out of the past seven days – the lowest it has been since New Year’s. The good news, however, was offset by a puzzling spike in the number of cases in the public schools. No school officials could be reached by phone, text or email for comment on the surge because of the Martin Luther King holiday. Meanwhile, the barrier island saw an uptick in cases as 32 more 32963 residents tested positive, bringing the total of island dwellers who have had the virus to 568. Countywide, 8,768 people have tested positive since last March and 564 have been hospitalized. Deaths from complications of COVID-19 exceeded last week’s record of 16, with 18 newly reported in the seven days prior to press time Monday, bringing the county’s coronavirus death toll to 196. READ FULL STORY


Public schools here experience worst week since start of pandemic with 50 new cases
week of January 21, 2021

A student and a staff member at Beachland Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 and 10 students quarantined as Indian River County public schools experienced their worst week of the pandemic with 50 new cases. Countywide, 37 students and 13 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14, the last day the school district posted an update on its website. The 50 cases overall during the seven-day period doubled the previous high of 25 during the week of Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, district records show. Another 370 students and five staff members were directed to quarantine between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14 after coming in close contact with people who tested positive. COVID-19 cases spiked at Sebastian River High School, where 13 students tested positive for the virus and 120 students were directed to quarantine. That compares to 20 cases during the entire first half of the school year. The number of COVID-19 cases at Rosewood Magnet School more than doubled between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14 as six students and three staff members tested positive for the virus. Another 78 students and one staff member quarantined. READ FULL STORY


Not going to see this racing through Vero before 2023
week of January 21, 2021

Indian River County residents won’t face any danger or inconvenience posed by Brightline’s high-speed passenger trains until at least 2023. Confirming what has seemed obvious to many observers, Brightline says it will not be able to meet its goal of starting train service between West Palm and Orlando in 2022. The company now hopes to complete track construction and start test runs by late 2022 and begin service sometime in 2023. Brightline has completed nearly half the work on 170 miles of new high-speed tracks between Orlando and West Palm Beach, railroad spokeswoman Katie Mitzner said Friday. “We are looking to complete the tracks in the last quarter of 2022,” Mitzner told the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. “We will then begin the Federal Railroad Administration testing and expect to have regular service starting in 2023.” Brightline began service between Miami and West Palm in 2018 but shut that route down last March at the onset of the pandemic. The company’s passenger trains have not operated since then. READ FULL STORY


Deputy, fired here for pepper-spraying inmate, once handcuffed Mike Wallace after traffic stop
week of January 21, 2021

The corrections deputy arrested and fired by the Sheriff’s Office last week for pepper-spraying an inmate three times during a December dispute at the county jail lost his first law-enforcement job after a headline-grabbing incident in 2004 in New York. While working as an inspector for New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, Keefe Roman arrested and handcuffed CBS News icon Mike Wallace – of “60 Minutes” fame – after a traffic stop outside a Manhattan restaurant. The commission dropped a disorderly conduct charge against Wallace, then 86, after an in-house investigation determined the two inspectors on the scene made errors in judgment and that Roman hadn’t yet been authorized by the New York Police Department to make arrests and write summonses. After issuing an apology to Wallace for its agents acting “somewhat overzealously,” a commission spokesman told the New York Times that Roman and his partner, veteran inspector Richard Mattaliano, “could have chosen other better options.” Roman, a 23-year-old rookie inspector with only “provisional” status at the time, was taken off the streets, assigned to a communications dispatch position and, according to the New York Post, was promised by his supervisors that his job was safe. READ FULL STORY


Vero seeks development pitches for riverfront project
week of January 21, 2021

After meeting informally with developers since October, the City of Vero Beach will issue a Request for Qualifications so that anyone hoping to develop portions of the riverfront utility sites frequently referred to as the “Three Corners” can make their pitch. Different from a Request for Proposals, the applicants will not compete in a bidding process, but should demonstrate the experience, resources and references to show they could credibly tackle developing all or a portion of the 38-acre riverfront parcels. City Manager Monte Falls also said the project needs a much better name than Three Corners, so hopefully casting for proposals will net a winner. Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee has spent the last few months narrowing down what it wants included in the development, working from a version of the master plan designed by consultant Andres Duany of DPZ Co. in June 2020. Duany scaled down his maximum-development master concept plan somewhat, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the local economy and the hotel industry, as well as on large-group activities and indoor dining and drinking establishments. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores says it likely will leave Vero water-sewer utility in 2027
week of January 21, 2021

Indian River Shores Councilman John McCord told Vero Beach officials last week that the town will likely leave the Vero water-sewer utility in 2027, potentially crippling plans to move the sewer plant off the river. McCord recommended a solution to this threat of losing a sizable chunk of the city’s customer base and revenues – merge with Indian River County Utilities. But Vero says consolidation is a non-starter and would cost more than relocating wastewater treatment operations to the Vero Beach Regional Airport. This discussion takes place amid a pending breach of contract suit between the Shores and Vero over utility rates. McCord, who joined the Shores town council in November, is a retired energy executive with decades of high-level experience in utility regulatory matters. He was recruited to run for office to help negotiate the water-sewer dispute with Vero. The Shores could be serious about terminating the franchise, or it could be angling to cut a deal – like it did in 2012 when the town council chose Vero over Indian River County Utilities in exchange for major rate reductions. READ FULL STORY


Vaccine or placebo? Pfizer trial participant waits to find out
week of January 14, 2021

Janet Hornreich Winikoff, like thousands of other residents of our county, is waiting to find out her status regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. For her, though, the big question is not when she will be able to get vaccinated – but whether she already has been. Sometime between now and March 1, Winikoff, who volunteered for the clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, expects to find out whether the shots she got last summer were syringes full of vaccine or only salt water. If it was the vaccine, Winikoff may be the first person in Indian River County to have gained immunity against COVID-19 without contracting the disease. So far, all she knows for sure is that a needle was jabbed into her arm – twice. The first time was in August. She got up that morning at 4 a.m. and drove two hours north to DeLand, where staff with a firm called Accel Research Sites spent an hour asking questions, taking her vitals, giving her a blood test and swabbing her for COVID-19. They explained how to log into a COVID-19 diary app once a week and report how she was feeling and whether she had any symptoms. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases shatter pandemic records for county
week of January 14, 2021

The past week saw more pandemic records shattered here with 874 new coronavirus cases – including 71 new cases on the barrier island –and 16 deaths from complications of COVID-19. With an average of 125 new infections daily, the weekly case total was 8.7 percent higher than the previous week. For comparison, an average of 55 people per day tested positive during the surge in July. Hospitalizations eased slightly, but still ranged from 38 to 46 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, topping peak summer surge numbers. Local seniors continued to struggle for vaccine appointments and did not mind lining up to get the shot at the Indian River County Fairgrounds, and at Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s vaccine distribution centers. Steward Sebastian River Medical Center got its first shipment of vaccine last week for its frontline caregivers, according to Florida Department of Health vaccine distribution reports. State reports show that nearly 5,000 Indian River County residents have been vaccinated, so roughly one in 30 locals. More than 5,000 shots actually have been given here, but the report only captures permanent residents. READ FULL STORY


Antibody treatment available here for high-risk patients
week of January 14, 2021

A COVID-19 treatment that may help high-risk patients avoid having to go to the hospital has arrived in Vero Beach just as hospitalizations are approaching record levels in the county. The monoclonal antibody treatment with a tongue-twister name – bamlanivimab – is now available in Indian River County through a Vero clinic that participated in a trial of the drug. The FDA granted bamlanivimab emergency use authorization for high-risk patients who are at early stages of the disease. Whole Family Health Center, believed to be the only site in the county to offer the drug, has given six COVID-19 patients infusions of the drug since the emergency authorization and another 14 before that as part of the study, according to Dr. Gerald Pierone, an infectious disease doctor who oversaw the clinical trial. “I expect to be doing three daily soon,” he said. Pierone received an initial shipment of 14 vials through the state’s pharmacy in the first week of January, and is scheduled for regular weekly shipments, he said. “We should have enough doses to meet the demand,” he said. “We’re trying to build up to be able to treat two or three people per day if necessary.” READ FULL STORY


Keeping seniors out of hospital best way to fight COVID-19
week of January 14, 2021

The most important reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of barrier island seniors as swiftly and efficiently as possible is that, of all the tools available in the fight against the virus, vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness and death. Local residents age 65 and older make up only 23 percent of total positive COVID-19 countywide cases, but those same patients account for 65 percent of hospitalizations and 84 percent of deaths. Fewer than 5,000 Indian River County residents have been vaccinated so far, but every person who does not land in the emergency room or the ICU helps relieve pressure on the county’s two hospitals. During the summer COVID-19 surge, the daily count of hospitalizations here fluctuated from the mid-teens to the mid-20s. On Dec. 30, that number topped out at 55 current hospitalizations – with 34 of those patients in the two COVID-19 units at Cleveland Clinic Indian River. Even with those high numbers, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesman Scott Samples said “we continue to have capacity to admit COVID-19 patients.” READ FULL STORY


No post-holiday COVID-19 spike, so far, at public schools
week of January 14, 2021

Holiday travel and gatherings during the two-week winter recess so far have not caused a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Indian River County public schools. In fact, the first week back saw the fewest number of new COVID-19 cases since October, with just five students and one staff member testing positive for COVID-19 so far in 2021. Another 50 students were directed to quarantine because they had been in close contact with people diagnosed with the virus, the district says. Approximately 200 additional students returned to class in person last week for the second semester, joining some 10,000 students already studying in district classrooms, according to School Superintendent David Moore. But the district doesn’t expect many more students to return from the virtual schooling programs this year, Moore said. “At this point in the year, it’s pretty safe to say if they’re not already back, they’re going to want to stay there,” Moore said about the students taking classes via computer. Two students at Fellsmere Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 and 11 students were quarantined last Thursday, according to the school district. READ FULL STORY


Major golf and tennis charity events here altered in response to pandemic
week of January 14, 2021

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases locally has prompted organizers of three of Vero’s popular annual, sports-related fundraising events to change their plans – but only the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation golf outing has been canceled. Tom Fish, president of his son Mardy’s foundation, said last week the organization decided to scrap this year’s event, which was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18 at Windsor, for public-safety reasons. “It was a difficult decision, because the golf event is our second-biggest fundraiser,” Fish said, “but considering what’s going on, we didn’t want to risk the health and safety everyone involved – our sponsors, the players, volunteers – or the community at large.” Mardy Fish, the former top-10 tennis player and current U.S. Davis Cup captain who created the Vero Beach-based foundation, will be returning to town, anyway, to prepare for next weekend’s Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity golf tournament in Lake Buena Vista. One of the world’s top celebrity golfers, Mardy Fish won the tournament in 2018, and there were concerns he might not be able to play this year if he became infected during his foundation’s event. READ FULL STORY


Royal Palm Pointe businesses ‘on an upswing’ after 2020 lull
week of January 14, 2021

Royal Palm Pointe businesses say things are finally picking up after a lull that began along with the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The former causeway and bridgehead to the barrier island has become a popular shopping and dining locale with a mix of restaurants, retail shops, single-family homes and businesses. Its location puts it in close proximity to both beachside and downtown destinations. But the ordinarily bustling corridor was a ghost town immediately following the COVID-19-related closures last spring, with “traffic” reduced to walkers and their four-legged friends out for some fresh air. Fortunately, most business owners along the chic spit of land soon got their sea legs and figured out how to meet their customers’ needs while keeping them safe. Royal Palm Framing owner Jessica Myers says the shop has been in its current location for close to 40 years, and while they’ve seen a slight decrease in business, they’ve also had quite a few customers come in to frame their COVID art – paintings, puzzles and needlepoint created while quarantining or sheltering at home to avoid infection. READ FULL STORY


Frustration as thousands here seek scarce vaccinations
week of January 7, 2021

Forget vaccine clinics. What the county’s 65-and-over population really needs now are blood pressure clinics, after last week’s first public offering of the COVID-19 vaccine turned into a frenzy of futile phone calls – at a rate of several thousand per hour – to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s vaccine appointment line. The deluge of calls along with a short supply of the vaccine ended up frustrating or even infuriating hundreds if not thousands of Vero Beach seniors seeking protection from the virus. At the same time, there were tears of joy at the Indian River County fairgrounds Saturday as, one by one, the fortunate 500 people who did manage to sign up to be vaccinated by a team from Treasure Coast Community Health pulled over and parked next to idling ambulances in case they had a reaction to the vaccine. The required 15-minute wait gave them a chance to absorb not just the vaccine, but a first ray of hope that the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases set another record here
week of January 7, 2021

Indian River County did not start off 2021 on the right foot in terms of COVID-19 statistics, setting new weekly records as 804 additional people tested positive for the coronavirus, including 56 on the barrier island. The county’s average daily case count of 114 over the past week was more than double the average of 55 cases per day during the July summer surge. The rate of positives discovered among those tested for the virus last week ranged as high as a whopping 26.42 percent on Dec. 28, with the typical day reporting between 14 percent and 15 percent positive. For a span of several months, that number had almost never reached double digits. Thirty-seven people were newly hospitalized in the week before press time Monday, and the daily count of people hospitalized crept up past 50 at times and hovered in the mid-40s much of the week. Tragically, the deaths of six people from complications of COVID-19 were reported. READ FULL STORY


What you need to know about rollout of COVID vaccines
week of January 7, 2021

Confused, or even frustrated about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout? You are not alone. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it became the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s job to educate healthcare workers about every aspect of the vaccines – from a rundown of what’s in them and how they work, to practical handling instructions, side-effect tracking and follow-up care. In addition to the CDC’s online training courses for those administering the two vaccines, the agency holds Zoom seminars and fields questions from doctors, nurses and caregivers from all over the country – and even these professionals have lots and lots of questions. Vero Beach 32963 staffers have been taking these online training courses and listening in to the Zoom seminars to learn what our readers need to know. READ FULL STORY


45 new COVID-19 cases reported in county schools despite holiday break
week of January 7, 2021

A holiday break provided no respite from the spread of COVID-19 to students and educators at schools throughout Indian River County as the state Health Department reported 45 new cases last week. A total of 32 students, one staff member and 12 unknown people associated with 20 public and private schools in the county tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26. That compared to 47 cases involving 41 students, three staff members and three unknown people during the week of Dec. 13 through Dec. 19, the last week before winter recess. Overall, there have been 355 cases of COVID-19 in 33 public and private schools in Indian River County during the first half of the school year, according to the report. The virus has infected 277 students, 23 staff members and 55 unknown people. A student at St. Edward’s School tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of Dec. 20 to Dec. 26, bringing the total number of cases at the barrier island prep school to 12, the report shows. READ FULL STORY


Hawk’s Nest golf course now ranked one of Florida’s best
week of January 7, 2021

For the first time since The Moorings acquired financially troubled Hawk’s Nest in 2015, the mainland golf course ranks among the best in the state of Florida, according to at least one influential golf industry website. Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings was No. 30 in Top100GolfCourses.com’s recently released, biennial rankings of Florida’s 1,300 courses. “Without question, the Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings is the best course in Florida I had never heard of,” wrote Marc Bender, who runs three golf-related businesses in the state and serves as a rater on Top100’s course review team. “I was shocked at what a solid and balanced test of golf this wonderful Florida course represents.” The Moorings Golf Director Bob Gruber said Bender’s reaction was typical of golfers who play the 18-hole, championship-caliber Hawk’s Nest course for the first time. Indeed, he said he fully expects the course, which has been refurbished but not redesigned since becoming a part of The Moorings Yacht & Country Club, to start appearing in other golf publications’ rankings. READ FULL STORY


High-ranking Sheriff’s Office official, cleared of criminal wrongdoing, retires
week of January 7, 2021

A report from the state attorney's office last month revealed that then Undersheriff Jim Harpring was investigated in late 2020 for possible criminal wrongdoing after he intervened to let a “family friend” change an answer about his drug use on an application for a deputy's job. Harpring, who has since left the Sheriff's Office, insisted administrative personnel let deputy candidate Tanner Glass change his application to state that he had used drugs less often and not as recently as he originally stated, allowing his application to be approved. Glass was conditionally hired by the Sheriff’s Office and is attending the law enforcement academy at Eastern Florida State College in Brevard County. Sheriff-elect – now sheriff – Eric Flowers referred the matter to state prosecutors, who cleared Harpring of criminal wrongdoing but painted a troubling portrait of the incident in their report, raising questions about Harping’s tactics and the extent to which he intervened in the matter. READ FULL STORY


Brightline restarts work on high-speed rail tracks here
week of January 7, 2021

Brightline contractors resumed work Monday clearing brush near the 49th Street railroad crossing in Gifford after taking a holiday break since Christmas Eve. HSR Constructors deployed a John Deere 245G LC mid-size excavator in the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way as Brightline prepares to upgrade the tracks to handle high-speed passenger trains. Brightline envisions running as many as 34 passenger trains per day on dual tracks through Indian River County at speeds of up to 110 mph by late 2022. The 170-mile-long project involves 925 construction workers building new high-speed tracks from Orlando to Cocoa and upgrading the FECR tracks from Cocoa to West Palm Beach. The extension includes the construction of a new $1 million concrete railroad bridge across the South Canal near the 4th Street railroad crossing in South Vero. HSR Constructors is using a massive crane whose boom towers above the Woodlawn Manor mobile home park to install a temporary work trestle for cranes on the east side of the FECR bridge. READ FULL STORY


2020:The Year of Living Pandemically
week of December 31, 2020

It developed with breathtaking rapidity. Last New Year’s Eve, all we knew was that a pneumonia-like illness had broken out in Wuhan, a huge city most of us had never heard of in China. Had something to do, we were told, with a fish market, or with bats. Just a month later, the World Health Organization was declaring a global public-health emergency. By mid-February, the disease – a novel coronavirus – had an official name: COVID-19. Before another 30 days passed, WHO was declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. By the end of March, the United States had more confirmed cases than any other country in the world. But still, the coronavirus wasn’t here in Indian River County. Or was it?In fact, it may have arrived in February, north of Sebastian on the campus of a family-run Christian mission that sprawls across sandy acreage that has eluded developers for decades. That possible early case last February never made it into state records of COVID-19 cases. But a later positive test for virus antibodies almost certainly points to the early, undetected infection. READ FULL STORY


Pharmacies await vaccine shipments so shots can begin
week of December 31, 2020

As Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, the state Health Department and major pharmacies ramp up COVID-19 vaccination programs, Corey’s Pharmacy and its island customers anxiously await their turn. “Most patients who contact us are looking for it and they want it immediately,” said Mark Frankenberger, owner of Corey’s Pharmacy, 2912 Ocean Drive. “I would take a dose immediately, if I could get one, just to build up immunity.” Corey’s Pharmacy enrolled in the state Health Department’s vaccination program so it would be ready to serve patients as soon they qualify for vaccines, Frankenberger said Monday. “Now we’re just waiting to see when they get it and how they move it along,” Frankenberger said. “That’s unknown at this point. We have no idea if that will be tomorrow, or it will be March or April.” The first phase of vaccines will go only to healthcare workers with direct patient contact, long-term care facility residents and staffers, seniors age 65 and older, and workers deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to interacting with the public, under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Dec. 23 executive order. READ FULL STORY


Deputy was facing suspension when he shot doc’s wife
week of December 31, 2020

Seven weeks before he responded to an attempted-suicide call and fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in her home, the same sheriff’s deputy was involved in an arrest for which he was later suspended for using excessive force that resulted in a suspect’s concussion. The suspension, however, wasn’t imposed on Deputy Jonathan Lozada until the Sheriff’s Office completed an in-house investigation of the earlier incident – three months after the highly publicized shooting of Susan Teel. The attorneys representing Dr. Dudley Teel, who has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and Lozada, say the deputy should have been placed on administrative leave, or at least removed from road-patrol duty, until the investigation was concluded. Todd Norbraten, an attorney with the Stuart-based Rubin & Rubin law firm, said Lozada would not have been on duty the night the Teel family called 911 for help if Sheriff Deryl Loar had “taken the appropriate steps” after the deputy used excessive force to subdue an uncooperative suspect during a traffic stop in June 2017. READ FULL STORY


Farmers Market Oceanside, Art in the Park both on comeback trail
week of December 31, 2020

Ocean Drive bustled with activity in the weeks leading up to Christmas. If you popped over for a bit of shopping on a weekend morning, you more than likely had to circle the block a time or two to find a parking space. Last year at this time, most folks would have grumbled under their breath about that inconvenience. But not this year. This year, parking problems are a welcome sign that things are picking up, especially for vendors at the weekly Saturday morning Farmers Market Oceanside and the twice monthly Art in the Park Fine Arts & Crafts Show on Sundays. When the Farmers Market shut down in March, along with much of the rest of the local economy, vendors adapted and offered pickup service at the Riverside Theatre “loop,” with customers ordering online and then driving through to get their produce. When the theater reopened, the market stopped offering drive-through pickup and shifted to home delivery, allowing customers to place orders on Thursdays for Saturday delivery – a service that is still available. READ FULL STORY


DeSantis: CDC vaccine priority makes no sense
week of December 24, 2020

With the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines now in hand to help protect front-line healthcare workers and long-term care residents against COVID-19, public health officials turned their attention to the next big question: When can seniors, including many residents of Vero’s barrier island, get vaccinated? The CDC came up with a complex answer to the prioritization question last weekend, but Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t like it. So Florida on Wednesday went its own way, boosting seniors ahead of younger people in high-risk jobs in the vaccination queue. A panel of doctors appointed by the CDC to recommend population groups for a phased national vaccination decided on Sunday that people age 75 and older, and front-line essential workers such as teachers, corrections officers, postal workers, public transit workers, grocery store workers and people involved in commercial food production, would get the vaccine next. After that, people age 65 to 74, younger people with serious medical conditions putting them at high risk, and a broad category of “essential workers,” including police officers, utility workers, officers of the court, and those who work in public safety, transportation, construction, food service and even the media. READ FULL STORY


Surge in COVID-19 cases sees pandemic total here top 6,000
week of December 24, 2020

The dreaded post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 infections finally arrived here this week, setting several local records for the pandemic including 30 new cases on the barrier island and the total for Indian River County since the start of the pandemic topping 6,000. Countywide, there were 422 new cases this past week, for an average of 60.3 cases per day, breaking the previous record average of 55 cases per day in July. We also had a one-day record of 106 new cases reported last Friday, topping the previous worst day when 83 new cases were recorded, also in July. High school and college-age people, and those in the 55 to 64 age group, continue to account for the most infections, according to state reports. The past week also saw four days when the case positivity rate ranged between 8.5 percent and 10 percent, which is significantly higher than the typical daily rate over the past five months. Reports of six people who died of COVID-19 complications were released over the past seven days, bringing the total dead here to 153, of whom 78 were residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 spreading faster in county public schools
week of December 24, 2020

County public schools experienced their worst week of the school year for COVID-19 infections as 22 students and three staff members tested positive. The 25 cases during the week of Dec. 14 to Dec. 20 were two more than the previous high of 23 during the week of Nov. 9 to Nov. 15, school district records show. Dec. 14 was the worst day of the school year for COVID-19 as 11 students and two staff members tested positive, while 66 students were directed to quarantine. The previous high was 10 cases on Nov. 10, when seven students and three staff members tested positive for the virus, records show. That resulted in 96 students and one staff member quarantining. Overall, a total of 130 students and 39 staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19 on 21 campuses since the school year started Aug. 24. Another 1,344 students and 30 staff members have been directed to quarantine. The number of COVID-19 cases in the school district more than tripled in the second quarter, which ended Dec. 18, compared to the first quarter, which ended Oct. 25. READ FULL STORY


Kids still send letters by snailmail to Santa
week of December 24, 2020

Do children still handwrite and mail old-fashioned letters to Santa Claus? Or in the texting era, has that beloved tradition gone the way of the 6-cent first-class stamp? Here in Indian River County, the answer is, “Yes, they still send letters.” In fact, enough flow in each year that the post office here has two “elves” on staff to respond on Santa’s behalf to kids’ pleas. Whether the letters are addressed to Santa Claus at The North Pole or the post office’s official address for Santa at 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888, the letters mailed in Vero Beach all end up at the downtown post office, where Postal Elves Jacklyn Lisotte and Jackie Roberts carefully craft, decorate and mail responses to waiting children. Based on Vero Beach 32963’s Yuletide investigation, letters to Santa from local children contain a mixture of funny, straight-forward, heartwarming and heart-breaking requests. They ranged this year from a crayon scrawled plea for the return of a missing Elf on the Shelf from a child who feared Christmas would be canceled if the elf did not reappear, to a multipage, single-spaced, neatly numbered line-item “Christmas Wish List,” including description, brand and price of each item the child was hoping for. READ FULL STORY


Piper’s high-end aircraft sales strong; no pandemic layoffs
week of December 24, 2020

More than nine months into the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Piper Aircraft’s workforce at the company’s Vero Beach headquarters is down only slightly from the start of 2020 – and there have been no layoffs. According to Jackie Carlon, Piper’s senior director of marketing and communications, the company currently employs 940 people, down from between 980 and 1,000 in January. “I don’t know of any manufacturer that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic, but we’ve been doing OK,” Carlon said last week. “All of the workforce reductions we’ve seen this year have been through attrition. We’ve actually filled openings when and where they’ve been needed.” Carlon said the company’s leadership has successfully navigated the COVID-19 turbulence by continuously monitoring the global aircraft sales market and making adjustments to Piper’s production and delivery schedule. Although Piper reduced its production schedule by 17 percent – the company built 290 airplanes in 2019 and only 240 this year – most of the cuts were in the less-expensive trainer aircraft lines, she said. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach City Council sharply divided on stormwater tax
week of December 24, 2020

The Vero Beach City Council voted 3-2 on Dec. 15 to take another step toward assessing a stormwater utility tax next fall. Those voting “yes” said they are not obligated to actually charge the tax in 2021, or to charge it every year if the money is not needed. But Mayor Robbie Brackett called them out on this hogwash. “I think we’re kidding ourselves if we say we’re not going to do this,” Brackett said. “I think we’re kidding ourselves if we say we’re going to waive it some years.” Brackett solidly opposes imposing a stormwater utility tax during the coronavirus pandemic when businesses are struggling. He has challenged the city staff to come up with innovative solutions that do not burden the taxpayer, instead of “just throwing money at” the problem of stormwater runoff. “I’ve talked to business owners and they’re scared to death of this [tax],” Brackett said. Councilman Joe Graves, who previously voted in favor of the stormwater utility, changed his vote last week after being inundated by calls and emails from Vero’s business owners and others who oppose a new tax. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach, Shores begin incurring major legal fees in utility dispute
week of December 24, 2020

The Town of Indian River Shores served Vero Mayor Robbie Brackett with a breach of contract lawsuit last week after months of talks between Town Manager Joe Griffin and City Manager Monte Falls about utility rates proved fruitless. Now, both sides will begin incurring major legal fees. Indian River Shores has paid nearly $12,000 so far to local firm Vocelle and Berg, but as Vero water-sewer utility ratepayers, Shores residents will pay not only for their own attorney, but for part of the cost of Vero’s attorney, too. Vero’s interests are being represented by Thomas Cloud, who heads up the Utilities Division for Gray Robinson, one of the state’s biggest law firms. According to each law firm’s engagement letters, the Shores is paying Paul Berg $350 per hour and Vero is paying Cloud at least $250 per hour plus expenses. The crux of the lawsuit is the rate Vero charges per 1,000 gallons of reuse irrigation water, and whether or not Vero was obligated to reduce that rate from 67 cents to 21 cents in January 2019 when Indian River County reduced its rate. READ FULL STORY


Village Beach Market, hit by more delays, now hoping for mid-January reopening
week of December 24, 2020

Island residents won’t be shopping at the Village Beach Market until mid-January, if not later. Store owner Jason Keen said the second phase of a $2.5 million remodeling project, which began in August and was expected to be completed by early October, has been bogged down by coronavirus-related construction and equipment-delivery delays. Those delays prompted several employees to seek other jobs and, two weeks ago, forced Keen to lay off 40 percent of what was left of his staff. He said he hopes to keep his remaining 20 employees on the payroll, so they can help restock the store and prepare for a grand reopening. “I didn’t want to lay anyone off, and I hated having to do it right before the holidays, but we were anticipating a six-week delay and now it’s going to be at least 12 weeks,” Keen said. Keen said the first six-week delay pushed his reopening date to Dec. 12, which would’ve allowed the store to resume business in time for the holidays. But the COVID-19 pandemic continued to slow the pace of permitting, construction and equipment deliveries needed to complete the job. READ FULL STORY


NAACP, School Board agree on more meetings and progress reports in desegregation case
week of December 24, 2020

The Indian River County NAACP and the School Board agreed to meet more often and collaborate on court-ordered progress reports in an effort to improve the academic performance of African-American students and resolve a 53-year-old federal desegregation order. But the quarterly report being submitted to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams won’t include key test scores and disciplinary data from the end of last school year and the beginning of this school year because the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional in-class teaching. The deadline for the report was pushed back to December from September because of the pandemic. NAACP leaders met last Tuesday with the School Board, which features two new members who campaigned on resolving the desegregation case, to discuss how to work together in 2021. The School Board and NAACP leaders agreed the December report should include an update on the district’s efforts to recruit and retain African-American teachers. The report will also list steps the school district has undertaken to improve the academic performance of African-American students, but it won’t include data that would indicate whether the efforts have improved results. READ FULL STORY


No Thanksgiving spike seen here in COVID-19 cases
week of December 17, 2020

The feared post-Thanksgiving spike in new COVID-19 infections has not shown itself in Indian River County as numbers stayed nearly the same as the previous week, and after two high-count weeks for island cases, the 32963 ZIP code posted a 30 percent decrease. Countywide, 285 positive coronavirus test results were reported in the seven days leading up to Monday press time, versus 276 cases the previous week, pushing the daily case average up just slightly from 39 to 40 cases per day. By comparison, Indian River County’s peak this summer topped out at 55 cases per day, or 375 cases in our worst week. Twenty-two people were hospitalized for complications of COVID-19 over the past week – the same number as in the previous week – and 19 people were currently hospitalized at Monday press time. One third of the county’s 30 staffed intensive-care beds are available. Five people succumbed to COVID-19 in the past week, this grim statistic also tracking the same as the previous week, with the cumulative number of people who have died locally totaling 147 as of Monday’s reporting, 74 of those deaths being long-term care facility residents. Of Florida’s deaths, 38 percent have been nursing home and assisted-living community residents. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach anxiously awaits arrival of first doses of coronavirus vaccine
week of December 17, 2020

The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were injected into thousands of arms of frontline healthcare workers in Tampa, Gainesville and Jacksonville this week. But as this issue went to press, Indian River County officials had not been told how many doses they would be receiving, or when to expect a shipment of vaccine. AdventHealth Central Florida in Orlando was set to get its first shipment of the ultra-cold vaccine on Tuesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis was on-hand in Tampa to sign for the first 20,000 doses as they rolled off a Federal Express truck. About an hour later, he watched as one of the first shots was given to a nurse from Tampa General’s COVID unit. Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris called the delivery “twenty-thousand doses of hope.” DeSantis expressed the hope the vaccine will be a “game changer” for keeping infections and hospitalizations under control in Florida. He said he expects the first 365,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive in Florida next Monday if that vaccine gets Food and Drug Administration emergency approval Friday after a key meeting on Thursday, Dec. 17. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 quarantine time is cut for Indian River public school students
week of December 17, 2020

Quarantine periods can be cut to as little as seven days for Indian River County public school students and staff members who test negative for COVID-19 and present no symptoms. The school district reduced quarantine periods to 7-to-10 days from 14 days pursuant to revised guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control, said Schools Superintendent David Moore. The rapid return process calls for a quarantined student or staff member to take a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 on the sixth day after exposure and go back to school on the seventh day, if the test results turn out negative, Moore said. Otherwise, students and staff members can return to school after the 10th day of quarantine without taking a test, if they’ve experienced no symptoms, Moore said. “We are currently working with students that are under the umbrella of quarantine right now to get them the information they need so if there’s an opportunity for them to return early, then let’s get them back to school,” Moore told the School Board. READ FULL STORY


Indigo Vero Beach: Luxury development coming to oceanfront
week of December 17, 2020

A major new oceanfront development is coming to the barrier island in 2021. It sits on a spectacular and historic piece of land just inside the northern boundary of Vero Beach, and is twice as large as Surf Club, the most recent oceanfront home project completed in the city. Indigo Vero Beach, located on four acres behind the 7-Eleven, will bring to market 15 detached villas and 6 ultra-luxe modernist condos with a total listing value of about $60 million, according to Yane Zana, managing partner of the development company. “We have been working on these plans for a while,” Zana told Vero Beach 32963. “We should be getting our approved site plan from the city within a month or so and plan to break ground in about four months.” “We are anticipating an excellent project,” said Vero Beach Planning a Development Director Jason Jeffries, who has reviewed preliminary plans. “[Zana] has done good work in the city in the past.” Pre-construction prices at Indigo will range from $2 million for ocean-view villas to $3.2 million for larger oceanfront villas. Condos will be priced from $2.5 million to $3 million, according to Zana. Condos will be 3,500 square feet while villas will weigh in at either 3,000 or 3,500 square feet. READ FULL STORY


Financing is challenge for riverfront project
week of December 17, 2020

Developers have told Vero Beach it might take three to five years for the retail and hospitality market to rebound enough to secure financing on a major hotel, dining, shopping and entertainment complex on the city’s power plant and sewer plant sites – unless the city holds the note on the project itself. Residential multifamily developments are what the market wants now, they say. But that’s not the vision city leaders have for the prime riverfront property. Instead, they envision it as a hub of commercial and recreational activity, a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, and even a destination of historic significance that gives Vero Beach the thriving riverfront district it now lacks. Marina projects are also doable right now, developers said. The city was planning to only provide day docks at the Big Blue site, however, in part because a $20 million marina revamp is already in process across the river at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina. With that information on hand and an April deadline to finalize the riverfront master plan city residents will vote on next November, Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee has set some concrete goals for its progress and is in search of developers who can bring money to the table and make the plan a reality sooner rather than latter. READ FULL STORY


Report: Indian River County has best lagoon water quality
week of December 17, 2020

Water quality in the lagoon in Indian River County is better than anywhere else along the 156-mile waterway, according to the third annual lagoon health report card issued by the Palm Bay-based Marine Resources Council. And there is more good news. The lagoon as whole has seen a slight improvement in water quality since last year's annual check-up, according to the Council, which crunched some 25 years of monitoring data collected by the state to reach its conclusions. The bad news is the estuary's habitat quality – as measured by sea grass cover – continues to deteriorate. "We found that the water quality trend is steady or improving, but not meeting regulatory targets," said Dr. Leesa Souto, the council's executive director. "Sea grasses are continuing to decline." Water quality scores for each of the 156-mile-long lagoon's 10 regions, which stretch from New Smyrna Beach south to Jupiter, are calculated by amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients that feed algae blooms); turbidity (a measure of the water's cloudiness); and the amount of chlorophyll-A (algae) in the water. Those measurements are awarded a score of between 0 (terrible) and 100 (excellent), with a score of at least 80 needed to meet the state's target. READ FULL STORY


County appeals again in industrial property rights saga
week of December 17, 2020

Indian River County appears poised to appeal a marathon property rights case involving a controversial industrial project all the way to the Florida Supreme Court for a second time. The outcome of the case will influence how Florida’s 67 counties and 400-plus municipalities handle property rights claims in the future, the county argued in a legal motion filed in the 4th District Court of Appeals. The motion filed last Thursday seeks to overturn a 4th DCA ruling issued in November that upheld a $3.3 million final judgment in favor Ocean Concrete Inc. and the company’s owner, George Maib. The case is important statewide because “there is no other reported decision on the calculation of damages” under the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act of 1995, the motion says. The county requested a rehearing before the three-judge panel that ruled for Ocean Concrete, or a rehearing before the full 12-judge appeals court in West Palm Beach. The county also asked the 4th DCA to certify the key question in the appeal as “an issue of great public importance” for review by the state Supreme Court. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Municipal Marina renovation moves ahead
week of December 17, 2020

Vero’s $20 million master plan to renovate and modernize its municipal marina moved forward last week when the city received design and permit documents from project engineers Coastal Tech – a major step in the process. A recently released $350,750 Florida Inland Navigation District grant is in hand to help pay for the design and permitting work, which is a $648,000 line item in the marina’s 2020-2021 budget, according to Marina Director Sean Collins. The progress has been a long time coming. Parts of the marina infrastructure are more than 80 years old, and for many years a series of city councils dithered while the facility fell into increasing disrepair – to the point that a dock collapsed underneath a marina resident when she was walking her dog in 2017, injuring her and dousing the dog. Instead of the gleaming, shipshape nautical facility one would hope for in a place like Vero Beach, incoming boaters were greeted by shabby and poorly maintained buildings with rotting wood and patchworked repairs, out-of-commission restrooms, random piles of lumber and rusting bicycles. READ FULL STORY


Lawnwood Regional Medical Center plans $100 million expansion
week of December 17, 2020

Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital’s large for-profit competitor to the south, Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce, is embarking on a major modernization. Hospital giant HCA Inc., of Nashville, plans to start work in early 2021 on a 92,500-square-foot expansion of Lawnwood including the addition of a new emergency department, increasing the size of the hospital by about 30 percent. The start date is contingent on the Fort Pierce City Commission approving HCA’s proposed rezoning and the site plan for the 22.36-acre hospital campus at 1700 S. 23rd St. The final public hearing was set for next Monday after city commissioners voted unanimously on Dec. 7 to approve the project during the first hearing. Permit applications have been submitted to the city Building Department for the project’s first phase, records show. It will add 32 beds to the hospital. Phase 1 entails the construction of a three-story medical tower, including build-out of the first two floors. The third floor of the tower will be built out in Phase 2 and an emergency room will be constructed on the north side of the hospital complex. READ FULL STORY


Will rollout of vaccine proceed smoothly here?
week of December 10, 2020

As plans for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine begin to come together, thousands of Indian River County healthcare workers and long-term care residents are thinking hard about their part in the rollout. Sunday, the chief scientist from Operation Warp Speed said everyone in those groups could have the first dose of a vaccine by mid-January. Critics called that a best-case scenario, but with only weeks until needles are in arms, the example set by these earliest inoculations may affect the general public’s willingness to take the vaccine. Last week, a CDC advisory committee voted to give those groups priority for the first vaccine doses, made jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech. That vaccine was slated to be reviewed by the FDA for emergency use authorization this Thursday, Dec. 10. A second vaccine, by Moderna, will be reviewed a week later. Both vaccines show 95 percent efficacy and no serious safety concerns based on interim analysis of phase 3 trials, according to the companies. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases in schools double since second quarter start
week of December 10, 2020

COVID-19 cases have doubled in public schools in Indian River County since the second quarter started and one parent is blaming lax attitudes toward facemask and social distancing rules. A total of 94 students and 30 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since the new school year started on Aug. 24, school district records show. Of the 124 cases, 85 were diagnosed with the virus since the second quarter started Oct. 26, district records show. The 61 students and 24 staff members accounted for nearly 69 percent of the cases this school year. Daniel Wehking, who has two children at Treasure Coast Elementary School in Sebastian, said he opted for virtual schooling at home via computer because he was concerned about his children’s safety. “I think in general, they’re not taking the pandemic seriously,” Wehking said. “It’s a giant reach to make me keep my kids at home because they won’t follow CDC regulations. There’s clearly something wrong if you’ve got students not wearing masks within 6 feet of each other.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections up here with 22 hospitalized, and five deaths
week of December 10, 2020

Even with fewer people getting tested over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, new COVID-19 infections increased by 49 cases to 276 cases reported over the past seven days, with the average cases per day increasing from 34 cases per day to 39 cases per day. The barrier island posted another banner week of new cases, with 23 new cases this week on top of 24 new cases last week. Twenty-two people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 over the past week and tragically, the death of five people was reported, down just slightly from six deaths the previous week. Seventeen new virus cases in long-term care facilities were reported this past week, as the community spread is making its way into nursing homes and assisted-living communities despite best efforts at infection control. Forty-four of this week’s new cases were in people age 75 and older. As the Christmas holidays approach, Floridians wait to see when the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in their communities. Hopefully, sufficient doses of the vaccine will make it to smaller communities like Vero Beach soon enough to curb the current pandemic surge here. READ FULL STORY


17th Street bridge declared ‘structurally deficient’
week of December 10, 2020

The 17th Street Bridge, where major repair work finally got underway this week, was declared “structurally deficient” by Florida Department of Transportation inspectors in May, according to public records. When bridge repair work rerouting traffic for six months was announced at a Vero City Council meeting in October, and City Manager Monte Falls told the council that state transportation officials refused to put off the work until after tourist season, Vero Beach 32963 requested copies of the two most recent inspection reports from FDOT. Those inspections, conducted in 2018 and in May 2020, found the circa 1979 bridge is deteriorating. A 2017 national infrastructure report card showed that in 2017, only 1.7 percent of Florida’s bridges were deemed “structurally deficient,” but that percentage grew to 2.9 percent in the 2019 report. READ FULL STORY


With concrete and steel, state armors island to withstand a 100-year storm
week of December 10, 2020

Traffic is flowing freely again on north A1A near the Sebastian Inlet after a year and a half of construction barricades, flagmen and regular delays as the Florida Department of Transportation repaired damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Everything looks normal again along this very narrow stretch of the barrier island. The Indian River Lagoon sparkles in the sun on the west side of the road, ocean dunes rise to the east and the road tracks straight and smooth toward the exhilarating arch that carries northbound islanders over the inlet into Brevard County. But hidden beneath the scenic surface are fundamental changes to the mile-plus stretch – one of the most fragile parts of the barrier island – where the $5.4 million project was completed. Begun in June 2019 and finished this month almost on schedule, the project amounts to a major re-engineering of the barrier island nature created. Using more than 10 million pounds of high-strength concrete reinforced with 109 tons of rebar, along with a vast expanse of heavy steel sheets, FDOT has armored the west side of the island to keep Highway A1A from washing out in a major storm and to protect other property on the island. READ FULL STORY


Graves wants more pay, longer terms for Vero City Council
week of December 10, 2020

Vero Beach City Councilman Joe Graves announced last week he won’t seek re-election in 2021. Not running for a second two-year term, he says, puts him in a unique position to tackle two issues he feels need to be addressed – council pay and term length. Being on City Council is a full-time job, according to Graves. But it shouldn’t be a full-time job. If serving on the Vero Beach City Council seems like a full-time job, in our opinion, you’ve greatly inflated your own importance, or that of your lofty position in city government, and you need to either forgo City Council service or learn some serious time management skills. Apart from budget hearings in July and occasional special workshops, the council meets twice per month, typically for three to four hours. Yes, there is backup material to read through but nothing insurmountable. Graves said council members get paid “pennies per hour” for their work, so we checked. According to City Clerk Tammy Bursick, “the Mayor receives $1,125 a month and the City Council receives $900 per month.” READ FULL STORY


Court: Teel wrongful death lawsuit should go forward
week of December 10, 2020

A $10 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Sheriff’s Office and a deputy who fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in 2017 has moved closer to trial after a federal appeals court declined to reconsider its earlier ruling that the case should go forward. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in September rejected a district court decision that the shooting was justified, writing a strongly worded, 22-page opinion in which it described the deputy’s use of lethal force against Susan Teel as “wholly unnecessary.” Attorneys for the Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Jonathan Lozada responded by requesting a rehearing en banc – in front of all of the 11th Circuit’s judges – on the merits of the plaintiff’s successful appeal. Stuart-based attorney Guy Rubin, who represents Teel’s husband, Dr. Dudley Teel, said the defendants needed at least one of the 11th Circuit judges outside the panel to agree to rehear the appeal. “They asked the other judges to second-guess the three-judge panel and reverse the ruling on our appeal,” Rubin said last week. “That didn’t happen. None of the other judges chose to rehear it.” READ FULL STORY


Vero police bike patrols give the public ‘a greater feeling of safety’
week of December 10, 2020

If you’ve done any holiday shopping or dining in downtown Vero or the Ocean Drive business district the past few weeks, you might’ve noticed police officers cruising around on bicycles. Which is exactly the point. Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said his department’s Bike Patrol Unit is there to see and be seen – to invite more face-to-face interaction with the public and provide a greater feeling of safety and security. “Our community is perfect for this, with a vibrant downtown and beachside shopping district,” Currey said. “We bike where people are.” In fact, the bike unit has officers on year-round patrol in those areas from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Through New Year’s Day, you’ll also see them downtown, at the beach and on routes in between every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Vero Beach currently has 14 certified bike-patrol officers, up from four in 2015, when the department sent its first officers to Port St. Lucie for training accredited by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association. READ FULL STORY


3.7 miles of north island beach to be restored beginning in January
week of December 10, 2020

The County Commission last week awarded a $12 million contract to a Fort Pierce firm to restore some 3.7 miles of storm-eroded beach and dunes north of route 510 beginning in January. The hurried action came after an earlier contract fell through. Guettler Brothers Construction was the low bidder among seven firms vying to renourish the beachfront from the Seaview subdivision south to Wabasso Beach Park that has been battered by multiple hurricanes and nor’easters since 2016. The company is tasked with spreading about 307,000 cubic yards of sand from an upland mine along the shoreline and planting more than 200,000 native dune plants before the start of sea turtle nesting season on April 30. The county’s consulting engineering firm APTIM was awarded a $385,000 contract to oversee the trucking and spreading of sand under an accelerated timeframe during what’s expected to be a busy winter season with crowded roads. “This helps us tremendously. We have an onsite person making sure everything runs smoothly,” public works director Rich Szpyrka told commissioners. READ FULL STORY


Will third surge of COVID-19 find us better prepared?
week of December 3, 2020

Three surges into the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian River County would appear to be hoping that this round is the most survivable. But have we learned from the prior two surges? How much better supplied are our hospitals and nursing homes with gowns, gloves and masks? And most important, how willing are we to hole up in our homes again, forgoing socialization and starving businesses of customers, all for the sake of the vulnerable? Today, as the third surge takes hold and Florida’s total cases pass the 1 million mark, Indian River County saw total cases since the start of the pandemic top 5,000. Hospitalizations here doubled over the weekend to 21, a frightening jump though well below the numbers in the summer surge. But with vaccines likely unavailable to the general public here until at least spring, the anxiety, isolation and boredom are bound to continue. Increasing demands for community-wide self-discipline are met with resistance by many. READ FULL STORY


First responders to be vaccinated as soon as possible
week of December 3, 2020

With Indian River County’s COVID-19 case count passing the 5,000-case mark on Monday, public safety agencies are preparing to vaccinate their personnel as soon as one of the three vaccines in the approval process is available. According to state and local officials, healthcare workers and first responders will be among the early adopters of the new COVID-19 vaccine due to their frequent contact with the public, and the need to keep them healthy and on the job to support the county’s healthcare infrastructure. Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell said he and Capt. Mark Shaw devised a mass-vaccination plan five years ago when he joined the agency. But that plan was intended for a really bad influenza season where doses of flu vaccine would be widely available to everyone, so the Shores is tweaking that plan for the COVID-19 vaccine. “Ideally we would want to vaccinate all of our public safety officers and per diem personnel so we can keep serving the public, and in our plan we would also encourage the family members of our officers to get the vaccine,” Rosell said, thereby creating a vaccinated buffer zone to keep his agency as COVID-free as possible. READ FULL STORY


Despite pandemic, island tourism not bad in late summer
week of December 3, 2020

When Indian River County issued its end of the fiscal year tourism tax report last week, there was less bad news than many feared and some unexpected good news. After everything the state, country and world has been through in 2020, including travel and business restrictions, overall revenue from the county’s 4 percent bed tax for the year ending Sept. 30 was down less than 10 percent. And revenue from tourism in September was actually up 30 percent compared to last year. Even granted that tourism was slow in September 2019 due to Hurricane Dorian, the uptick was a pleasant surprise, and many island businesses say the good times continued into October. Compared to last year, guest numbers were up in September at Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa, according to general manager Chad Olson, and he expects an increase in bed tax revenue for October as well, when those numbers are calculated. “October was very healthy for us,” Olson said. “November has been a little bit off, but I think it’s more weather-related. This whole year, people have booked last minute. If the weather is nice, people are still traveling. They want to be outside.” READ FULL STORY


Vero abandons idea of creating test site for city residents
week of December 3, 2020

What seemed like a simple project – setting up a convenient, quick and free COVID-19 testing location for Vero Beach residents – turned out to be too expensive and complicated for the City of Vero Beach to tackle. Vero City Manager Monte Falls said he researched the issue, looking for a viable plan, but he found testing capacity is still limited in Indian River County eight months into the coronavirus pandemic. Because there are not enough tests to cover all asymptomatic people who have not been exposed to an infected person, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria still limit who gets tested. “We just haven’t gotten there yet, even nationally with the number of tests,” Falls said. Local clinics and testing sites are already using their share of test kits, so Falls reached out to CVS Pharmacy and a testing service in Orlando about the prospects of setting up a private testing site in Vero. Both of those providers would be expensive and require minimum numbers of tests daily to justify the test site. READ FULL STORY


St. Helen’s reopens after COVID-19; scattered positives at other area schools
week of December 3, 2020

St. Helen Catholic School in Vero Beach reopened Monday after taking a two-week Thanksgiving break because seven students and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19. “Currently, there are no positive COVID-19 cases of students or staff [at St. Helen school],” said Jennifer Trefelner, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Palm Beach. The K-8 school plans to continue in-person classes until the start of Christmas break on Dec. 21, Trefelner said. Custodians cleaned and sanitized the campus in anticipation of 260 students returning to class. The state Health Department directed the quarantining of those who came in contact with the COVID-19 positive individuals, Trefelner said. But she didn’t say how many. The diocese closed the school and transitioned to at-home learning after positive test results started coming back on Nov. 12, Trefelner said. There were scattered positive test results at other private and charter schools in the county during the past two weeks. READ FULL STORY


98 percent of Grand Harbor members vote to take over ownership of club from Carl Icahn
week of December 3, 2020

Grand Harbor members have voted overwhelmingly to assume ownership and control of the community’s Golf & Beach Club, ending a yearlong saga that produced sometimes-contentious negotiations, threats of legal action and a shuttered clubhouse and golf course. Although the 10-day voting period officially ended at midnight Monday, more than enough members had voted in favor of the takeover by Monday morning to make the result clear, approving an agreement reached last month with Icahn Enterprises, which owned and operated the club for 16 years. According to Grand Harbor’s new, member-run Board of Governors, 98.8 percent of the club’s members who had cast ballots by Monday morning voted for the proposal. The ballots were weighted based on membership level, such as full golf, tennis and social. The new board was constituted when the members association and Icahn reached an agreement-in-principle earlier this month – the agreement members have now approved. “It’s done,” board member Doug Sweeny said Monday. “We’re already well past the number of votes needed to pass. We’re ready to roll.” READ FULL STORY


John’s Island tennis pro moving to Sea Oaks to replace retiring director
week of December 3, 2020

After 28 years on the Har-Tru courts of Sea Oaks – the past 24 as tennis director – Brad Leu will leave the island club at the end of January and move to North Carolina. But not for another job. “I’m retiring,” Leu, 58, said last weekend. “I’ve been teaching tennis for 35 years, and I’m getting near retirement age, anyway. So, it was time.” Divorced and now engaged to a woman who lives in Raleigh, Leu said he and his fiancée no longer wanted to travel back and forth to spend time together and he decided to move north. Leu will be replaced by Joe Biedenharn, 55, who spent the past 12 years as the head pro at John’s Island and previously worked at The Boulevard Tennis Club, Indian Trails and Sea Oaks, where he was an assistant pro from 1996 to 2000. Biedenharn, scheduled to start his new job on Jan. 15, will oversee the Vero Beach area’s busiest tennis club – as many as 300 players fill the 16-court complex each day during the busy season – where a $1.5 million set of upgrades will be completed next month. READ FULL STORY


Brightline constructing another railroad bridge in South Vero Beach
week of December 3, 2020

Brightline has announced plans to start construction of another railroad bridge in South Vero in mid-December as part of its expansion north from West Palm Beach through Indian River County to Orlando. In Vero, the train company plans to mobilize a construction crane in two weeks to start work on the expansion of the 125-foot-long South Canal Railroad Bridge, Brightline disclosed in its weekly construction advisory. A concrete bridge will be built next to the steel railroad bridge that spans the South Relief Canal, which runs under the tracks a block north of 1st Street. Contractors last week completed a second railroad bed and drainage facilities nearby at the busy 4th Street railroad crossing. Pile-driving operations are expected to start on the South Canal Railroad Bridge by the end of December and continue into 2021 for the installation of a temporary work trestle east of the railroad bridge. Brightline plans to start work on new concrete bridges across the Main Canal and North Canal in Indian River County later in 2021. READ FULL STORY


County loses $3.3 million appeal in Ocean Concrete property rights case
week of December 3, 2020

A businessman who sued Indian River County in 2007 for changing zoning regulations to block a project he was developing won a major victory last week when a state appeals court upheld a $3.3 million final judgment against the county. The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled last Wednesday that Judge Janet Croom acted properly during the September 2019 jury trial in the 19th Circuit Court where George Maib and his company Ocean Concrete were awarded millions in damages. The three-judge appellate panel unanimously ruled Judge Croom was correct in allowing Maib to testify about the value of the property at 11085 Old Dixie Highway, south of the Sebastian city limits. The West Palm Beach-based appeals court also rejected Indian River County’s claim the judge improperly excluded the testimony of an economist and a property appraiser from the trial. Indian River County had appealed Croom’s final judgment awarding Maib $2 million in damages, which a jury set in a Sept. 26, 2019 verdict, plus $1.3 million in pre-judgment interest. READ FULL STORY


County may cut polling places in favor of super voting centers
week of December 3, 2020

Fewer than 16,000 county residents cast ballots in person this past Election Day, while nearly 46,000 opted to vote by mail – but that’s not the reason you might find fewer polling places here in the future. “The more likely reason would be the success of the super voting centers in the Panhandle,” county Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said. “We’ll just have to wait and see if the Legislature wants to do it in other places around the state.” Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized super voting sites in Bay and Gulf counties last year in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle in 2018 and damaged traditional polling places to a point where they were unsafe for public use. Under the governor’s executive order, the counties’ registered voters were able to cast ballots at any of the super voting sites, regardless of their home precinct, just as they did during the early voting period. “To add super voting centers in the other counties, the Legislature would have to approve it, and the state supervisor of elections is pushing to see if they’ll go for it,” Swan said. “They tend to make changes in non-election years, so it could come up in 2021. READ FULL STORY


County reports above average sea turtle nesting on barrier island’s beaches
week of December 3, 2020

The 2020 sea turtle nesting season on Indian River County beaches didn't set any records but green turtles dug many more nests than expected and leatherbacks dug the most nests in a decade. Overall, the endangered marine reptiles dug higher numbers of nests than long-term averages. Between April 1 and Oct. 31, loggerhead sea turtles – the most common of three species that lay eggs on our beaches – dug 6,217 nests. That’s 58 more than last year and well above the 16-year average of 4,955, according to figures provided by Quintin Bergman, the county’s sea turtle coordinator. The county record for loggerhead nesting is 7,197, set in 2016. Green turtles, which nest in a cyclical pattern of up-and-down years, laid many more nests than expected. “During the 2020 season, we would have expected around 250 nests,” Bergman wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. “We were happily surprised to record a total of 1,154.” That compares to 2,378 in 2019 and 235 in 2018, an off year like 2020 was expected to be. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island closes dining rooms for rest of month after positive COVID-19 tests
week of November 26, 2020

John’s Island Club – one of the most prestigious and COVID-cautious venues in Florida – temporarily shuttered its two large dining rooms last week after three staffers tested positive for COVID-19. The three were among 200 employees in the club’s food and beverage operations. With the dining room closures coming barely a week before Thanksgiving, hundreds of members who had planned to celebrate there were left with the club’s carry-out or home delivery options – or finding another restaurant at the last minute – instead. Club members were first told that food and beverage operations including all indoor and outdoor dining would be closed through Nov. 23. But by late Thursday, the decision was made to extend the closure through the rest of the month. “We don’t think it’s prudent to have hundreds of people in the clubhouse on Thanksgiving,” said John’s Island Club’s general manager, Brian Kroh. “The CDC says don’t even have a small gathering in your home.” READ FULL STORY


Vero seeking to curb COVID-19 spread in city
week of November 26, 2020

With COVID-19 cases surging, and ZIP code 32960 – the mainland part of the City of Vero Beach – accounting for 28 percent of local cases even though it has less than 15 percent of the county’s population, the City Council wants to do more to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The council’s immediate goal is to make free, rapid coronavirus testing available and convenient for city residents. Mayor Robbie Brackett and Vice Mayor Rey Neville have already contracted and recovered from the virus, and Councilman Joe Graves had to quarantine after returning from international travel, so they’ve seen firsthand which parts of the testing and public health system work and which are still lacking, nearly nine months into the pandemic. The City Council tasked City Manager Monte Falls with finding a way to contract with a medical provider to set up a rapid testing program that could help residents navigate the holidays. The council was set to meet in a special call session about COVID-19 testing on Tuesday. READ FULL STORY


Covid-19 maintains high profile in both private and public schools in county
week of November 26, 2020

A student at Beachland Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday and 15 classmates were directed to quarantine in the second case at the barrier island’s only public school. An adult at St. Edward’s School tested positive for COVID-19 last week and three students were directed to quarantine, said spokeswoman Monica Jennings. It was the sixth case at the private K-12 school. And St. Helen Catholic School closed until Nov. 30 after two students were diagnosed with the virus during the week ending Nov. 14, the fifth and sixth cases at the K-8 school on the Vero mainland. Meanwhile, the virus maintained a high profile throughout the Indian River County School District. A total of 37 public school students tested positive for the virus from Oct. 26 through Nov. 15 – the first three weeks of the second quarter – compared to 34 during the entire first quarter, district records show. READ FULL STORY


Vero cardiologist: COVID-19 can cause heart damage
week of November 26, 2020

Dr. Tudor Scridon nurtures more than 40 bonsai in his backyard, spending his off-hours snipping and misting in a contemplative ritual that prolongs the trees’ lives while reining in growth. In his cardiology practice, he exhibits the same steadfastness, trying to manage his patients’ environment to protect them from COVID-19. Turns out his patients, like his bonsai, could benefit from the right amount of sunlight – enough to raise levels of vitamin D. Scridon points to multiple studies showing a link between severe COVID-19 disease and vitamin D deficiency. One study of more than 200 COVID-19 patients in Spain that was published in October showed 80 percent had a vitamin D deficiency. Another study showed that patients with an adequate level of vitamin D had a 51 percent lower risk of dying of COVID-19, as well as a reduced risk of complications. Still another showed more inflammatory markers in COVID-19 patients lacking adequate vitamin D. Many scientists now believe the vitamin may blunt the effects of the coronavirus and ward off severe disease in vulnerable populations. READ FULL STORY


The Shores, Vero seem headed for court over reuse water
week of November 26, 2020

The Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach appear to be headed for court to litigate their disagreement over what Vero charges Shores customers for reuse irrigation water. Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin said Friday he had no progress to report in negotiations with Vero City Manager Monte Falls. The two parties have until mid-January to resolve a complaint filed on Sept. 23. Attorney Paul Berg filed the case asking the court to determine whether Vero breached its 2012 water-sewer franchise agreement with the Shores by refusing to reduce the town’s reuse irrigation water rates to match a 2018 Indian River County Utilities rate reduction. The franchise agreement clearly states that rates charged the Shores shall be tied to county rates – terms brokered by former Vero city manager Jim O’Connor, and former Shores mayor Tom Cadden when the county and the city were both competing for the Shores’ utility business. Negotiations were dragging on and O’Connor wanted to close the deal. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council moving ahead with plans for stormwater tax
week of November 26, 2020

The Vero Beach City Council voted 4-1 to pay a consultant $93,000 to continue the engineering work needed to levy a stormwater utility tax on properties within the city for the 2021-22 tax year, with Mayor Robbie Brackett the only dissenting vote. Supporters of the proposal say it will make paying for stormwater projects needed to meet state anti-pollution mandates fairer. Currently, those projects are funded out of property tax revenue. The new tax, if enacted, would be assessed based on the estimated amount of runoff coming from a property and would impact shopping centers, apartment complexes, churches and government buildings – some of which are exempt from property taxes – more than single-family homeowners. Mapping and survey work by Collective Water Resources is needed to determine the average impervious surface present on a residential lot in the city limits. The resulting Equivalent Residential Unit measurement or ERU will be the measure by which all property is taxed to pay for the management of stormwater runoff in the city. The more ERUs a property displays, including businesses with large roof areas or parking lots, the higher the tax will be. READ FULL STORY


Uncertainty about 16th Street Ballfields as county sues to uphold deed restriction
week of November 26, 2020

The Indian River Community Foundation’s board of directors has decided not to acquire the 16th Street Ballfields property the county sold to Vero Beach City Councilman Joe Graves in March 2017. Jeff Pickering, the foundation’s chief executive officer, said the board explored the possibility of taking ownership of the 11.6-acre parcel – located immediately north of Vero Beach High School – through a bargain purchase and in-kind donation from Graves. However, Pickering said the board opted to pass on the deal, at least partially because the county filed a lawsuit last week to uphold a deed restriction that limits the property’s use to recreation and youth activities, neither of which fits with the foundation’s mission. “We kicked the tires, but with the legal issues unresolved and the potential of what’s able to be done there, the board decided not to proceed,” Pickering said. “We’ve communicated our decision to Joe.” Graves said he did not want to comment on the foundation’s decision. Instead, he is now focusing his efforts on selling the property to another buyer – specifically, the School District, which he hopes will use the land to build a regulation-size track-and-field facility. READ FULL STORY