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School district wasted $750K on deseg fight
week of July 11, 2019

During the past three years, the school district under Superintendent Mark Rendell wasted three quarters of a million dollars on a failed attempt to get Indian River County out from under a federal court desegregation order that has been in effect in various forms since the 1960s. The money went to Husch Blackwell, a national law firm that specializes in protecting businesses facing federal litigation, where partner John Borkowski charged the school district what he characterized as “a discounted hourly rate of $540.” The spending spree began in 2015 after Rendell was hired as school superintendent. Facing questions from the School Board about his plans for dealing with the long-running federal order, Rendell hired Husch Blackwell for $150,000 to conduct a study of the district’s past and future desegregation status with the aim of convincing the court the district was in compliance. On the advice of Husch Blackwell, the board kept the report’s findings secret while continuing to pay the firm additional legal fees for three years, sometimes at a rapid clip, according to invoices obtained by Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY

New rail bridge seen diminishing Old Florida ambiance
week of July 11, 2019

It’s hard to imagine anyone in Indian River County being more affected by the Virgin Trains USA passenger rail project than Tony Wood, whose Roseland home overlooks the historic railroad bridge that has carried trains across the St. Sebastian River for more than 90 years. Construction could start by the end of the year on a massive concrete replacement bridge and a second track to handle the addition of 32 passenger trains per day to the roughly 20 freight trains that pass his house daily. Wood is among the Roseland homeowners who fear the modernization of the railroad bridge and tracks will diminish the Old Florida ambiance of their rustic, heavily-wooded, riverfront community. “This is what drew us to the area; it’s still kind of Old Florida,” Wood said last week in the backyard of his home on 83rd Avenue. “The old historic Flagler bridge jibes well with that theme. Certainly this new Virgin railway doesn’t.” READ FULL STORY

Lawnwood undertakes $100 million expansion
week of July 11, 2019

Lawnwood Regional Med-ical Center is getting a major infusion of funds that could speed up construction of its Vero Beach freestanding emergency department. HCA East Florida is allocating more than $100 million to Fort Pierce’s Lawnwood Regional Medical Center that will significantly expand the hospital’s surgery department, add an adolescent behavioral health program and fund the $10 million emergency department in south Vero, a project currently under construction on U.S. 1 near Oslo Road. Lawnwood, a Level II trauma center with neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, shares part of its market with Cleveland Clinic Indian River and to a lesser degree, Sebastian River Medical Center, owned by Steward Health. Lawnwood’s new Vero emergency room seems destined to siphon off patients from Cleveland Clinic Indian River, if not Sebastian, which is further to the north. It’s unclear how much the rest of the improvements will affect consumer choices in healthcare, with Sebastian River nearing completion of a new patient tower and Indian River having recently completed renovation of half its patient rooms, with $250 million more in the pipeline from Cleveland Clinic, slated to be spent on improvements over the next decade. READ FULL STORY

Computer crash forces doctors to cancel entire week of appointments
week of July 11, 2019

Hundreds of island residents had their doctors’ appointments canceled last week after a computer crash almost completely shut down Primary Care of the Treasure Coast, the largest independent medical practice in the county. Starting Friday, June 28, and stretching into the Fourth of July weekend, the patients of Primary Care’s 19 providers were notified that their appointments had been canceled and could not immediately be rescheduled. That included school physicals, wellness checkups and ailments that could wait a week. Doctors did see patients with acute problems, said Primary Care’s CEO Mike Luton. But for the first two days, they weren’t able to log in on their laptops to review the patients’ records. They also couldn’t enter notes from the visit into the system. The crash, which shut down access to everything from lab reports to medical records, was due to a hardware malfunction, and was not the result of a hack or ransomware, Luton said. There was no breach of data, he added. Luton blamed the crash on a failed disk array, a storage system that distributes data across multiple disk drives. “It went back and corrupted all of our servers,” said Luton. “We had backups so nothing was lost, but we had to rebuild everything.” READ FULL STORY

School anti-violence program will be expanded in the coming year
week of July 11, 2019

A dogged effort by leaders of the Mental Health Association has resulted not only in renewed funding but expansion of a school anti-violence program that proved successful in its first year. Dr. Nicholas Coppola, who took over as CEO of the Mental Health Association in January, and his clinical director, Jeanne Shepherd, shared the news Friday morning with the school district's mental health facilitator, Dr. Sharon Packard. The program in the coming year will be expanded to reach nearly three times as many county students and will include a suicide prevention component. “We had a great meeting with Dr. Packard,” said Coppola. That was in stark contrast to a meeting earlier in the week when Coppola went before the Indian River County Commission to make a last-minute plea for funding after the program was turned down by the county's Children’s Services Advisory Committee. That volunteer board, which met last month over the course of three days, had voted not to recommend funding for the program, questioning among other things why the school district wasn’t funding the program. READ FULL STORY

Proposed Sebastian annexation is opposed by county officials, environmentalists and IRNA
week of July 11, 2019

County officials, environmentalists and the Indian River Neighborhood Association are up in arms over proposed annexation of a 1,118-acre property to the city of Sebastian where more than 3,500 homes could ultimately be built, along with commercial and industrial development. Opponents say the proposed development amounts to urban sprawl and would have a negative impact on area waterways and roads, increasing traffic and pollution. But development review documents produced for the City of Sebastian say the proposed site is a “very advantageous location which supports urban development.” Much of the controversy revolves around whether the thousands of new homes will be tied into county sewer lines or have septic systems. “We’re very concerned because our water issues are very, very critical,” said IRNA board chairwoman Honey Minuse. “We’re not sure where they’re headed as far as planning for water and sewer. That is a really big deal. Are they going to be able to be supplied through the county? That doesn’t look really very optimistic at this point in time. READ FULL STORY

Laura Riding Jackson house is on the move, heading for new home
week of July 11, 2019

History was on the move last week as sections of poet Laura Riding Jackson’s 110-year-old Florida Cracker house left the Environmental Learning Center on the Wabasso Causeway, where it has been located for 25 years, and headed for what will likely be its “final resting place” on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College. The fragile structure had been painstakingly disassembled over a period of weeks. On the morning of the move, “a bedroom; portions of the front porch and a study, the back porch with kitchen; and the smaller part of our pole barn” were loaded onto three tractor trailers, said Laura Riding Jackson Foundation Board member Jacque Jacobs. The tractor trailer convoy began its 11.6-mile journey around 10 a.m., escorted by Indian River County Sheriff’s deputies with lights flashing, “four of our board members’ vehicles and Eric Crockett of Proctor Construction,” Jacobs added. The route was carefully planned to avoid as much traffic as possible, rolling west on the Wabasso Causeway, across U.S. 1 onto CR 510 to 58th Avenue; then south on 58th to 77th Street; west on 77th to 66th Avenue; south on 66th across State Road 60 to College Lane; and east on College to the campus, to a .71-acre site in the field behind the Brackett Library that will be the historic house’s new home. READ FULL STORY

Schools spend $10 million to beef up security
week of July 4, 2019

The school district is spending more than $10 million on security this summer, with much of the money going to complete installation of single-entry security fences around 19 school campuses in the county. The new fencing, which will make it easier to prevent intrusion and monitor who enters school grounds, will be in place by the time school resumes on Aug. 12, Jon Teske, assistant superintendent of operations, said during a recent School Board meeting. Fencing has already been completed at more than half of the county’s schools. “After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting last year, the board decided to put all other capital projects on hold and make school security our priority,” said Board Chairman Laura Zorc. “The fencing is only one of many security improvements we’ve added during the past three years.” In addition to the new security fencing, the school district is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars this summer to install keyless door pads in all buildings, Teske said. Employees will be provided with cards they will swipe to gain entry, creating a record of who enters and when. READ FULL STORY

Virgin Trains faces challenge with downtown crossings
week of July 4, 2019

Virgin Trains USA plans to start major reconstruction work on railroad crossings and tracks in downtown Vero Beach for its higher-speed passenger rail service late next year, city officials said. Designing crossings to minimize traffic delays on U.S. 1, which is just 6 feet from the railroad right-of-way in some spots, is a crucial aspect of the project, said City Manager Monte Falls. The addition of a second track in the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way will require Virgin Trains to build up the track bed and widen the railroad crossings to the west, Falls said in an interview last week. The crossings should be designed to reduce the slope between the railroad right-of-way and the roadways, particularly at 23rd and U.S. 1, Falls said. That would lessen the chances of a tractor trailer getting hung up on the crossings – something that happened recently when a car carrier blocked the tracks for an extended period. In addition, Virgin Trains should install fencing along the east side of Pocahontas Park to keep children from wandering onto the tracks, Falls said. READ FULL STORY

Jones Pier property being restored to take visitors back to Old Florida
week of July 4, 2019

The county is restoring a property formerly owned by one of the barrier island’s first pioneers so that residents and visitors can travel back in time to experience what Old Florida was like at the turn of the 20th century. The roughly $1.6 million facelift to the 16-acre historical Jones Pier Conservation Area along Jungle Trail includes construction of a replica of the Jones family’s iconic fruit stand, which became a popular tourist destination that was once visited by Walter Cronkite among others. The project also includes restoration of the family’s cottage that will serve as a museum, and the addition of a one-mile walking trail, community garden and four-acre salt marsh to filter water before it enters the Indian River Lagoon. The site will also include restrooms, a pavilion and parking. All the improvements to the area, which will be open to the public, are expected to take between 18-24 months to complete. The county acquired the property for historical preservation in 2008, paying $6.9 million. Jones Pier itself, which was built by the family in 1907 to facilitate shipping farm produce by water, is believed to be the oldest pier on the barrier island. It was restored a few years ago and is open to the public, county officials said. READ FULL STORY

New texting while driving law seen very difficult to enforce
week of July 4, 2019

A new Florida law that went into effect Monday allows police to pull over and issue citations to motorists they see texting and driving. However, local law enforcement representatives say they don’t expect to write many tickets. The reason? Motorists stopped for texting and driving aren’t required to show police their phones, making it impossible for officers to confirm at the scene that an offense occurred. “It’s a good law with good intent, but it’s going to be a tough law to enforce,” Vero Beach Police Department spokesman Darrell Rivers said. “We can pull them over, but without seeing their phones, we’re probably not going to issue citations. I doubt many drivers are going to let us look at their phones?” Police could try to obtain warrants to compel motorists to hand over their phones, but local authorities say it’s unlikely such action would be taken – unless the drivers were involved in accidents resulting in substantial property damage, serious injury or death. Barring those circumstances, most motorists pulled over locally for texting and driving can expect to get off with a warning, possibly only a verbal warning about the dangers of distracted driving. READ FULL STORY

Judge to make recommendations for new teacher contracts
week of July 4, 2019

Representatives of the school district and the teachers union quarreled angrily for eight hours over proposed pay raises for teachers, increasing insurance costs, employee grievance procedures and whether the district should continue reimbursing teachers for classes they must take to become recertified every five years. They found little they could agree upon. In fact, Attorney Mark Levitt, chief contract negotiator for Indian River County Public Schools, openly mocked and belittled proposals made by representatives of the teachers union. Liz Cannon, president of the Indian River County Education Association, publicly called the district’s counterproposals “bull ----.” Now it’s up to Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Tom Young, who listened to both sides make arguments supporting their negotiating positions, to make recommendations he hopes both sides can live with. The union requested the June 26 special hearing before Young after it became clear the district and union could not break their 15-month contract negotiation impasse without help. Both sides have until Aug. 5 to submit briefs outlining their positions, Young said. He hopes to release his contract recommendations by Aug. 16. But the process likely won’t end there. READ FULL STORY

School district finances are in better shape than expected
week of July 4, 2019

Thirty teachers facing possible layoffs will retain their jobs for the 2019-20 school year after a relieved School Board learned during a recent budget workshop that the school district is in much better financial shape than expected. Since arriving in Indian River County, Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley and two associates have pored over the district’s finances, trying to sort out confusion that developed during a year-long period when the schools had no chief financial officer. After hearing from Moxley, the School Board now expects to end the current school year with an $8.5 million surplus in the district’s general fund. School administrators are projecting a $9.3 million surplus for the 2019-20 school year. Without a CFO, administrators were not sure how much money the district had, and the School Board had feared it would be facing a budget deficit. “I’m very happy to learn that our budget is stable,” Board Chairman Laura Zorc said. “It’s a relief. Before it was constant guessing and it was impossible to get anything done because we had no idea how much money we had to work with. READ FULL STORY

High-speed rail to make crossings more dangerous
week of June 27, 2019

Virgin Trains’ high-speed passenger rail service is expected to increase risks for motorists and pedestrians alike at most railroad crossings in the county, Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka told county commissioners on June 18. Virgin Trains plans to start construction this year in Indian River County on a second set of tracks, upgrades to the current tracks and improvements at railroad crossings. The company’s goal is to operate 16 round-trip passenger trains between West Palm Beach and Orlando starting in 2022. Virgin Trains has provided service between West Palm and Miami since May 2018. Several crossings in Indian River County are expected to become more dangerous as a result of the second track and the two-way higher-speed rail service, Szpyrka said at the County Commission meeting. The Sebastian Boulevard/County Road 512 crossing is likely to be trouble because of the complicated configuration of the nearby intersection with U.S. 1, Szpyrka said. Pedestrian safety is also an issue there. “We don’t really see in the design plans where they took pedestrian safety seriously, in our opinion,” Szpyrka said. READ FULL STORY

Can the increasingly empty Indian River Mall survive?
week of June 27, 2019

The Indian River Mall, which 23 years ago opened to great excitement, is now more than 25 percent empty – a depressing reality, but one that does not seem to have its latest owner yet ready to give up. Two years after New York-based Kohan Retail Investment Group bought the struggling shopping center for $12 million, the mall continues to slide downhill, with more stores closing and the owner falling behind on property taxes and utility bills, same as the prior owner. In late June, roughly 24 storefronts in the mall were empty and the food court offered just five dining options after Counter Culture Vero and Subway closed up shop. As more stores close, causing the mall’s value to plummet, the Kohan Group’s plans remain murky. Kohan Group principal Mike Kohan told Vero Beach 32963 he’s been attempting to attract smaller retailers and recruit restaurants, but offered few details. “It’s not an easy task,” Kohan said. “We’re still not there, but I’m very optimistic.” Kohan has hired real estate firm Colliers International to spearhead the effort, he said. Representatives from the firm could not be reached for comment. READ FULL STORY

180-foot freighter Voici Bernadette becomes the Treasure Coast’s latest artificial reef
week of June 27, 2019

Surrounded by more than 200 boats, the 180-foot freighter Voici Bernadette slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic last Sunday morning, coming to rest on the sea floor 100 feet below and assuming a new identity as the Treasure Coast’s latest artificial reef. Those who had gathered seven miles out from shore sounded their ships’ horns and cheered as the Voici Bernadette tilted to one side and took on enough water to disappear. “Everybody was screaming,” said Kathy Green, one of the volunteers who had helped raise money to prepare the freighter for life as a reef. “It was insane.” Mark Music, another volunteer, marveled that after a year of prep work, it was done. “What have we done today?” he asked rhetorically. “We sank a pirate ship!” The Voici Bernadette, which had sailed under the flags of several nations, ended up in the hands of drug smugglers and was seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The government transferred the vessel to St. Lucie County last June so it could be stripped and cleaned – then sunk. READ FULL STORY

County passes ban on pet store sale of dogs bred at ‘puppy mills’
week of June 27, 2019

It’s now illegal for pet stores in the county to sell dogs and cats bred at “puppy mills” and “kitten factories.” The Indian River County Commission at its June 18 meeting unanimously approved an ordinance banning pet stores from selling cats and dogs born at inhumane high-volume breeding facilities that churn out pets for profit. The new law permits the sale of cats and dogs from nonprofit rescue organizations, animal shelters or the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County. The ordinance also allows for the sale of such pets from family and hobby breeders, according to county documents. Family breeders, as defined by the county, refrain from regular breeding and infrequently sell or give away kitten and puppy litters to friends or family. Hobby breeders are categorized by breeding a specific breed of dog roughly once a year and selling the puppies using the Internet or social media. “I don’t believe we’re going to put an end to this, but if each jurisdiction does this, then perhaps, maybe those large factories and mills ... will be eliminated eventually,” Commissioner Joseph Flescher said. READ FULL STORY

School District is getting new chief financial officer
week of June 27, 2019

After a nearly a year of financial confusion and uncertainty, the Indian River County School District is getting a new chief financial officer to oversee its nearly $300 million annual budget. Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley last week reinstated the position of chief financial officer, which prior superintendent Mark Rendell had done away with, and on Monday she selected someone to fill it. On Tuesday, after this paper goes to press, the School Board was expected to approve the hiring of Ron Fagan as the district’s new CFO. Fagan, who currently serves as Executive Director, Financial Services for the 130,000-student Duval County Public Schools, already has accepted the Indian River position – dependent upon the board’s approval. “It is a pleasure and honor to join the Indian River School District team and I am very excited about the opportunity,” he told Vero Beach 32963. Board members on Monday applauded Moxley’s selection. “It is with complete enthusiasm that I welcome Mr. Fagan,” said Board Chairman Laura Zorc. “His experience as an Executive Director of Finance in the sixth largest school district in Florida will make him an asset to the district leadership team.” READ FULL STORY

School anti-violence program seen as success
week of June 27, 2019

It began with a heartfelt question from one of the softest hearts on the Hospital District board: Ann Marie McCrystal, reeling from the Parkland school shooting, asked the leader of the Mental Health Association what could be done to help prevent such a horror from happening in an Indian River County school. After much debate about who should pay for an anti-violence program in public schools, the Hospital District agreed to fund a two-part pilot program proposed by the MHA, at a cost of $75,000. A national evidence-based anti-violence curriculum would be presented to ninth-graders in two schools, and funds would be made available to counsel kids in crisis. When the program ended in May, the numbers bore out what mental health counselors had hoped: Nearly 1,000 ninth-graders received awareness education and violence prevention training, with close to three-quarters of the kids saying on a survey the program encouraged them to make positive choices and two-thirds saying it got them thinking of things in new ways. READ FULL STORY

Former Press Journal building eyed for specialty grocery store
week of June 27, 2019

An out-of-town developer is exploring the possibility of purchasing and re-purposing the former Press Journal building on U.S. 1 to accommodate a niche-type grocery store from a “well-known” chain, the owner of the property said last week. Bill Summers, who purchased the 42,000-square-foot building and 3.75 acres on which it sits in November 2015, said the developer plans to divide a renovated and restructured building between the grocery store and at least one other retail shop. He said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from identifying the developer or the grocery store chain, but he hopes to have a contract to sell the property later this summer. “I can’t divulge who it is, but there are grocers and then there are grocers, and this one would be a very good fit in Vero Beach and a big addition to our community,” Summers said. “It would definitely raise the level of the shopping experience here.” He said the developer is a “substantial company with the necessary funding and expertise,” and already has negotiated 10 leases with the grocery store chain. READ FULL STORY

Teacher contract negotiations go to mandatory mediation
week of June 27, 2019

After 15 months of futile contract negotiations, School District officials and the union that represents the county’s 1,100 teachers were scheduled to plead their cases on June 26 before Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Tom Young, who will make contract recommendations. If either side rejects any of Young’s recommendations, the School Board would then have the final say about contract details. The main reason the matter is ending up in mandatory mediation in front of a judge is that the school district has lost track of its finances, and does not know how much money it has available to offer teachers, according to multiple sources. The school district has been operating without a chief financial officer for almost a year, and during the past 15 months the district’s team has canceled 11 negotiating sessions, changed lead negotiators four times, made no contract proposals, and failed to respond to five proposals put forth by the union. “The problem isn’t that the district is having financial problems,” said Liz Cannon, president of the teachers union. “It’s that they don’t know what they have financially. We understand the district is having organizational problems. I feel for the district, I really do. But they need to do what they need to do. READ FULL STORY

Accused Duve slayer seeks video testimonial from grandma
week of June 27, 2019

Five years to the week from when the body of 26-year-old Moorings resident Diana Duve was found in the trunk of her own car, the trial of her accused killer Michael David Jones finally seems near. Four weeks of courtroom time is being budgeted for the fall. Should Jones be convicted, sentencing proceedings could take an additional few weeks as the first-degree murder charge Jones is facing carries the potential for the death penalty. Due to recent changes in Florida law, the state would be required to carry out some very specific duties, including a full and independent psychological competency evaluation of Jones. While preparation for trial is coming to a close, defense attorneys are already laying groundwork for who they might use as character witnesses for Jones should he be convicted. The defense on June 14 asked Vaughn to order video testimony be taken from Jones’ elderly grandmother now, in case she does not survive until the end of the trial. READ FULL STORY

Sunshine Physical Therapy hopes to treat more children for free
week of June 27, 2019

Like its young patients, Sunshine Physical Therapy Center, is regaining strength. One of the oldest continuing healthcare businesses in Vero, Sunshine – which was founded to treat children during the worldwide polio epidemic of the 1950s – is aggressively fundraising for a pediatric program that resumed six years ago after a five-decade hiatus. Clinic Director Lynne Gates House wants to treat more kids for free and has begun writing grant proposals in a bid to gain more philanthropy dollars. At the same time, she is applying for the first time to the county’s Hospital District for $25,000 to defray the 20 percent of treatment costs Medicaid does not reimburse for children who are covered by the government program. Three years ago, the clinic started the Sunshine Kids Support Program that currently allows 21 of Sunshine’s pediatric patients to get free therapy. Most of the eligible children have issues with insurance, House says. Often there are limits on the number of treatments covered and the patient has maxed out benefits. There may be high copays or deductibles that patients can’t afford. Or the waiting list may be too long with providers credentialed with the patient’s Medicaid managed care plan. READ FULL STORY

Vero Council votes to retain consultant to help with plan for Centennial Place
week of June 27, 2019

In a reversal, the Vero Beach City Council has decided to seek the help of an outside consultant in coming up with a plan for redevelopment of the electric power plant site and adjacent city-owned property. At its June 18 meeting, the City Council authorized city staff to negotiate the terms of a contract with Miami-based DPZ CoDesign for consulting services to redevelop the 35-acre riverfront property on 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard known as Centennial Place. The site consists of the current wastewater treatment plant, former city electric plant and former postal annex. The firm in April proposed a nearly $150,000 plan for conducting community meetings and workshops to come up with concepts for the prime waterfront real estate. At that time, the council decided to hold off on negotiating a contract with DPZ and another company that also offered consulting services, in part because of the cost of the services. But last week, council members had a change of heart READ FULL STORY

Human skeleton found in the Shores still a mystery
week of June 27, 2019

A near-complete human skeleton that stopped work at an Indian River Shores construction site three weeks still is a total mystery to police, with no ready answers from lab scientists or state archaeology officials. The developer of Blue at 8050 Ocean, a luxury condo project north of The Carlton, got the go-ahead June 14 to resume work on most of the site, except the immediate area where the remains were unearthed on June 5. Crews were back on the job June 17. Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell said his agency was told last Friday by state officials that the preliminary report on the old bones would not be ready before the end of the month. Rosell said nothing else related to the remains has been found. “We went out there and searched the whole area with a metal detector to see if we could find anything – a button or buckle or a doubloon, anything that would help to date the remains – and we found nothing,” Rosell said. READ FULL STORY

1 minute ER ‘exam’ results in $2,000 bill
week of June 20, 2019

John Marshall came in from the John’s Island golf course to wait out a thunderstorm in the clubhouse. Resting his arm on the bar, he noticed a strange sensation – his elbow “felt like a waterbed.” A swelling he describes as “a baseball at the end of my arm” had popped up seemingly out of nowhere. At 8 a.m. the next day, Marshall, a Dartmouth-educated fitness buff recently retired from Wall Street, headed for Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s emergency room. After an exam he says took “literally under a minute,” he left with a diagnosis that confirmed his suspicion – bursitis – a referral to an orthopedist and a debt to Cleveland Clinic of $2,000. Marshall, who turns 62 next month, gave up his excellent employer-provided insurance when he retired as head of marketing for an asset management firm. Current insurance for him and his wife costs $25,000 a year in premiums, with a $5,685 deductible for each of them, which neither has met. That meant the two grand incurred in those few minutes at the Indian River’s ER would have to come out of his pocket. READ FULL STORY

Solari: New county offices on island ‘wasteful’
week of June 20, 2019

You might think it odd that the county commissioner whose district includes most of the barrier island would gripe about the opening earlier this month of a satellite government complex, which allows beachside residents to visit the offices of the county’s Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of Court without crossing any bridges. If so, you don’t know Bob Solari, the District 5 commissioner who prides himself on being a staunch fiscal conservative – so much so that he was willing to challenge the need for the Oceanside County Complex and attack the motives of fellow Republicans who run the constitutional offices. “Just because they’re Republicans doesn’t mean they don’t spend as wastefully as Democrats,” Solari said last week. “There’s no justification for this. It wasn’t done to provide service to the community. It was done for political purposes. “It’s absolutely corrupt to use tax dollars to buy votes for the next election.” The Oceanside County Complex, located at 3003 Cardinal Drive in the Central Beach business district, opened June 3 and provides island residents more convenient access to the services offered by the three county agencies that will share the $4,000-per-month rent for the 1,200-square-foot space. READ FULL STORY

With electric rates down, utility activist calling it a day
week of June 20, 2019

A few months shy of his 80th birthday, Moorings resident and tireless utility activist Dr. Steve Faherty is retiring from public life to savor a summer of low electric bills. After 11 years in the trenches, Faherty last week sent out a last “Utility Update” email to his distribution list. In it he said, “It is up to others to solve some of the remaining utility issues of the City.” Taxation without representation – Vero siphoning off $5.6 million each year in direct transfers to its general fund from utility revenue, more than 60 percent of that from customers outside the city limits –and sky-high electric rates that broke records in the summer of 2009 were Faherty’s two prime motivators. “Why were people outside the city being, in effect, taxed?” Faherty said Monday, as he looked back on the origins of his activism efforts. He also looked at the way Vero’s electric utility and other municipal electric utilities were run to try and figure out why the cost here was so much greater than the benefit. READ FULL STORY

State assigns rail administrator to help oversee Virgin Trains safety upgrades here
week of June 20, 2019

As Virgin Trains USA prepares to upgrade tracks and railroad crossings in Indian River County for new passenger rail service, county officials are gaining traction in their calls for greater state oversight of the project. Florida Department of Transportation brass agreed this month to assign a railway administrator to help county officials resolve shortcomings in Virgin Trains’ construction plans for railroad crossing improvements. Florida Transportation Commission Chairman Rob Howse also said he would try to put Virgin Trains’ design engineers in contact with county public works officials for “engineer to engineer” discussions about safety and construction concerns. The progress came during a June 6 meeting attended by Howse, FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault, FDOTs Southeast Florida District Secretary Gerry O’Reilly and government officials from Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties. At the meeting, county officials told the FDOT brass Virgin Trains has yet to submit permit applications for the improvements planned at railroad crossings, county records show. Virgin Trains anticipates starting construction this year in Indian River County on the track and crossing improvements needed to establish a passenger rail line between Orlando and West Palm Beach by 2022. READ FULL STORY

Crowded jail big factor as Sheriff seeks budget hike
week of June 20, 2019

Nearly one-third of the proposed $55 million budget Sheriff Deryl Loar plans to submit to the County Commission for the 2019-20 fiscal year is to cover the costs of staffing and operating the county jail next year. That’s $18.1 million – or $867,500 more than his current budget for the jail. “The Corrections Division is in the shadows of local law enforcement,” Loar said last week, when discussing reasons for seeking the increase in funding. “It’s not policing the streets. It’s not the cruisers, the helicopters and the K-9s. It’s not what everybody sees. “It’s like a restaurant,” he added. “You see the entrance and the dining room. You don’t see the kitchen. You don’t see what it costs to run the kitchen.” Likewise, Loar said, most county residents don’t see the costs of running his agency’s Corrections Division, expenses that include paying the 160-plus deputies needed to staff the 200,000-square-foot jail around the clock, operating a facility that currently houses more than 500 inmates. READ FULL STORY

Riomar Country Club renovates clubhouse; completion seen in first quarter of 2020
week of June 20, 2019

Riomar Country Club is celebrating its centennial year by remodeling its clubhouse, an ambitious undertaking that got underway with a groundbreaking in April and is expected to be completed by the late first quarter of 2020, according to General Manager Mark Badertscher. The single-story clubhouse is being extensively renovated and restored by Croom Construction Company to match “the look of Old Riomar [residences],” Badertscher said. The focus of the restored 14,000-square-foot concrete and stucco structure will be on the east side patio, designed for casual dining. There will be a cupola and an open-air patio with awnings will overlook the golf course. A new, modernized kitchen will accommodate daily lunch, dinner and “special functions, including weddings,” Badertscher continued. “It will be a nice complement to the renovated golf course and beach club, all part of our [ongoing] strategic planning process.” Riomar Country Club, which is ensconced on 110 acres fronting the Atlantic at 2106 Club Drive, had its genesis in 1919. READ FULL STORY

Public access expanding at Oyster Bar Conservation Area
week of June 20, 2019

Residents and tourists will soon have easier access to more of the natural beauty the barrier island has to offer. The Indian River County Commission recently unanimously approved spending $194,650 to build boardwalks, piers and improve visitor access to Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area. Summerlin's Marine Construction of Fort Pierce is expected to begin construction in the next 60 to 90 days and wrap up in less than six months, county officials said. "We've made a commitment here in the last couple of years to really move forward on some of our conservation land and putting in public amenities," Commission Vice Chairman Peter O’Bryan said at the board’s meeting last week. "We look forward to its completion.” Oyster Bar is a roughly 155-acre conservation area located just north of Round Island Riverside Park between State Road A1A and the Indian River Lagoon. The joint project with the Indian River Land Trust consists of the addition of four boardwalks that connect existing trails and allow visitors a view of the interior marsh. One pier will overlook the lagoon and include an observation deck, according to county plans. READ FULL STORY

Laura Riding Jackson house about to begin journey to new home
week of June 20, 2019

With heavy equipment and kid gloves, work crews are preparing the 110-year-old Laura Riding Jackson house for what will be its final journey – from the Environmental Learning Center off the Wabasso Causeway, where it spent the past 25 years, to its new home on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College, a trip of about 12 miles. The costly project, which requires breaking the house into several sections, is underway at the Environmental Learning Center at the same time as the home’s new site is being prepared at the college campus. Proctor Construction Company is preparing the historic Florida cracker structure for the move, working with Brownie Structural Movers, a fourth-generation Florida-based company that has moved 5,000 structures, which will handle the actual transport. “We’ve begun making interior cuts along three walls and are in the process of slipping support beams under the house,” said project manager Eric Crockett. The separation won’t be completed “until Mr. Brownie can support the house with his moving equipment.” READ FULL STORY