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Vero researcher involved in COVID-19 drug trials
week of November 19, 2020

The news last week that the FDA had given emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 treatment drew worldwide notice. In Vero Beach, few paid closer attention than infectious diseases specialist Dr. Gerald Pierone. Since late October, COVID-19 patients with active infections have been coming to Whole Family Health Center – through a back entrance, away from other patients – to participate in trials of drugs under development to treat the disease. Among those drugs is bamlanivimab – accent on the “iv.” The drug, made by Eli Lilly and based on synthetic monoclonal antibodies, is similar to a drug given by IV to an ailing President Donald Trump when he contracted the disease. It effectively “neutralizes” the virus by blocking it from the place where it binds to human cells. The drug is intended to keep high-risk patients who are still in the early stages of the disease from developing severe symptoms. Three COVID-19 positive patients here have enrolled in that out-patient trial, known as ACTIV-2, with four more scheduled to be screened this week. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases creeping up on July level
week of November 19, 2020

As families ponder how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving and get back to something resembling a “normal” life, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported here this week crept closer to the level experienced during the July peak. In the seven days leading up to Monday press time, 332 Indian River County residents were infected with the virus, according to state reports. The daily average of 47 cases was closing in on the peak July average of 55 new daily cases. Thirty-three of those testing positive in the past week were island residents. That makes 54 island residents diagnosed with COVID-19 thus far in November – a 30 percent increase over the total for the first eight months of the pandemic. Two people have been reported dead of COVID-19 complications so far this month, and 38 people have been admitted to the hospital with the virus. As of Monday evening, 14 people were hospitalized, and 50 percent of the county’s 28 staffed intensive care beds were available. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 increase among long-term care residents – but not staff – baffles experts
week of November 19, 2020

A recent uptick in coronavirus cases among residents – but not staff – in Florida long-term care facilities is baffling experts. The marked increase in COVID-19 among residents of the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities over the last three weeks is in stark contrast to the steady decline in infections in facility staff members over the same period. How can that be when, since the start of the pandemic, long-term care staff has shouldered the blame for bringing infection into facilities? Could months of training on COVID-19 precautions have taken hold with caregivers’ families and friends, keeping staff safer at home than the families of residents who are now visiting with fewer and fewer restrictions? Or are false negatives from rapid tests to blame, with thousands sent to facilities just before the rise in resident cases began? “We have been mulling this over and looking at our available resources and let me tell you in one word what we have on the question you’re asking: nada,” said David Bruns, communications manager at AARP’s Florida office. READ FULL STORY


Incoming School Board members support mandatory mask rules
week of November 19, 2020

Incoming School Board members Brian Barefoot and Peggy Jones said they support mandatory facemask rules, a dramatic change from the optional facemask policy championed by their outgoing counterparts. COVID-19 cases have spiked in Indian River County public schools since Nov. 3, particularly at Vero Beach High School, where 16 students and five staff members tested positive in the past three weeks. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 at the high school resulted in 147 students being directed to quarantine between Nov. 3 and Nov. 16. Five staff members also tested positive for the virus and one additional teacher was directed to quarantine. These numbers are far below the threshold the School District has set for closing Vero Beach High. But Barefoot and Jones, who were set to be sworn into office at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, have questioned the wisdom of any retreat from the mandatory facemask policy while the COVID-19 pandemic is still spreading. “I think facemasks should be mandatory,” Barefoot said. “I think the majority of people are pro-mask. I think that’s the wise and smart thing to do, even though I don’t want to have to wear one either.” READ FULL STORY


2 more students at St. Edward’s School have tested positive for COVID-19
week of November 19, 2020

Two students tested positive for COVID-19 at St. Edward’s School during the week of Nov. 1 through Nov. 7, school spokeswoman Monica Jennings confirmed Thursday. A Lower School student who tested positive for the virus has already returned to class, Jennings said. An Upper School student who tested positive is due back next week. No other students or staff members were directed to quarantine after Health Department officials determined no one at the private school met the criteria for close contact, Jennings said. So far, the barrier island institution has had four students, a teacher and a counselor test positive for the virus since the school year started on Aug. 20. Altogether, 32 students have been directed to quarantine, all in September or October. “The [health and safety] protocols put in place have been instrumental in the very low number of quarantine directives,” Jennings said. READ FULL STORY


Downtown Vero gets its first new office building in a decade
week of November 19, 2020

The first new Class-A office building in Downtown Vero Beach in more than a decade is going up on 20th Street a couple of blocks west of the county courthouse and will be complete next summer, according to developer Joe Foglia. The concrete shell of what will be a handsome, brick-clad, Federal-style structure – a considerable visual upgrade on most of the buildings along that stretch of 20th – is nearly complete, and commercial real estate broker Billy Moss says there is strong interest from potential tenants. “It is always a pleasure to represent a distinctive building,” says Moss. “I think the design is spectacular and its location and visibility will add to its success. “With this building being located so close to the courthouse, I figured it would most likely contain law offices, so I felt it needed to be dignified, solid, and done in a classically American architectural style,” says architect Hal Lambert, who designed the building. The two-story building will be distinctive not just for its design but also because it doesn’t have much competition as a brand-new downtown office building. None, in fact. READ FULL STORY


FIT researchers apparently do not plan to proceed with Bethel Creek flushing study
week of November 19, 2020

Florida Institute of Technology researchers apparently do not plan to proceed with a Phase 2 study of whether Vero’s polluted Bethel Creek would benefit from a one-way pump station flushing the creek with ocean water, according to outgoing County Commissioner Tim Zorc. On his final day in office, Zorc – who championed flushing the creek for much of his eight-year term – said there were no indications FIT researchers would proceed with installing a pump and conducting the next phase of a study here. Zorc released the executive summary of an $800,000 state-funded study by FIT professor Dr. Gary Zarillo and colleagues finding Bethel Creek and Brevard County’s stagnant Banana River Lagoon would benefit from a “temporary inflow pilot system” to improve water quality. The researchers gathered baseline data and tested computer models of virtual dye to track controlled water exchanges between the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. They wanted to see to see if these simulated inflows would provide improved flushing and water quality within local lagoon compartments without negative impacts on marine creatures, sea grass and bottom sediments. READ FULL STORY


Senior organization launches a searchable website to link older residents with services
week of November 19, 2020

The seniors of Indian River County, along with their family members and caregivers, have a new resource at their fingertips after a local nonprofit launched a searchable website that details services available to the county’s older residents. The Senior Collaborative of Indian River County website, ircsc.org, is searchable by keywords, provider name or category. Categories include health and medical, housing (including assisted living and skilled nursing facilities), food and meals, financial assistance, government agencies, recreation, arts and entertainment, and transportation. In conjunction with the website, the Senior Collaborative has set up a phone line to conduct telephone assessments and make referrals. “Our Navigational Program links seniors to providers both through our website and by telephone referral,” said Randy Riley, SCIRC executive director. “They can call us, and we’ll make a referral to several appropriate providers.” With a median age over 51, Indian River County is the sixth oldest county in the United States. Abby Walters, who chairs the team behind the website, explained that seniors are frequently unaware of many services available to them. As an example, she mentioned SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Seniors), a free program that can assist with Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance issues. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor members reach tentative deal to take over club from developer
week of November 19, 2020

Grand Harbor members could acquire full control of the club’s facilities and operations by Dec. 1 after negotiators reached an agreement-in-principle with the community’s developer last week. The agreement came a week after 85 percent of the club’s 673 members voted against the developer’s previous proposal, which was not supported by the Grand Harbor Members Association’s board. GHMA Board President Doug Sweeny said his panel endorses the new proposal, which was scheduled to be reviewed by the developer’s attorneys Monday and, barring any glitches, signed by representatives from the two parties. Once the agreement is signed, the club could begin to partially reopen – all facilities and operations were shuttered by the developer on Nov. 7 – as Grand Harbor members conduct a vote on the new proposal. Sweeny said Monday a second vote could begin as soon as this week and conclude by the end of the month. “We’ve got to get out of the litigation phase and come to an amicable transition, which was our desire all along,” Sweeny said. “We want to take control of the club so we can reopen it. The lawyers can still stop this, but we’re hopeful they’ll all sign off on the agreement.” READ FULL STORY


Brackett lauded as ‘excellent choice’ as Vero Beach mayor
week of November 19, 2020

It was no shock when the Vero Beach City Council elected Robbie Brackett mayor Monday to lead meetings for the next year, but it’s harder to predict whether the results of the Nov. 3 election will have any drastic impact on the political bent of the council in terms of fiscal policy, handling the pandemic or plotting the future of the city’s two riverfront utility sites. Brackett said Monday he thinks the City Council has been doing a great job, but that he’d like to infuse more creativity and ingenuity into solving some of the lingering issues like beachside parking and stormwater runoff. “I’d like for us to work more efficiently, to get the most out of what we have and to always keep in mind who we are serving and what their needs are. The city staff does a terrific job, but we need everybody to keep in mind that they work for the city residents and for the taxpayers,” Brackett said. At his weekly meetings with City Manager Monte Falls, Brackett said he tries to brainstorm innovative ways of doing things that don’t cost a lot of money. READ FULL STORY


How will COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in Vero?
week of November 12, 2020

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine – assuming one is approved for emergency use – could arrive in Vero Beach as soon as next month, according to Miranda Hawker, director of Indian River County’s Health Department. And though it will likely be March or April before the public at large has access, Hawker said, the state has already released a draft plan on how to distribute the vaccine, with Hawker’s department set to conduct exercises here in the coming weeks to prepare. “We do anticipate that the first vaccine will come late in December; however, that’s going to get priority for healthcare workers and first responders,” Hawker told the Vero Beach City Council last week. “As we go into vaccination planning, we will be involved with [City Manager Monte Falls] and with all of you, as we identify what vaccine we’re getting and when we start being able to structure mass vaccination clinics.” It was a rare hint from Hawker about what is happening behind the scenes in advance of a vaccine. READ FULL STORY


Troubling surge occurring here in COVID-19 cases
week of November 12, 2020

The highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases since the summer surge was reported this past Sunday as 48 people tested positive and Indian River County’s cumulative case count topped the 4,100 mark. The last time cases per day were that high was early August. In November so far, the county has added an average of 29 new cases per day. While that number remains lower than the high of 55 cases per day back in July, the county’s top public health official expects even more cases in the coming weeks. Miranda Hawker, executive director of the county Health Department, told the Vero Beach City Council on election day that she’s seen a troubling surge in the county’s two-week rolling average of daily cases, and that rising case numbers severely hamper her agency’s ability to do contact tracing. “When we get in a situation of rising cases, which we will in the next few weeks, we will prioritize the contact tracing to schools and long-term care facilities,” Hawker said. “The areas we focus on are situations most at risk.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases spike among local students, public school staff members
week of November 12, 2020

COVID-19 cases spiked in Vero Beach High School in the past week as 12 students and three staff members tested positive for the virus and 92 students and a staff member were directed to quarantine. A total of 10 school district employees tested positive for the virus between last Sunday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 7, more than doubling the number of staff cases since schools reopened Aug. 24. The 15 students districtwide who tested positive between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7 were more than any earlier weekly total since the new school year started. Overall, a total of 51 students and 19 staff members at 17 public schools have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 24, records show. A total of 747 students and 26 staff members have been quarantined. Meanwhile, a fourth case of COVID-19 was reported at St. Edward’s School during the week of Oct. 25-31, state records show. A Middle School student tested positive for the virus, school spokeswoman Monica Jennings confirmed Friday. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor members in sensitive talks with developer
week of November 12, 2020

One day after Grand Harbor members overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to take over ownership of the community and control of the club’s facilities from the developer, both sides had resumed talks last weekend. “Right now, we’re in the middle of some very sensitive negotiations,” Grand Harbor Members Association Board President Doug Sweeny said Saturday. “We always wanted to have a negotiated deal and an amicable transition – and we still do – but we couldn’t endorse that last proposal from the developer because we didn’t believe it was in the members’ best interest. “We still believe, however, that one way or another, we’re going to get to a resolution.” The latest negotiations come after a period of contention between the developer and Grand Harbor members, who contend the developer has failed to properly maintain and operate club facilities. Sweeny said the GHMA has no timetable for the latest negotiations and feels no pressure to reach an agreement quickly, but board members believe Grand Harbor’s Massachusetts-based developer is motivated to make a deal. READ FULL STORY


Many barrier island septic systems found to be leaking waste into the groundwater
week of November 12, 2020

As 500 barrier island homeowners rush to comply with a City of Vero Beach code requirement to have their septic systems inspected and pumped out by Dec. 31, many systems tested in October and November failed inspection – including half of those tested in the Bethel Creek neighborhood. The high percentage of failures – more than one-third of the systems tested – validates the concerns of area scientists and environmentalists who have long said that worn-out septic systems are leaking waste into groundwater and contributing to ecological problems in the Indian River Lagoon, where seagrass die-off and fish kills have occurred. Out of 115 systems recently inspected, 42 failed, according to city records. The greatest number of failures occurred in the South Beach neighborhood, within the city limits, where 20 of 38 systems were found to be faulty. Bethel Creek saw the greatest percentage of failures but a smaller raw number of worn-out septic systems, with six of 12 failing inspection. In old Riomar, seven systems failed out of 21 inspected. The Live Oak neighborhood in Central Beach fared best, with nine failures noted among 44 inspection reports submitted for a 20-percent failure rate. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic doctors continue to struggle with phone problems
week of November 12, 2020

The mystery of malfunctioning phone lines at Cleveland Clinic doctors’ offices apparently has yet to be solved, more than a month into a systemwide conversion to new electronic health records software. So, what is one of the world’s greatest healthcare systems doing to deal with the dropped calls, busy signals and disappearing appointments patients have encountered? It set up another phone line, designed to help people who can’t get through on the others. “This hotline will be staffed by patient access caregivers, allowing the community to speak directly with a representative that can assist with requests for appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and follow-up questions for providers,” said Cleveland Clinic Indian River president Dr. Greg Rosencrance. The number – 772-770-6815 – will be available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he added. Calls placed after hours immediately take patients to the “hotline general mailbox,” where they can leave a message. The phone system problems, which appear to have affected vast numbers of patients calling about appointments with Cleveland Clinic-owned physician offices, began after the new software, Epic, was rolled out in mid-September. READ FULL STORY


Repairs to 17th Street bridge now won’t start until December
week of November 12, 2020

Structural repairs to the 17th Street bridge that were set to begin on Nov. 2, rerouting traffic for about six months, have now been delayed until Dec. 4. Two days after the work was scheduled to commence, Vero city officials had heard nothing from the Florida Department of Transportation about why the crews had not shown up. The Vero Beach Police Department was prepared to assist with traffic safety and had notified local residents via social media that all traffic would be run over the eastbound side of the bridge, with one lane traveling eastbound and one lane traveling westbound. FDOT has confirmed that repairs to the westbound side of the bridge would take about three months, then the eastbound side would be closed for repairs for three months and all traffic would be run over the newly repaired westbound side. The FDOT district office could not provide a reason for the delay, but Dan Rojas of DBI Services, the contractor on the project, said “we were waiting on revisions on plans and approvals.” READ FULL STORY


South of bridge, a Community Sailing Center?
week of November 5, 2020

After a decade of launching its sailboats onto the lagoon from alongside the city’s wastewater treatment plant, the Youth Sailing Foundation of Indian River County is hoping to secure a permanent mooring there and construct a Community Sailing Center. The center, as presented to the Three Corners Steering Committee, would anchor development of the riverfront immediately south of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge. The Youth Sailing Foundation pitch is part of the larger discussion on what should ultimately replace the city’s former power plant – just north of the bridge – and its current sewer plant on Vero’s mainland waterfront. “Not only do we want to put up a beautiful building, but we want to make it as user-friendly as possible,” explained Stu Keiller, executive director of the Youth Sailing Foundation, adding that the project would require no funding from the city. “We’re proposing to build a $2.5 million public park with a building. The building would probably be about $1.8 million, and the rest of the funds would go into the site development, pavilions, parking and an endowment fund to maintain the building.” READ FULL STORY


North of bridge, dismantle big blue or turn it into riverfront centerpiece?
week of November 5, 2020

Of all the decisions the City of Vero Beach must make before its 38 acres of prime riverfront utility sites can be redeveloped, determining the fate of the Big Blue power plant could prove the most divisive. Throughout the 10-year effort to sell Vero Electric, clearing the shoreline north of the 17th Street bridge of all the aging, unsightly industrial equipment – referred to by some city officials as the “dinosaur” on the river – and starting with a clean slate was one overarching goal. The dream of witnessing Big Blue dismantled and removed from Vero’s skyline was viewed as the ultimate, cathartic act of closure on the city’s past as a high-cost power producer. A few years ago there was even talk of allowing a movie production company to blow Big Blue up in a blaze of theatrical, pyrotechnic glory. There seemed to be scant sentimental attachment to the towering, mid-century aqua blue structure when Vero’s electric customers were suffering under oppressive rates. READ FULL STORY


Snowbirds may be fueling island COVID-19 surge
week of November 5, 2020

In most years, the return of snowbirds to their barrier island homes is marked by sightings of car transport trucks. This year, the harbinger of their seasonal influx could be a surge in COVID-19 cases. Over the seven days prior to Monday press time, 20 new positive coronavirus cases were reported among barrier island residents. That, combined with 15 island cases the previous week and 16 island cases earlier in October, makes an alarming 51 new cases reported for the 32963 ZIP code since Oct. 1. From the first novel coronavirus cases reported locally in mid-March through Oct. 1, only 136 island residents tested positive – an average of just five cases per week. These new 51 cases make up a 38 percent increase in total positives over the past five weeks. In the same time period, positive cases in the county as a whole increased by 702 cases for a 22 percent increase since Oct. 1. Though island cases are increasing more rapidly, in relative terms, than the rest of the county, the island remains the least infected ZIP code, with 32968 next at 244 cases. READ FULL STORY


Parents sue county School Board over facemask policy
week of November 5, 2020

Jennifer Pippin was already unhappy that official policy required her daughter Summer to wear a facemask all day at the Vero Beach High School Freshman Learning Center. Then Summer fell behind in her class work and activities after being directed in mid-October to quarantine for 14 days because of exposure to a COVID-19 positive student in the high school cafeteria. Fed up, Pippin joined three other parents in filing a complaint last week against the county School Board asking a state judge to suspend the mandatory facemask policy and schedule a hearing on claims their Constitutional rights are being violated. “It’s not just: ‘We don’t want masks,’” Pippin said in an interview. “The School Board of Indian River County violated a lot of laws, parental rights laws. The biggest thing is the masking and quarantining without parental consent.” The parents contend the mandatory facemask policy violates the Florida Constitutional requirement of providing a free public education, creates a system that is separate and unequal, and violates parental authority to determine their minor child’s medical treatment. The lawsuit equates the mask requirement to medical treatment. READ FULL STORY


St. Ed’s counselor positive for COVID-19; no students exposed
week of November 5, 2020

A counselor at St. Edward’s School tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-October, but did not come in close contact with anyone on campus, a school official said. “She did not expose anyone, so we didn’t have any additional quarantines,” St. Ed’s spokeswoman Monica Jennings said last Thursday. It was the third COVID-19 case at the barrier island private school since the new academic year started on Aug. 20. A teacher and a student were also diagnosed with the virus earlier this year, Jennings said. Contact tracing led to 24 lower school students going through a 14-day quarantine period. “Everyone is back to school and things are going well,” Jennings said. “We continue to be really vigilant about proper protocols and we’re happy thus far with how it’s going.” Meanwhile, three Indian River County public school employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, matching the previous high from the week of Sept. 8 through Sept. 14. A staff member in the Transportation Department tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 29 resulting in eight students being directed to quarantine show. It was the district’s first off-campus case reported since schools reopened on Aug. 24. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic adding Primary Care physicians
week of November 5, 2020

It took multiple tries over the past two years, but Cleveland Clinic Florida is at last acquiring one of the largest primary care practices in Indian River County – Primary Care of the Treasure Coast. The move, which is expected to wrap up by the end of the year, adds around a dozen doctors and advanced practice providers to Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s roster of hospital-owned physician practices. “We’ve elected to join the hospital and it was by unanimous vote,” said Primary Care of the Treasure Coast’s CEO Mike Luton. “It’s a fine institution under Cleveland Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic’s practices are the kind of practices we want to have.” Luton said the contracts offered Primary Care’s physicians were “lucrative,” and said all of the practice’s 100 or so nurses, clerks and other employees were offered positions with Cleveland Clinic. He said all but a few accepted. Primary Care of the Treasure Coast providers will remain in their existing building, which is nearly adjacent to the hospital’s east acreage. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores swears in new council Thursday
week of November 5, 2020

Regardless of what might be going on in national politics, the Town of Indian River Shores was planning to celebrate the peaceful transfer of power to a new mayor, vice mayor and three new council members at 2 p.m. Thursday. While other cities needed to wait until votes from Tuesday’s election were certified to hold organizational meetings, the Shores’ three candidates did not face any opposition for their three seats. Thus, there was no need for a town election this year – enabling them to be sworn in less than 48 hours after the polls closed. Joining incumbent council members Sam Carroll and Brian Foley were Chris Hendricks, Mary Alice Smith and John McCord. Hendricks, who moved to the Shores in 2003 after retiring as Deputy Inspector General of the U.S. House of Representatives, is also a CPA, auditor, Realtor and longtime chair of the town’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board. A 22-year John’s Island resident, Smith is well-known for her enthusiastic philanthropic work, her strong support of the Shores Public Safety Department and her pivotal role organizing the men’s 2015 USGA Mid-Amateur Golf Tournament held at John’s Island. READ FULL STORY


Oceanfront property owners balk at beach repair easements
week of November 5, 2020

A change in the wording of letters mailed to oceanfront property owners last year backfired on the county, delaying tens of millions of dollars in needed beach repairs. The county needs easement agreements with beachside landowners to begin the massive sand replacement projects. Delaying the projects has put in jeopardy as much as $17 million in state and federal grants. In its letters to the homeowners, the county said it is now seeking “perpetual,” or permanent, access to a beach management and assessment easement needed for such projects. That was a change from easement agreements secured for previous beach renourishment projects, for which the county was always able to get the agreements it needed. “We’re not trying to seize anyone’s property or give the public the right to walk beyond the dunes and into people’s backyard swimming pools,” County Attorney Dylan Reingold said, explaining the change in wording and attempting to address beachfront property owners concerns. “That’s not our intent. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council shelves stormwater utility vote until its Nov. 17 meeting
week of November 5, 2020

With two members not seeking re-election, the Vero Beach City Council postponed a vote on establishing a stormwater utility tax until after this week’s municipal election. There was no consensus to move forward with a $93,000 work order for the consulting firm that was to begin the process of surveying all the city properties for the stormwater tax assessments. Outgoing Mayor Tony Young expressed his deep regret, since the stormwater utility – which would be a new assessment on residents’ tax bills – was something he had hoped to get going while still a member of the city council. The amount of the proposed tax levy has not been set, but initial estimates when the city was considering charging a monthly fee on utility bills instead of assessing via the tax rolls were that it would cost the typical homeowner between $60 and $100 per year. Business owners would typically pay more than homeowners, as the charge would be assessed according to the property’s impervious area, meaning the portion covered by a building or pavement. Top city staff has pushed hard to get the stormwater utility, putting together a $1.6 million budget for the stormwater utility. READ FULL STORY


900-home subdivision coming next to Vero Beach outlets
week of November 5, 2020

A Coral Gables-based real estate developer is preparing to turn up the volume on the county’s building boom. The Kern Company has submitted to the county’s Building Division plans to transform a former citrus grove west of I-95 into a 900-home development called “Venetian Grove.” The plan calls for 570 single-family homes and 330 townhouses to be built on 231 acres owned by Terrapin Partners LLC, based in Waterford, Connecticut. The listed address for the property, which is immediately south of Vero Beach Outlets and east of the Verona Trace community, is 9400 8th Street, but the entrance to the community would be off State Road 60 at 98th Avenue. “We’re in the permitting process, and we hope to have our permits by the springtime,” Melissa Henry, the developer’s project manager, said last week. “This property has been on-and-off in the works with different owners for years. “The property became available again, and the owner now has assessed the market, sees the success they’ve had across the street at Verona Trace and is ready to move forward.” READ FULL STORY


17th Street bridge to be partially closed all winter for repairs
week of October 29, 2020

Starting Monday, island drivers who use the 17th Street bridge may hit a traffic snag as the Florida Department of Transportation embarks on a six-month repair project on the structural base of the bridge. The bridge won’t be fully back in service until well after Easter. City Manager Monte Falls said FDOT told him the repair of “spalls” in the concrete beams under the bridge cannot wait until after season – which makes it sound serious. Falls said, and FDOT confirmed, that the westbound side of the bridge will be closed first, for three months. All traffic will travel on the eastbound side of the bridge starting Monday, with one lane traveling east and the other traveling west. When that work is completed in January, the eastbound side of the bridge will be closed, with all traffic shifted to the westbound side. The bridge was started in 1977, completed in 1979 and named after Alma Lee Loy by an act of the Florida Legislature in 2012. FDOT says contractor DBI Services will be repairing “spalls,” meaning that the bridge has been cracking and shedding flakes of concrete in some places and must be fixed. READ FULL STORY


Construction of new tracks for Brightline trains reaches Vero
week of October 29, 2020

Contractors working on the $2.5 billion extension of the Brightline passenger train to Orlando from South Florida this week started installing utility pipes along the railroad tracks in South Vero. The excavation and earth moving was the first sign of heavy construction for the controversial Brightline project in southern Indian River County, where many residents fear the high-speed passenger service will create public safety and traffic congestion problems. Workers closed an eastbound lane of 4th Street, near U.S. 1, about 10:30 a.m. Friday so a delivery truck could drop off a load of 3-foot-tall, 20-foot-long concrete pipe sections. HSR Constructors deployed an excavator to dig a trench alongside the Florida East Coast Railway tracks for the large pipes. Construction workers also used a Crawler Dozer to grade the FECR right-of-way east of the freight tracks to establish a base for a new set of high-speed passenger tracks. The work started less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Indian River County’s last-gasp appeal of the federal approvals for the Brightline expansion. READ FULL STORY


Wealthy ZIP codes go big for Biden – but not Vero island
week of October 29, 2020

While former Vice President Joe Biden has raised far more money than President Donald Trump from donors who live in wealthy U.S. ZIP codes, Vero Beach barrier island residents have once again given the bulk of their campaign contributions to the Republican nominee, according to an analysis released Monday. In ZIP codes with a median household income of at least $100,000, Biden outraised Trump by almost a three to one margin, $486 million to $167 million, in the period from April 1 to Oct. 14, according to records analyzed by the New York Times. But in ZIP code 32963 during the same period, Trump outraised Biden by a similar margin, $1,503,722 to $576,508, the records showed. The analysis of fundraising data looked at more than 25 million donations from April 1 to Oct. 14, merging Federal Election Commission filings from the campaigns of Trump and Biden, their joint operations with the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee, and data from the donation-processing sites WinRed and ActBlue. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases on island set new one-week record
week of October 29, 2020

The barrier island reported a one-week record of 15 new coronavirus positives in the seven days leading up to Monday press time. New COVID-19 cases in Indian River County jumped this past week by 183, the largest number in one week since mid-August. The county case count, however, was still not as bad as June and July, when about 350 residents per week were testing positive. But the hike in the numbers – in the absence of a large increase in testing – was troubling. This was the sixth straight week with new cases topping the 100 mark. Those testing positive for the virus here were still skewing younger, with only a handful of new cases reported among the community’s oldest and most vulnerable people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Recognizing the downward trend in outbreaks from these facilities, Gov. Ron DeSantis has expanded visitation to reunite family members and loved ones. Up until this week, the number of new hospitalizations had remained below 10, but as of Monday evening, 17 COVID-19 patients had been admitted for treatment in the hospital in the past week, and 60 percent of the county’s intensive care unit beds were full. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District sees an urgent need for youth mental health facility here
week of October 29, 2020

There is no drive-through testing for the pandemic of mental illness that has followed COVID-19 into Indian River County. And there will be no vaccine against depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, though rates of all three are surging. But the alarming increase in psychiatric patients, particularly among the young, has propelled community health officials to create a service that has never existed here before – an intensive outpatient mental health treatment program for children and young adults. A request for proposal, or RFP, went up on the Hospital District website Friday, hoping to draw interest from not only local but national mental healthcare providers. With the urgent need, the winning bidder will have to act fast. Proposals are due Nov. 13, and a center is expected to be up and running within a year. Currently, the lone intensive-outpatient program in the county is only for adults, and only those with substance abuse as a primary diagnosis. Phoenix Rising Wellness Center, which opened in Vero in 2018, treats mental illnesses, but only as a secondary diagnosis. READ FULL STORY


Despite risks, governor relaxes visitation limits at nursing homes
week of October 29, 2020

Citing a decline in COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities and a need for seniors to have social contact, Gov. Ron DeSantis further relaxed visitation limits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities last week. His revised order removes the five-visitor limit, allows children in, and lets residents leave for overnight stays without being tested as they leave or when they return. In addition, outdoor visitation will now be allowed even if there is an active COVID-19 outbreak going on inside a facility. The changes come just in time for Thanksgiving, and just when families – including college kids – come home to Vero. With the nation hitting its highest COVID-19 numbers yet, odds are most visitors will be coming from places where there is more COVID-19 than in Indian River County, potentially increasing the risk that grandparents returning to their facilities after visiting with their families could bring the virus back with them. Florida does not require visitors to be tested before going to see loved ones in long-term care and the residents themselves won’t have to be tested before they return to their apartments. Instead, the governor said last week, he will leave it up to families and facilities to do what they feel is necessary. READ FULL STORY


2 island students create music videos to uplift spirits of quarantined nursing home residents
week of October 29, 2020

Vero Beach High seniors Alissa and Brielle Serovich, twin sisters who live with their parents in The Moorings, were troubled by the isolation of nursing home residents cut off from friends and family during COVID-19 quarantines mandated by the pandemic. “We had a grandfather in a nursing home a while back,” said Alissa. “We knew how much he loved having visitors and live entertainment while he was there. “When long-term care centers stopped permitting visitors, many residents were restricted to their rooms with no entertainment nor social interaction.” So the girls came up with the idea of performing virtual concerts they could share with long-term care residents. With Alissa playing the piano and Brielle the ukulele or violin, the girls performed songs that held special meaning to them – “You Are My Sunshine,” “Moonlight Sonata,” “Let it Be,” “Can't Help Falling in Love,” “Love Me Tender” and “Yesterday” – and matched them in a slide show with photos taken during their pre-quarantine travels. READ FULL STORY


ELC plans November groundbreaking on $1.3 million education and event pavilion
week of October 29, 2020

The Environmental Learning Center is on track to break ground on a $1.3 million pavilion and event oval by the end of November, says ELC Executive Director Barbara Schlitt Ford. The project is the centerpiece of an ambitious multimillion-dollar campus expansion conceived several years ago to reinvent the popular 64-acre nature center, elevating it to “the next level, as a major, regional environmental education resource,” says Schlitt Ford. The pavilion project received a major kick-start in the form of a $1 million donation from local businessman and inventor Tom Schidel early last year. The 2,500-square-foot pavilion and its adjacent 9,000-square-foot grassy oval will be named the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion during the November groundbreaking ceremony. The pavilion and oval will be located northeast of the entrance road, on the grassy expanse where the Laura Riding Jackson homestead once stood. The outdoor space will accommodate as many as 1,100 people for ELC events and concerts. It will be rented out for private occasions as well. READ FULL STORY


County residents in 20s, 60s lead in positive tests
week of October 22, 2020

October so far has produced nearly 300 newly reported cases of COVID-19 in Indian River County but only three reported deaths from complications of the virus. Sixteen people who live on the barrier island have tested positive this month, bringing the cases in ZIP code 32963 to 142 since the start of the pandemic. Only 21 of the new COVID-19 patients in our area have had to be hospitalized in October. As of Monday evening, state reports showed only six people were currently hospitalized with the virus here. Of the new October cases, only eight came from the county’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, so it seems that outbreaks are, temporarily at least, under control in those settings where our most vulnerable people live. So, who is testing positive? Interestingly, people in their 20s and people in their 60s make up the largest percentage of our cases – with each group accounting for 19 percent of the cases here. Not far behind were people in their 30s, who made up 16 percent of the new October cases. READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary has COVID-19 case; so far, no schools here in danger of closing
week of October 22, 2020

Beachland Elementary School had its first COVID-19 case last week as a student tested positive for the virus and 15 classmates and two staff members were directed to quarantine. The barrier island school reopened Monday morning to 330 students attending class in person after custodians disinfected and sanitized the campus over the weekend, said School District spokeswoman Christen Maddux. Beachland Elementary was the 14th public school in Indian River County to report a case of COVID-19 since the school year started Aug. 24, records show. Also last week, a staff member at Dodgertown Elementary and two more students at Vero Beach High School tested positive for COVID-19. No one had to be quarantined at Dodgertown but 36 students identified as meeting close contact criteria were quarantined at the high school. Altogether, nine students at Vero Beach High have tested positive for COVID-19 this school year, resulting in the quarantining of 203 students and one staff member, records show. There are 1,913 students attending class in person at VBHS. Most of those quarantined have returned to school. READ FULL STORY


Longtime head of mosquito control program to retire
week of October 22, 2020

Island resident Doug Carlson, the longtime, well regarded and highly paid director of the Indian River Mosquito Control District, is bugging out. After 42 years with the district – the past 17 as director – Carlson, 68, informed the district’s board of commissioners he will retire effective Dec. 18. The announcement came days after this newspaper drew attention to the fact that Carlson is being paid $151,000 a year – more than the county’s sheriff. “Doug Carlson has been a stalwart in mosquito control his entire career and is a leader in his field,” district commissioner Buck Vocelle said. “He has led the creation of innovative methods and procedures, and he has served and chaired numerous boards and committees on both the state and national levels. “Through his leadership, the Indian River Mosquito Control District has been recognized as one of the most prominent such districts in the nation,” he added. “Although we wish him well in his retirement, he will be sorely missed by all those with whom he came into contact.” READ FULL STORY


Heaton family eyeing new beachside hotel in Old Riomar
week of October 22, 2020

Lee Heaton, son of Vero Beach Hotel & Spa developer George Heaton, has been laying the groundwork with Vero city officials to build a new hotel in the Old Riomar neighborhood on the barrier island. Lee Heaton applied to the city’s planning department in July to have language in the city code defining the term “room” clarified. Heaton sent his request under the business name 1716 All Suite Hotel LLC and included a street address of 1716 Hwy. A1A on an artist rendering submitted to the city. That address is the old SunTrust Bank building, located between A1A and Club Drive with the 15th and 16th holes of the Riomar Golf Course to the north, and a buffer of established trees obscuring the view of an electric substation to the south. The 1.56-acre property is listed for $1,895,000 with Orlando-based McConnell Capital. The bank purchased the land in 1979 for $125,000 and constructed the 5,700-square-foot building on it in 1982. The zoning is C1-A, or commercial zoning. READ FULL STORY


New electronic records system adds to woes of patients calling Cleveland Clinic physicians
week of October 22, 2020

The launch of a new multimillion-dollar electronic health records and communication system recently rolled out by Cleveland Clinic-owned physician practices in Vero and Sebastian has been marred by incoming calls being sent into lengthy hold queues, often ending with the patient being disconnected. Others who managed to get through left messages that were never returned – including one to the Cleveland Clinic complaint line. One appointment made by phone and confirmed with three reminders – including two via the MyChart patient portal that is part of the new Epic software – had disappeared from the books without a trace when the patient arrived at the office ready to be seen. “It’s not like I really want a colonoscopy, but this is ridiculous,” said one patient, who after three weeks of trying, still hadn’t been able to book the procedure. The problems are due to password-enforced firewalls between departments imposed by Epic and related workflow changes that “crisscrossed” tasks, according to Cleveland Clinic Indian River COO Dr. Ralph Turner. READ FULL STORY


Surgeon named president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida regional division
week of October 22, 2020

An Irish-born colorectal surgeon, Conor Delaney, has been named president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida regional division, replacing Dr. Wael Barsoum, who left in July to join a national healthcare consultancy. The regional post has been held in the interim by Dr. Joseph Iannotti, who is expected to resume his role as Cleveland Clinic Florida’s chief of staff. Delaney, reportedly once in the running for Cleveland Clinic’s system-wide CEO job after Dr. Toby Cosgrove stepped down in 2017, was serving as chairman of the health system’s Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute. In that position, Delaney oversaw more than 800 staff members and 185 physicians at all Cleveland Clinic locations. Last year, his department was ranked second in the world by U.S. News in gastroenterology and GI surgery. It fell one spot to third in the current rankings. “Dr. Delaney is just a wonderful clinician,” said Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s president, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, in an interview last week. “He’s well-respected as both a physician and clinical leader. He will serve us incredibly well here in Florida.” READ FULL STORY


Commercial property owners, hit by pandemic, likely to see property tax reduction in 2021
week of October 22, 2020

Commercial property owners on the island and around the county whose businesses were hurt by the pandemic stand a good chance of getting a property tax reduction in 2021. The same holds true for tenants whose leases make them responsible for paying property taxes. The taxable value of commercial property is based on three criteria, according to Indian River County property appraiser Wesley Davis: how much it would cost to replace the building, recent sale prices of comparable buildings and – crucially – the amount of income the property generates for its owner or tenant. “We look at all three, but mainly focus on one over the others that is most accurate, looking at the building’s highest and best use,” Davis says. Often that is cash flow, because that is how most investors value commercial property. They look to see what percentage of their investment the building will pay back to them each year in lease or other income. “The place I am building will cost about $2.6 million [to build],” says developer Joe Foglia, who is constructing a small office building near the courthouse. “And truth be told, that is probably about all it will be worth sitting empty. But I plan to lease it up and get lease rates up to a certain level and at that point it is probably worth $4 million [to a smart investor]. Valuation is all about cash flow.” READ FULL STORY


Head of U.S. Fish & Wildlife impressed on first visit to Pelican Island refuge
week of October 22, 2020

The director of the federal agency in charge of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge complimented the refuge’s wild beauty and brought good financial news to staffers when she visited the 5,400-acre property for the first time Saturday. Aurelia Skipwith, appointed last January as director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, capped off National Wildlife Refuge Week here on the barrier island at the nation's first refuge, established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. During her visit, she helped lay ceremonial planks on the Centennial Trail Boardwalk to commemorate the agency’s three newest refuges. “It is very refreshing to come to our first national wildlife refuge and be able to honor our new ones coming in,” Skipwith said. “It’s an added bonus for me to meet our staff that are here working every day, keeping our areas pristine and keeping them open to the public. Seeing the pelicans flying overhead is breathtaking. It’s great to sit back and enjoy it, because I’m not going to find it in another place.” READ FULL STORY


Sebastian Inlet dune repair project set to start in December
week of October 22, 2020

The Sebastian Inlet District will begin repairing 2 miles of storm-battered dunes at the northern end of the barrier island beginning in December, using sand dredged from its stockpile adjacent to Sebastian Inlet State Park. Unlike the county, which has postponed two major beach repair projects that were slated to start in November because it could not secure the cooperation of enough beachfront property owners, the district was able to get property owners onboard without too much difficulty. “We have confidence we can construct our project without any concerns,” said James Gray, the inlet district's executive director. District commissioners last Wednesday awarded the Zephyrhills, Florida earthmoving company Phillips & Jordan a $950,000 contract to transport some 55,000 cubic yards of sand from the stockpile to the beach just north of the McLarty Treasure Museum. The sand will be shaped and graded to build up the dunes from 2,000 feet north of the museum south past Ambersand Beach Park. “It’s a fortified dune approach versus a large-scale beach renourishment project,” said Gray. “We’re building a three-to-one sloping dune from the vegetation line to above the mean highwater line.” READ FULL STORY


Will the return of snowbirds boost COVID-19 rate?
week of October 15, 2020

Having more than 100 new COVID-19 cases each week is becoming the new normal for Indian River County this fall, but hospitalizations and deaths are down, and available hospital capacity is way up from just a few days ago. Only one COVID-19 death was reported this week and only nine new people had to be hospitalized. As of Monday afternoon, only nine patients were currently hospitalized with the virus and 42 percent of the county’s ICU beds were available. At the same time, barrier island cases are climbing at a higher weekly rate than usual, with eight more cases this week and 28 cases in the past three weeks as of press time Monday, for a total 32963 case count of 140 since the start of the pandemic. Overall, the island represents only 4 percent of the county’s cases. The big question is whether that low percentage will hold once season is in full swing and the gated communities are once again bustling with activity. This week the island was responsible for 7.8 percent of new positive cases. READ FULL STORY


Grace Rehab, once top rated, now run by former director of troubled facility
week of October 15, 2020

One of the county’s top-rated nursing homes, Grace Rehabilitation Center, has been renamed Orchid Cove. It is apparently now in the hands of a New Jersey private equity firm and being run by the former director of one of Vero’s most problem-ridden facilities. The Portopiccolo Group of Englewood, N.J., has been acquiring dozens of mostly low-rated facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Barron’s, the newspaper published by Dow Jones and Company, said that as part of its “buying spree,” the group was eyeing Grace Healthcare, the Vero facility’s parent. In several of its deals, Portopiccolo used loans arranged by Contemporary Healthcare Capital, a company co-founded by Byron DeFoor, the Chattanooga-based founder of Grace Healthcare and owner of a house on Vero’s Ocean Drive. Whether by purchase or by management agreement, Portopiccolo has placed Grace Rehab under its Orchid Cove brand, one of dozens of names used for the company’s 100 or so facilities, according to Barron’s. A sign out front of the Vero facility reflects the new Orchid Cove name, replacing the Grace Rehab sign that for years boasted the facility’s five-star rating. READ FULL STORY


Public schools preparing for wave of students returning to classrooms
week of October 15, 2020

Public schools here are bracing for several thousand additional students who will be moving from online to in-school attendance in the next two weeks. Students engaged in virtual studies should return to class in person to boost their academics if they can cope with the risks related to COVID-19, said Schools Superintendent David Moore. Testing data shows the academic performance of some virtual students has slipped since last year, Moore said. And many of the district’s most challenged virtual students have yet to take assessment tests. “I look at where we are academically and I look at the students who are in virtual or transitional and I see some grave concerns,” Moore said. “It is alarming.” A total of 5,694 students are enrolled in the virtual schooling program, about 37.5 percent of the district’s population, records show. The other 9,493 students, about 62.5 percent, have returned to class in person. “I want at least 75 percent of our students back in brick and mortar,” Moore said. “The most effective environment for academic success is in a classroom with a live teacher.” READ FULL STORY


Activists urge end to requirement that students wear facemasks
week of October 15, 2020

Public school students would no longer be required to wear facemasks on campus to slow the spread of COVID-19 under new health and safety rules being considered by the Indian River County School Board. Spurred by anti-mask activists, several School Board members said they want to phase out the mandatory mask requirement that has been in place since the new school year started Aug. 24. School Board member Tiffany Justice and several parents claimed their individual legal right to determine whether their children must wear a facemask in school overrules the district’s authority to mandate facial coverings to protect public health and safety. “I’m really concerned now about where we stand in violating the rights of parents and students,” Justice said during the Oct. 6 School Board meeting. Justice threatened to call for a vote on making facemasks optional for students as soon as Tuesday, Oct. 13 but the School Board deferred action following a marathon meeting. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Museum of Art finally reopens galleries and sculpture gardens to visitors
week of October 15, 2020

One of the barrier island’s premier cultural institutions has reopened – finally – giving residents and visitors access to a permanent collection of nearly 900 pieces of artwork in a professional museum setting rare in a town the size of Vero Beach. The Vero Beach Museum of Art reopened its galleries and sculpture gardens last Tuesday, albeit with some restrictions, following an almost seven-month closure caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Brady Roberts, executive director/CEO, said he is happy the museum is open again after such a long period of time. For the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, the museum plans to offer virtual and hybrid options for some of its programming and events, along with in-person access to museum galleries. “We have a lot of space in the museum, so we can spread people out safely as long as our numbers stay good in Indian River County,” said Roberts. “But we’ll also give people the opportunity to attend virtually if they want to do it that way.” Those who prefer to visit the museum will at last be afforded an in-person view of the Avery to Warhol exhibition, a curated of selection of artwork from the museum’s permanent collection originally scheduled to open July 17. The show will remain up through Jan. 3. READ FULL STORY


Returning snowbirds will find most private clubs open and welcoming
week of October 15, 2020

When snowbirds return to their clubs this fall, they will find dining rooms, golf courses, tennis courts, fitness centers and other facilities open for business – with some restrictions – as club boards and managers strive to get life back to normal. For members who plan to stay in Vero through the holidays instead of returning north, as many say they do, their families will be welcome to come and join them for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at their clubs. “Members will be able to enjoy the sports and social calendar they know and love, but events will be modified in terms of attendance and socialization before and after,” says Ursula Gunter, director of membership and marketing at The Moorings Yacht & Country Club. “Like everybody else, we’re trying to find creative ways to offer regular services without putting anybody’s safety in jeopardy,” says Tim Straley, general manager at Vero Beach Country Club, where members are now able to walk the golf course at any time of the day. READ FULL STORY


The Vero Beach Bridge Club’s ‘new normal’
week of October 15, 2020

Signs of the pandemic in Florida started cropping up in March, though slightly later in Vero Beach than in other parts of the state. At the Vero Beach Duplicate Bridge Club, there were fewer card players at the tables and club leaders had stopped serving snacks and instituted “hand-washing breaks.” Then during a pause between morning and afternoon games on March 16, the club’s leadership filed past the card tables to a meeting room and closed the door. They emerged just before the start of the 1 p.m. games and headed to a mic at the front of the room. “When we came out of that room, I remember people looking at us for some hint of what was going to happen,” said Martha Glassmeyer, 70, one of two paid managers. Club president Dave LeBar stepped to the mic, board members and employees arrayed behind him. The afternoon games would be the last at the Vero Beach Bridge Club for the foreseeable future, LeBar told the group. READ FULL STORY


Proposed Vero auto museum excites local car collectors
week of October 15, 2020

Automobile enthusiasts on the barrier island are watching with great interest plans to open a classic car museum in 2021 in the former Press Journal building on U.S. 1 in Vero Beach. Wayne Gould, a Tucson-based car collector and long-time beachside resident, came up with the idea, which caught the attention of the Vero City Council last week. Councilmembers unanimously granted a request by Gould to have the words “commercial museum” added to the city code as a permitted use in the C1 commercial zoning district where the abandoned newspaper building is located. Back in August, Gould, who said he has enjoyed living in the 32963 zip code since 1998, attended a preliminary hearing about his application, which he paid $2,000 to have considered. “It’s an art museum but all the art has wheels,” Gould told the city’s planning and zoning committee. The vote last week by the council was not controversial, as the C1 district permits the most intensive commercial uses like big-box retail or even a used car lot, but it did prompt a round of smiles and a buzz at city hall at the prospect of locals and tourists having the chance to view dozens of beautifully restored, vintage, rare and exotic cars in the “Wayne’s Toys” collection. READ FULL STORY


Second major island beach repair project put on hold
week of October 15, 2020

Repairs to dunes and replacement of storm-eroded sand along north island beaches, initially slated to begin in November, will now not begin until in early January so only half the project seems likely to be accomplished this winter season. The change puts at risk not just the island’s eroding shoreline but millions more in state and federal funding, on top of now uncertain funding that was slated for a recently delayed south-island project. County officials say they hope to rebid the north island project and begin part of it sometime in January, but that would leave only a few months until the start of turtle-nesting season at the end of April, when all construction equipment has to be off the beach. Under the county’s fallback, two-step plan for the northern island, a 3.7-mile stretch of beach from Treasure Shores Park south to route 510 will be restored first. Plans call for spreading about 307,000 cubic yards of sand and planting thousands of native dune plants in that section. READ FULL STORY


Vero picks mostly younger residents to serve on riverfront redevelopment steering committee
week of October 15, 2020

Rejecting applications from a former mayor and a longtime member of the planning and zoning and utilities committees, the Vero Beach City Council made good on its goal to appoint more young people to shape the reinvention of the city’s 37-acre riverfront utility site into a community focal point for future generations of Vero families. It took three paper ballots to break a tie for the fifth seat, but the council eventually selected five new members to serve on the Three Corners Steering Committee from the 15 applicants. Replacing the five council members who stepped down to pave the way for a more diverse committee will be Sydney O’Haire, Chloe Rose Schwartz, Ben Earman, Christine Pokorney-Sickterman and Jeff Stassi. O’Haire, Schwartz and Earman are Vero Beach natives who returned to their hometown after college. Pokorney-Sickterman is a University of Florida design school graduate who urged the council to include local professionals with design experience. Stassi, 58, who retired early from a career in city management and nonprofit management, is the most senior of the new crop of Steering Committee members. READ FULL STORY


No daily tickets for this year’s Mardy Fish tennis tournament here
week of October 15, 2020

No daily general-admission tickets will be sold for the $10,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships, which starts Monday at The Boulevard Tennis Club. Spectators for the weeklong men’s professional tournament, which has been played in Vero Beach since 1995, will be limited to sponsors, box-seat holders and as many as 80 randomly selected Boulevard members to accommodate social-distancing recommendations during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. According to Tournament Director Randy Walker, club members, who will be admitted free, must sit in the bleachers on the west side of the stadium, directly across the court from sponsors and box-seat patrons. There will be no seating available on the clubhouse deck, where temporary risers were used in past years. Walker said a total of 150 spectators – approximately 35 percent of the venue’s capacity – will be able to attend the tournament at one time. They will not have their temperatures taken before entering the facility, but they will be asked to wear masks and socially distance. READ FULL STORY


Strong slate of local lawyers seeks to replace retiring county court judge
week of October 15, 2020

Undersheriff Jim Harpring, State Attorney Bruce Colton’s daughter and a former Florida assistant attorney general are among seven local lawyers who have applied to replace retiring County Court Judge David Morgan. The candidates were scheduled to be interviewed via Zoom on Tuesday by the 19th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, which will submit three to six names to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who then has 60 days to appoint a new judge. In his Sept. 15 letter to convene the commission, the governor wrote that he “strongly prefers” a maximum number of nominees. Although four years remain on Morgan’s term – his resignation takes effect Jan. 31 – his replacement would be required to seek re-election to a full, six-year term in 2022. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases on island are high for a second week
week of October 8, 2020

In a week of mixed good and bad COVID-19 statistics, the barrier island community had a second consecutive troubling week, adding nine new positive cases for a total of 20 new cases in the past fortnight. That brings the case count for the 32963 ZIP code since the beginning of the pandemic to 132 as we went to press on Monday – an 18 percent increase in just the past two weeks. What is not clear at this point, however, is whether the spike in island cases represents random, unrelated infections from generalized community spread, or one or more clusters where the virus was spread. Several more cases showed up in our public schools this past week. Private and charter schools, which had until two weeks ago been able to keep their COVID-19 case count private and not release any detailed information about cases and quarantines, were outed by the Florida Department of Health, in response to statewide media outlets’ demands for greater transparency. READ FULL STORY


Study of county’s high infant mortality rate enters final phase
week of October 8, 2020

A $60,000 study into Indian River County’s historically high infant mortality rate is entering its final phase, just as economic hardship from the coronavirus pandemic threatens to derail recent improvements here, one health official said. Last week, the leaders of 18 county agencies looking closely at infant deaths joined a Zoom call to discuss ways to better serve the families suffering those losses and proposing ideas to prevent infant deaths in the first place. The Fetal and Infant Mortality Review, a public health strategy that dates to the 1980s and was last used in this county more than a decade ago, is often taken as an indicator of the health of the community at large. The FIMR, as the study is known, is endorsed by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as the March of Dimes and Federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau. “FIMRs aren’t usually done in such a small community,” said Andrea Berry, CEO of Indian River Healthy Start, the organization that coordinated the study along with the Health Department. Berry believes that smaller population means greater awareness of individual tragedies and, as a result, a larger response to the call to improve services. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases pop up at Vero Beach High and Liberty Magnet
week of October 8, 2020

Two students at Vero Beach High School and a student at Liberty Magnet School tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, resulting in the quarantining of 29 students and four staff members. A total of 20 students and four staff members in 13 different public and charter schools in Indian River County have tested positive for COVID-19 since the school year started on Aug. 24, records show. State health officials have directed 339 students and nine staff members in the School District of Indian River County to quarantine since schools reopened. Meanwhile, cases have cropped up in private schools as well. Tabernacle Christian School in South Vero Beach closed “due to a state mandate,” a message on the school’s answering machine said. Two students and an unidentified person associated with the school tested positive for COVID-19 in late September, according to a state Health Department report. “The School Board has instructed me to respond with a ‘no comment,’” Susan Williams, an administrative assistant at the school, said Monday. READ FULL STORY


Snowbirds returning to island earlier this year
week of October 8, 2020

The first of the season’s snowbirds are returning to Vero’s barrier island earlier than normal, and all signs point to a strong influx of seasonal residents this winter, according to government and other sources. Snowbirds typically flock to Vero in mid- to late October or early November, and often return north for the holidays before coming back to spend January through April on the barrier island. But this year, evidence suggests many plan to come and remain in Vero through the holidays, moving their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations here. “We have noticed an influx of seasonal residents returning over the past couple of weeks,” said Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell, who added he has seen a steady increase in car carriers and delivery trucks throughout September into October, a clear sign that some northerners are returning earlier than usual. At Pak Mail Beachside, general manager Susan Lorenz said she is hearing from her Fed Ex driver that he is already delivering golf clubs and boxes of clothes to returning residents. READ FULL STORY


Vero to modify new sand screens after beachgoers protest missing ocean view
week of October 8, 2020

Indian River County seems to have put a little bit too much sand on island beaches – or put some of it in the wrong places – in a beach renourishment project early this year that included sand being mounded up so high it covered parts of boardwalk ramps and steps in several locations. Since the project was completed, large amounts of sand have been blowing into Sexton Plaza and Humiston Park, prompting the placement of wind screens that some beachgoers are complaining about because they block beach views. “All that sand blew on top of Sexton Plaza and our boardwalk at Humiston Park,” said Vero Beach public works director Matthew Mitts. Indian River County brought in some 200,000 cubic yards of sand and spread it on more than three miles of Central Beach earlier this year. When they noticed the problem, city officials asked their county counterparts for options to hold back the windblown sand; county officials responded that the ideal solution would be to plant more vegetation on the dunes. But, they said, a quicker method would be to install a windscreen. READ FULL STORY


Supervisor of Elections: ‘We’ve never had this many mail-in ballots before, not ever’
week of October 8, 2020

With the presidency to be decided during the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of county residents are expected to vote by mail in the November election, which likely will result in more of those ballots needing to be “cured” because of signature problems. Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said last week nearly 48,000 of the county’s registered voters already had requested mail-in ballots. According to her office’s website, more than 11,000 of them had been filled out and returned to her office, as of Sunday. “We’ve never had this many mail-in ballots before – not ever, ever, ever,” Swan said. “A lot of people have been using the drop box at our office. We’re emptying it three to four times a day. We’ve never had to do that.” As a result, Swan said her staff is prepared to respond to a larger number of mail-in ballots that arrive with voters’ signatures missing or not matching the signatures on file with her office. READ FULL STORY


Diverse group applies for Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee
week of October 8, 2020

Vero Beach City Council members removed themselves from the city’s Three Corners Steering Committee last month to clear a path for young people and fresh ideas on the working group that will recommend the final plan for redeveloping 37 acres of electric and sewer plant property on the riverfront. But several of the 15 people who applied were hardly young or fresh. Instead, the opening up of five seats on this important committee provided the opportunity for has-beens like former mayor Dick Winger and longtime planning and zoning committee member Mark Mucher to come in and try to take over a process that does not need a major overhaul. Fortunately, that did not happen when council members nominated their picks this past Tuesday, because the city actually did attract many of the invested volunteers they were seeking – people who grew up in Vero, ventured out to get an education and then returned to build a future in their hometown, or who chose to relocate in Vero to ply their trade or profession. READ FULL STORY