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COVID-19 cases soar, quadrupling in just three weeks
week of July 22, 2021

Indian River County has not escaped the nationwide surge of cases being attributed to the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, as new cases rose 73 percent this past week, going from 125 the week ending July 8 to 216 the week ending July 15. The Indian River County Health Department could not confirm that the Delta variant has been documented in Indian River County patients – our questions were forwarded to the Florida Department of Health communications office instead of answered locally – but the numbers point to the more easily transmissible Delta variant. At the end of June, the weekly case count here was 51, or roughly seven per day. Now that number has more than quadrupled to 31 per day. The seven-day average of cases spiking 70 percent last week made national headlines, with Florida one of the states hit especially hard accounting for one in five cases nationally, according to CDC data. The current daily average for new infections puts us about where we were in mid-April, except in mid-April there were a lot more people getting tested, as the positivity rate ranged from 4 percent to 7 percent on the typical day. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic nurses union faces decertification vote
week of July 22, 2021

For the first time in nearly two decades, the union representing some 470 registered nurses at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital is facing a challenge that could result in its ouster. The election, expected to be held in a matter of weeks if approved by the National Labor Relations Board, comes after a petition calling for the decertification vote was signed by more than 30 percent of the nursing staff – the required minimum to force an election. The call for an election comes just as negotiations are getting underway on a new two-year contract, with the existing union agreement, signed by hospital president Greg Rosencrance in 2019, slated to expire Sept. 30. In a conference room in the hospital’s executive wing, the two sides were meeting for the second time this week to hammer out terms in a new agreement, even as the move to oust the union is underway. The petition was filed by a Cleveland Clinic nurse, Chontal Hashemzadeh. According to the union, Hashemzadeh works on a per diem basis, meaning she is not part of the full-time staff and may work at other hospitals. She could not be reached for comment. READ FULL STORY


Vero seeks to expand STEP system in Shores, South Beach
week of July 22, 2021

Now that half the 900 island homes with septic tanks in the Vero city limits are equipped with a Septic Tank Effluent Pump (STEP) system or are on the waiting list, the city is looking at converting more than 1,400 homes with septic tanks on the South Barrier Island and in the Town of Indian River Shores into new sewer customers. STEP systems drain off the liquid waste from septic tanks, and pump that to a sanitary sewer line, reducing the chances that raw sewage would leach into the Indian River Lagoon. Vero focused on its city customers on the island first due to their proximity to the lagoon. Five years later, there are still 444 septic tanks on the barrier island within the city limits not hooked up to a STEP system. Three fourths of those are more than 40 years old and many are direct waterfront. Of the island septic owners who had their systems inspected, one third failed inspection. There are still roughly 75 homeowners who have not complied with Vero’s Dec. 31 deadline to have an inspection and pump-out. READ FULL STORY


At the Island Club, newspaper home delivery not what it used to be
week of July 22, 2021

For the past couple of months, home delivery of the Press Journal hasn’t been what it used to be for residents of the Island Club Riverside. If they want a daily newspaper, residents have to walk or drive to the community’s gates each morning to fish it out of a pile of papers that have been dumped there. “We have a lot of unhappy people,” said Keith Thompson, president of the Island Club Homeowners Association. “Some are canceling their subscriptions because they can’t get their newspapers delivered to their homes. The drivers just drop the papers outside the gate.” It’s been this way for nearly two months, since the HOA stopped allowing drivers for the Press Journal’s home-delivery vendor to enter the community. The reason? On Dec. 19, one of the drivers for the vendor that Gannett uses to deliver its papers, Karen Runnels, apparently dozed while entering the Island Club Riverside community shortly after 4 a.m. and crashed her minivan into a concrete sign at the gate, destroying the structure and damaging the surrounding landscape. READ FULL STORY


Demand for building lots mirrors the frenzy of the island housing market
week of July 22, 2021

A historically low number of homes for sale in Vero is driving a demand for building lots and custom homes that mirrors the frenzy of the housing market as a whole. While some of the lots are being purchased by builders for spec homes that often sell before the foundations are laid, many are going to end-users – frustrated buyers who have given up on finding a resale home that meets their needs and decided to build. “I am definitely seeing a greater demand for building lots,” says Janyne Kenworthy, a broker associate with ONE Sotheby’s International Realty who has sold two lots on the north island in recent months. “There are hardly any lots left in Ambersand and people are grabbing what they can because there are so few resale homes available.” “People are getting frustrated at not being able to find anything and making the leap to go ahead and build,” says Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices agent Chip Landers. “It is both island and mainland. As soon as a lot is listed for sale, it’s gone. In this market, I can sell building lots all day long.” READ FULL STORY


Drowning death of St. Ed’s senior in April ruled ‘accident’
week of July 22, 2021

An autopsy performed on Bidensky “BT” Termidor revealed the St. Edward’s School senior had a blood-alcohol level above Florida’s legal-driving limit and evidence of marijuana use in his system when he jumped off an on-campus dock and drowned in the Indian River Lagoon in late April. Despite those findings, 19th Circuit Chief Medical Examiner Patricia Aronica ruled Termidor’s death an “accident” and said she was unable to determine whether the alcohol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the victim’s blood were factors that contributed to his death. “What I can say, for sure, is that he drowned, and it was an accident,” Aronica said. “I can also say he had alcohol and THC in his blood at the time of death.” According to the toxicology report included in the autopsy, Termidor had a blood-alcohol content of .083, just over the state’s .08 limit to drive legally. The drowning occurred at about 3 p.m. April 30, when St. Edward’s seniors embarked on a last-day-of-class rite of passage that began spontaneously nearly 15 years earlier. READ FULL STORY


Shores scolds county for offer to Vero in utility dispute
week of July 22, 2021

Vero Beach and Indian River County top staffers were meeting this week to settle a dispute regarding Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory beyond city limits. The claimed territory includes the South Barrier Island and the Town of Indian River Shores, and the Shores’ utilities attorney has strongly opposed the county’s foray into a deal with Vero, calling it “a per se antitrust conspiracy.” County Administrator Jason Brown and County Attorney Dylan Reingold last month told Vero officials the county would agree not to challenge Vero’s territorial claims based upon a 32-year-old document if Vero charges the unincorporated South Beach customers county rates until 2027, then shifts them to city rates with a 5-percent rate increase cap until 2032, after which they would transition to regular city rates. “They (Vero) seem to be receptive of that,” Brown told the County Commission last week, adding that the county staff is “trying to provide some rate protection for the South Barrier Island customers.” If the parties come to terms, a new water-sewer franchise agreement would be executed, locking the South Barrier Island into Vero’s utility. Vero has been serving the South Beach customers with no valid franchise agreement since the old contract expired in 2017. READ FULL STORY


Fall enrollment up at Beachland Elementary School
week of July 22, 2021

Beachland Elementary School anticipates welcoming an additional 34 students when the new school year starts Aug. 10, increasing the total number of students to 548. Enrollment at the barrier island’s only public school has increased by 15 percent since 2018-2019 when there were 477 students, records show. The 69-student jump in enrollment in the past three years at Beachland, an A-rated school with an average daily attendance of 95 percent, stood out among the county’s 13 elementary schools. Other county schools that saw sizable increases in their enrollment in the past three years were Osceola Elementary with 36 additional students and Liberty Elementary with 24 additional students. Overall, Indian River County public schools expect 17,406 students to show up for the new school year, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to the recently completed COVID-19 pandemic year. READ FULL STORY


School Department to closely screen curriculum for inappropriate lessons
week of July 22, 2021

The Florida Board of Education’s last-minute approval of Amplify Education’s K-5 English Language Arts curriculum spared Indian River County public school officials from being stuck with a curriculum that triggered a public backlash from conservative parents and political activists. But School Superintendent David Moore said elementary school educators still intend to closely screen all of Amplify’s materials for potentially inappropriate stories and lessons as they prepare the new school year starting Aug. 10. Even though no one criticized Amplify’s curriculum during recent School Board meetings, it seems inevitable someone will interpret an element of the educational materials as being objectionable based on the divisive nature of politics throughout the United States, Moore said. County School Board meetings in April, May and June featured dozens of speakers arguing passionately about nationally controversial topics such as Culturally Responsive Teaching and Social Emotional Learning, which some claimed they found in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-5 ELA curriculum. Opponents of the Houghton Mifflin curriculum, such as Vero Beach barrier island political activist Susan Mehiel and the Education Action Coalition, argued it was too progressive, minimized the importance of family and overemphasized the prevalence of racism in society. READ FULL STORY


New software ups the stress level at Cleveland Clinic
week of July 15, 2021

Longtime Vero Beach neurologist Dr. Leslie Huszar believes in working past retirement age – keeping the brain stimulated is good, he says. Living with chronic stress, though, is not good. And when he came out of retirement to go back to work with Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, the stress was epic. Literally. Cleveland Clinic has used Epic, the electronic health records software, longer than almost any other hospital system. After Cleveland Clinic’s takeover of the Vero hospital in 2019, Epic had to be installed in order for Indian River to link with the rest of the system’s 18 hospitals. So far, only the outpatient practices and facilities have had to deal with the transition, and among those, Vero Radiology and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast practices have yet to make the change. Even so, the outpatient go-live has been bumpy to say the least, derailing phone systems for months and provoking untenable frustration levels for staff and physicians. Since the September launch of Epic, more than a dozen physicians and advanced practitioners have resigned, including some of the hospital’s best. READ FULL STORY


Strunk Funeral Homes at center of family feud
week of July 15, 2021

In a Peyton Place-like drama, the owners of the Strunk Funeral Homes and Crematory have accused the company founder’s widow of fraudulently selling the real estate on which the longtime local business operates to a new company that allegedly wants to offer similar services on the property. In a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in Vero Beach last month, Strunk Funeral Homes is asking Judge Janet Croom to “preserve the status quo” by issuing a temporary restraining order and injunction to prohibit the defendants from interfering with the funeral home’s operations until the properties’ ownership disputes can be legally resolved. The lawsuit also requests the disputed properties be placed in a trust to prevent Dorothy Strunk from selling or transferring ownership of other local real estate in which the funeral home claims to have a vested interest. In addition, the lawsuit seeks the voiding of Dorothy Strunk’s sale of the funeral home property to her nephew, James W. Young Jr., who owns Millennium Funeral Home and Crematory LLC. Named as defendants are Dorothy Strunk, whose husband, Glenn, owned the local funeral home business since 1973, running it for 47 years before he died in February 2020; Young, who purchased the Strunk properties last month for $3.1 million; and Millennium. READ FULL STORY


Iceland: What ‘normal’ looks like when people get vaccinated
week of July 15, 2021

Want a glimpse of how much better the future could be if only enough people would get vaccinated to protect the most vulnerable? My wife and I just got a brief look at such a world on a 10-day visit to Iceland. Unlike Indian River County, where COVID-19 is again surging and nearly 18 people a day are testing positive (see accompanying story), Iceland – with a population twice that of our county – reported NO new cases during the most recent one-week period. None. Zero. In fact, as of the start of this week, no new positives – except for a handful discovered in arriving tourists – have been reported in Iceland since late May. Might that possibly have anything to do with vaccinations, which have fallen way off here in Vero? In recent weeks, Iceland’s vaccination rate has soared – the countrywide total of those fully vaccinated last week passed 70 percent, with an additional 18 percent of adults partially vaccinated and awaiting a second shot. The result: On June 26, Iceland became the first country in Europe to drop all restrictions on its residents, including social distancing, mask-wearing, and limits on gatherings. And on July 1, visitors with an approved vaccination certificate no longer had to undergo testing to enter the country. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 infections here double as number getting vaccinated declines
week of July 15, 2021

The rate of new, weekly COVID-19 infections here more than doubled over the past two weeks, as the number of people getting vaccinated continues to steadily decline. The number of new infections rose from 51 cases during the week ending June 24 to 95 cases during the week ending July 1 to 125 cases during the week ending July 8. So less than three weeks ago, fewer than eight people per day were being infected. Now that number is nearly 18 per day. To put that in perspective, the last time Indian River County saw a new infection rate this high was late April, so two-and-a-half months’ worth of progress has been wiped out in two weeks. The local case positivity rate – the percentage of people tested who turn up positive for COVID-19 – also more than doubled in that same span of time, rising from 3.1 percent the week ending June 24 to 8.3 percent the week ending July 8. We only have weekly data now since the Florida Department of Health discontinued daily reporting. READ FULL STORY


Island’s newest community, Seaglass, about to break ground
week of July 15, 2021

Ground-breaking is expected “any day now” for what will become the island’s newest community, Seaglass, located across from the Disney Resort on Highway A1A. Bill Handler, president of GHO Homes, said the county approved a land development permit last month for the start of work on a 72-home subdivision on a prime 26-acre tract at the intersection of A1A and Route 510. In the current hot home market, Handler doesn’t intend to waste any time getting started. He said new homes will be available for purchase in Seaglass in 2022. GHO intends to create an “Old Florida” ambiance in the subdivision, a statement backed up by a county staff report prepared for the Planning and Zoning Commission that says the developer will “preserve or relocate a majority of the hardwood trees within preservation tracts and or perimeter buffers READ FULL STORY


Pete Sweeney heir apparent to post of Shores Town Attorney
week of July 15, 2021

Fort Pierce City Attorney Pete Sweeney was the only applicant interviewed out of five lawyers who applied to replace Indian River Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem, so while he has not been hired yet, it seems the decision is a formality at this point. Sweeney, a longtime Vero Beach resident, resigned from his post as top legal counsel of the City of Fort Pierce on May 20, giving the city 90 days’ notice, before interviewing with each of the five Shores Town Council members. The Shores job is only part-time, but Sweeney will also have a new full-time position as a member of Block and Scarpa law firm on Miracle Mile in Vero, where Chester Clem’s daughter Mary Kate Clem is an associate. Should the council vote next week to hire him, as expected, Sweeney is eager to get started and available to start work for the town as soon as Aug. 1, he said on Monday. READ FULL STORY


3 small commercial buildings on A1A are being renovated by new owners
week of July 15, 2021

Three commercial buildings along a 1.5-mile stretch of Highway A1A, from just south of Beachland Boulevard to Shore Drive near the northern Vero city limit, are being renovated by new owners for new purposes, including an architect’s office, a CPA’s office and, most likely, a new island real estate office. Cumulatively, the three projects comprise a small but significant upgrade of the island’s built environment, as buildings that had become shabby and/or unused are brought back to life with notable upgrades. One block south of Beachland Boulevard, the two-story building at 664 Azalea, at the intersection of Azalea and A1A, is being renovated by architect Clem Schaub as an office for his architectural firm, Clem Bruns Schaub and Associates. Good things usually happen when an architect designs something for him- or herself, and that appears to be the case with this building, where a floating exterior staircase can be seen wrapping around and showcasing “an incredible old oak tree” near a near a small entry courtyard. READ FULL STORY


A1A speed limit will be restored to 45 mph, but not until the fall
week of July 15, 2021

Island residents who haven’t seen any work being done along A1A – from just north of Vero Beach to the Wabasso Causeway – are asking when the reduced-for-construction speed limit will be returned to 45 mph. The latest projection? Late September. “I’ve been getting a lot of those inquiries,” said Kathleen Dempsey, local spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6.7 million road-widening project, which began 13 months ago and prompted the speed limit to be lowered to 35 mph. “I can tell you the 45-mph speed limit will be restored when the project is completed, but we’re not done yet,” she added. “The entire corridor is still an active construction zone, and you’ll still see lane closures.” FDOT District Communications Manager Billy Canedo wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963 last week the project was “substantially complete,” but that the agency doesn’t expect its work to be totally finished until “towards the end of September.” READ FULL STORY


Brightline contractors step up work on bridges and crossings for high-speed rail
week of July 15, 2021

Brightline contractors have moved more construction equipment and materials into Indian River County in the aftermath of a peace accord that ended a seven-year conflict between the county and the high-speed passenger rail company. HSR Constructors placed stacks of railroad crossing foundation panels near most of the county’s 32 Florida East Coast Railway crossings, including alongside the tracks behind downtown’s historic Vero Beach Train Station. The contractors also deployed several bulldozers and front-end loaders at the railroad crossings at Highland Drive and 1st Street in South Vero to clear brush and grade the FEC right-of-way for a second set of railroad tracks. The uptick in activity came in the month since Brightline settled the county government’s state lawsuit against the company by agreeing to make $31 million in safety enhancements at railroad crossings and along the tracks. READ FULL STORY


South Island residents organize to gain clout in utility discussions
week of July 15, 2021

South Beach residents who live in the unincorporated county don’t have a town council or mayor to represent their interests in utility matters, but they still want a seat at the table when major decisions are contemplated. A case in point is Indian River County’s proposal to settle a utility dispute with Vero Beach by signing a new franchise agreement with the city to continue providing water-sewer service to south island neighborhoods. For the past four years, while Vero has served south island residents with water and sewer without a franchise agreement because the county and city couldn’t agree on the contract language, the residents have still been paying a 6 percent franchise fee. And they still have utility rates and bills they can’t understand. While living in this utility limbo, a loose coalition of residents who live south of the Vero city limits recently gathered to research water-sewer utility issues as they relate specifically to the history of legal agreements and ownership of utility assets in The Moorings and surrounding communities. READ FULL STORY


17th Street bridge repairs only a temporary fix
week of July 15, 2021

Repairs to the 17th Street bridge that have disrupted traffic for eight months and are set to continue until at least November are just an interim solution, with the 42-year-old bridge now set for a major overhaul in 2024, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Since early December, both eastbound and westbound traffic on and off the barrier island have been routed to the eastbound side of the bridge while the westbound side of the bridge is being repaired. That was slated to take three months but now is scheduled to take three times that long. “The repairs have gone slower than originally planned due to scope changes and cure times for the new concrete,” said FDOT District Four Communications Manager Guillermo Canedo. “They found more that needed to be done,” Canedo said, noting that the bridge also sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, which added tasks on top of the bridge before the work could begin underneath. “It was initially a lighting repair project that evolved into another type of repair. READ FULL STORY


School district is joining forces with Foundation
week of July 8, 2021

The school district has partnered with the Education Foundation of Indian River County to try to tap into the wellspring of philanthropy on the barrier island to help pay for new school facilities and advanced programs. It seemed more efficient to work with the independent foundation that has provided money for public and private schools for three decades, rather than starting a new foundation from scratch, said School Superintendent David Moore. Education Foundation Executive Director Douglas Herron and the school district’s director of instructional innovation, Cindy Emerson, have been working together for several months to improve coordination between the two agencies. School administrators were in the process of creating a new foundation to support the district when new leaders in both organizations realized they could work well together, Moore and Herron said. In conjunction with the Education Foundation’s new focus on raising money from different sources and developing relationships with island philanthropists, the school district will assume responsibility for running the annual Science and Engineering Fair, Moore and Herron said. READ FULL STORY


Prime lots, great river views, but few houses
week of July 8, 2021

Grand Harbor is the scene of the Great Vero Real Estate Mystery of 2021. For reasons unknown, 142 prime ready-to-build lots – many with some of the prettiest riverfront views to be found anywhere around – are being allowed by GB Vero Beach Development to lay fallow during the strongest seller’s market in memory. “It is kind of confusing,” says Grand Harbor Club general manager Michael Gibson.“You are in the middle of the biggest housing boom in the history of the world, and it is hard to understand why any developer would be sitting on their hands and not building.” GBVB construction manager Cameron Luedke, who just finished the last new home available in Grand Harbor, a luxurious riverfront villa, says new home starts there wound down last summer as the second COVID-19 surge cast a dystopian pall over the country. Since then, the developer has been completing homes already started, including the modernist villa on the river, which just got its certificate of occupancy and is listed for $2,995,000 by ONE Sotheby’s broker associate Michael Thorpe. READ FULL STORY


Massive home on Ocean Drive sells for $16.8 million
week of July 8, 2021

An oceanfront home once listed for $35 million – a record asking price for Vero at that time – sold last week for $16,813,000. The seller was businesswoman and developer Katherine McConvey, who completed the house as a personal residence in 2014 and later decided to offer it for sale, testing the market with a price never before seen on the island. The buyers are a couple from California with several children who love the home’s dramatic, modern architecture and the in-town location, according to listing agent Kay Brown of Premier Estate Properties. “When they flew in to look at the house the first time, it got to be dinnertime and I told them they could just leave their car at the house and walk down Ocean Drive to eat, which they really liked,” Brown says. “They had a young boy with them, and I told them where they could get him some ice cream as well.” READ FULL STORY


Kenneth Earl Padgett, visionary developer, dies at 100
week of July 8, 2021

Kenneth Earl Padgett, a longtime resident of Vero Beach who was developer of the island Holiday Inn, the South Beach community of Seagrove, and known as a visionary with a ‘Midas touch’ for real estate, passed away on June 30 at age 100. Padgett was born on April 24, 1921, in Panama City, Florida, flew the China-Burma-India route over the Himalayan Mountains as an Army Air Corps pilot during the World War II, and was a foundational developer in the Florida Panhandle and Vero Beach. The purchaser late in life of Bay Bank and Trust, Padgett pledged 10 percent of the bank’s earnings to local charities and civic organizations. “Because of his ownership of the bank, he was instrumental in financing Quail Valley River Club, both personally and through Bay Bank,” said his daughter Cathy, illustrating another important impact Padgett had on the island and Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


State OKs non-controversial curriculum in time for deadline
week of July 8, 2021

The school district’s three-month-long contretemps over the elementary school English curriculum for the upcoming school year has been resolved by state education bureaucrats. The Florida Department of Education decided Friday to place Amplify Education Inc.’s Core Knowledge Language Arts Grades K through 5 instructional materials on the state approved list. That decision enabled school administrators to order instructional materials from the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based publisher in time for use in the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, which starts August 10th. The state Education Department initially blocked Amplify Education’s K-5 English Language Arts curriculum, saying it did not meet new Florida standards, but the company prevailed upon appeal with county school officials supporting the cause. The school district’s curriculum review committee had selected Amplify Education’s K-5 and 6-8 curriculums for the 2021-2022 school year. Had Amplify Education lost its appeal, the School Board’s fallback position would have been to order K-5 English curriculum materials from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of Boston. READ FULL STORY


‘Bahamas or bust!’ – Grady Bunch resumes annual Abacos cruise
week of July 8, 2021

As the Vero Beach “Grady Bunch” prepares for its annual summer boat trip to the Bahamas, Brian Cunningham admits there’s a different feel to this one. “We go over there every year, but this won’t be the same old thing,” said Cunningham, the Vero Marine Center owner who will lead a group of 10 boats that will depart Sunday on a 10-day excursion to the Abaco Islands and back. “There’s more excitement this year, more of a curiosity factor,” he added. “We didn’t go last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and people want to see what the place looks like after Hurricane Dorian. “It’s a little more of an adventure this time.” It’s also one of the smaller Grady Bunch groups to make the five-hour trip from Vero Beach – down the Indian River Lagoon, out the Fort Pierce Inlet and across the Gulf Stream – to West End on the island of Grand Bahama. Cunningham said the group usually has 12 to 16 boats, but he limited this trip to 10 because many of the resorts, hotels and restaurants in the Abacos haven’t fully recovered from Dorian, which pummeled the Bahamas the first three days of September 2019 and devastated the islands. READ FULL STORY


Construction on 17th St. bridge to drag into fall
week of July 1, 2021

The 17th Street bridge will be under construction with limited traffic flow through at least October, when the first wave of seasonal residents returns to the barrier island. The Florida Department of Transportation last fall said repairs on both sides of the bridge would take a total of six months, with the westbound side closed first until January, then the eastbound side closed through March. But the westbound side wasn’t closed until December, supposedly pushing the finish date back to June. It’s now July, however, and work is not complete on the westbound side. Meantime, no work has been done on the eastbound side, where one-way traffic has been moving for months in both directions. The $1.1 million project has taken twice as long as expected for the westbound side so far. A June 25 FDOT construction update sent to Vero City Manager Monte Falls said work on the westbound side of the bridge is now expected to continue through July: “Eastbound and westbound traffic on the 17th Street Bridge is down to one lane in each direction around the clock through summer 2021 for bridge beam repairs. Currently, westbound traffic on 17th Street Bridge is diverted to the eastbound travel lane through July 2021,” the update stated. READ FULL STORY


‘Hidden inventory’ fueling record sales of island real estate
week of July 1, 2021

With the number of homes listed for sale on the island at a historic low, real estate agents would seem to be in a tough spot, struggling to find houses to show eager would-be buyers and closing fewer purchases than in prior years. Instead, island brokers shattered unit-sales and dollar-volume records in the first half of the year, finding ways to close more transactions than ever despite the scarcity of active listings. Brokers say this paradox is explained by a phenomenon called “hidden inventory” – homes that are quietly put on the market and sell before they ever make it into the MLS. “Inventory started to drop in June of last year, right after Florida reopened from the pandemic shutdown in May,” says Carol Prezioso, managing broker at the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices office on the island, where dollar volume was up 50 percent in the first five months of 2021 compared the same period in 2020. By this May, there were only 200 active listings on the island, including single-family homes, condos and townhouses, down from nearly 700 in May 2020, according to data provided by Prezioso. READ FULL STORY


Municipal Marina feuds with non-marina boaters
week of July 1, 2021

The Vero Beach Municipal Marina, which “prides itself on being a center for maritime information and hospitality for over 3,000 visiting boats each year,” isn’t showing much love to one segment of the local boating community. Boaters who live year-round on their vessels – typically 30- to 40-foot sailboats, anchored legally in the Indian River Lagoon, within city limits but outside the marina – complain they are being treated unfairly. According to several of these boaters, a Vero city ordinance that prohibits docking or tying up on city property anywhere “except at the city marina” leaves them very few legal locations to land the dinghies they use to get to shore. “I don’t understand the city’s attitude,” said Greg Husak, who lives aboard a 36-foot sailboat in the lagoon. “We’re not a nuisance. Our boats are our homes, and our dinghies are like our cars. They are our transportation. People leave their cars on city property for a lot longer than we leave our dinghies. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 plan for coming school year: No vaccine requirement, masks optional
week of July 1, 2021

Public school students will not be required to be immunized against COVID-19 for the upcoming school year, School Superintendent David Moore said last week. Facemasks will be optional when schools reopen Aug. 10, but “mask shaming” is banned. Facial coverings won’t even be required on school buses, Moore told the School Board last Tuesday during a workshop meeting while presenting his COVID-19 Transition Plan. Almost everything else in students’ daily routine is due to get back to normal in the post-pandemic school year, with extracurricular activities resuming and visitors again welcome on campuses, Moore said. A key point for School Board Vice Chairwoman Teri Barenborg was the absence of a vaccination policy from the 12-page transition plan for 2021-2022. “I don’t see in here – and I’m glad I don’t see it in here – anything that has to do with vaccinations,” Barenborg told Moore. “We’re not going to require vaccinations and we’re not going to mention that,” Barenborg said. “We’re not going to talk about whether kids have a vaccination card or not?” “Correct,” Moore replied. READ FULL STORY


Vero asks for safety audit of Twin Pairs
week of July 1, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council has asked state transportation officials to look at options for improving safety on the “Twin Pairs” that cut through downtown Vero – and one potential solution seems like it could make the roadway less safe. City Manager Monte Falls suggested that the Florida Department of Transportation might make the traffic lanes narrower in an effort to force people to drive more slowly. Lanes on the Twin Pairs – which consist of two, separate, 4-lane roadways, one eastbound and one westbound – currently are between 11 feet and 12 feet wide. Falls said they could be taken down to 10.5 feet or possibly even 10 feet wide. “As you get those smaller lanes – side friction, as they call it – makes you more aware of your surroundings,” Falls said. The traffic-calming strategy of narrowing lanes is called a “road diet” by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the space deducted from the traffic lanes could be added to bike lanes to theoretically increase safety for cyclists. READ FULL STORY


Bottlenose dolphin population in the lagoon remains stable
week of July 1, 2021

Despite a recent slew of bad news about the health of the Indian River Lagoon – which was given a grade of F+ in the latest assessment by the Marine Resources Council – there is a splash of good news. A new study by Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute scientist Wendy Nokes Durden and her colleagues found the bottlenose dolphin population in the lagoon has remained stable over the past decade at just over 1,000. Durden and other scientists followed the marine mammals around the 156-mile-long estuary in a dozen boats for about 10 months, shooting 150,000 photographs and identifying individual animals by notches on their dorsal fins. The resulting study, co-authored by researchers from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of Central Florida, and the Georgia Aquarium's St. Augustine field station, was published in the scientific journal PLOS 1. The findings clarified previous population estimates performed using aerial surveys because the photo-ID method was able to separate resident “lagoon” dolphins from transients. That kind of demographic information is vital to resource managers from NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of protecting the animals from manmade threats such as pollution and run-ins with fishing gear. READ FULL STORY


Proposed settlement would mean higher water and sewer rates for South Beach
week of July 1, 2021

Vero Beach Utilities customers in the unincorporated South barrier island would pay higher water-sewer rates under a proposed settlement between the city and the county – but those rates wouldn’t hit until 2027. The proposed settlement is intended to resolve a dispute over Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory in South Beach where other utility providers such as the county cannot operate. The origins of the conflict date back four decades to a time when Indian River County contracted with Vero to provide water and sewer service to the South barrier island and other portions of the unincorporated county that it did not then have the means to serve. For 30 years the unincorporated customers paid city rates plus a surcharge. Then, in response to complaints about high rates, they were shifted to the cheaper county rate schedule. The county’s franchise agreement with Vero to provide water and sewer service to the area expired in 2017, and Vero has been charging those customers county rates for service for the past four years. Like the south island, Indian River Shores gets water-sewer service from the city under a separate 2012 franchise agreement which is up for renewal in 2027. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic still bedeviled by phone problems
week of June 24, 2021

Cleveland Clinic Indian River has turned out to be a “long-hauler” in its case of phone flu. It’s been more than eight months since the hospital’s physician practices were suddenly stricken with phone problems. At first, they were thought tied to the implementation of new electronic health records software, which placed additional demands on staff already stretched thin by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the pandemic has eased. More people want check-ups again. They are fighting cancer, or afraid of a heart attack, and calling for a doctor’s appointment. But many still can’t get through. Last week, more than 150 frustrated patients responded to a post on social media asking if people were continuing to have problems reaching their Cleveland Clinic doctors. The question, posed by Vero Beach 32963 on a local Facebook group, repeated the claim of the hospital’s top executive, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, that call center metrics show the situation is improving. The fact that there were only 150 complaints in the span of one day may back Rosencrance up: There were 250 comments to a similar post in April. READ FULL STORY


GHO Homes takes over development at The Strand
week of June 24, 2021

GHO Homes bought out mega-homebuilder Lennar’s interest in The Strand subdivision this month, acquiring all the remaining lots in the second-largest new home development on the island. “We closed on the lots a week or two ago and just opened for sales and we already have many deals in the works,” said GHO president Bill Handler. “If you look back six weeks from now, there will have been a lot of action.” Handler said his company will be offering five models with base prices between $1,175,990 and $1,315,990, with 32 new homes available for purchase. The 36-acre Strand site north of Palm Island Plantation in Indian River Shores was purchased for $5 million in 2017 by the Patten Company, a national real estate development firm with offices in Naples and Boca Raton. Patten got a site plan approved by the Shores in 2018 and installed roads, sewers, water features and other infrastructure, creating 47 single-family home lots and 21 townhome lots. The townhome section is in front, visible from A1A, and the single-family section extends west from the townhomes to the Jungle Trail along the Indian River Lagoon. READ FULL STORY


Acupuncturist Jaynes now selling LifeWave healing patches in N.C.
week of June 24, 2021

Jill Jaynes, the Vero Beach acupuncturist convicted of insurance fraud of more than $100,000, has moved to North Carolina and wants her court-ordered travel restrictions and probation ended early so she can expand her new business selling pricey healing patches through a multilevel marketing company called LifeWave. Court records show Jaynes was arrested in August 2018 after a lengthy investigation found evidence to charge her for filing false insurance claims from 2013 to 2016 for acupuncture treatments for patients, many of whom were county employees on the county health insurance plan. Jaynes was ordered by the court not to treat clients at her clinic, Absolute Integrated Medicine on Indian River Boulevard, and she gave up her license to practice acupuncture in September 2020, according to court records. According to State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office and online court records, Jaynes has paid from the proceeds of the sale of her Sebastian home $56,000 of the total she was ordered to pay to her victims, a “payoff” amount given to the court by her primary victim, the Indian River Board of County Commissioners. READ FULL STORY


Man accused of killing his estranged wife now planning insanity plea
week of June 24, 2021

Asbury Lee Perkins, charged with first-degree murder for shooting his estranged wife in the South Barrier Island home they once shared, hopes to convince a jury that a decade of false accusations by victim Cynthia Betts caused him to snap and kill her. Perkins, 63, who has been representing himself in preparation of an expected trial later this summer, submitted a 31-page motion to Judge Dan Vaughn requesting permission to use “reverse Williams rule” evidence at trial. Reverse Williams rule evidence permits the defense to tell the jury about previous crimes with the aim of proving the defendant’s innocence by showing another person’s guilt. Along with the motion, Perkins provided police reports and court documents from three different Florida counties alleging that Betts repeatedly falsified statements to get Perkins arrested, then later recanted. The cumulative effect of this, Perkins says, contributed to his temporarily insane mental state at the time he entered the home on Seagrape Drive and killed Betts in November 2014. READ FULL STORY


Will Elite fly between Vero and Asheville this summer
week of June 24, 2021

Island residents hoping to hop on a convenient Elite Airways flight from Vero Beach Regional Airport to Asheville when they head north to the cool Carolina mountains this summer may have to make other travel arrangements. As of Monday, Elite’s website listed no flights connecting Vero Beach to Asheville in coming months. “Judging by our numbers, the Asheville flights have been very popular with travelers here,” Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said last week. “But Elite hasn’t told us they plan to fly there this summer – and there’s nothing on their schedule through September – so unless I hear otherwise, I’m guessing they’re not going to do it.” But there is still a chance the popular service will resume, according to Elite President John Pearsall, who said last week the airline was “strongly considering” resuming the seasonal flights, possibly as soon as early July. “It’s early [in the season], and we’re still looking at it,” Pearsall said. “We should have a decision in the next couple of weeks.” READ FULL STORY


Tragic death of ‘the kind of person people just gravitated to’
week of June 17, 2021

More than 70 people gathered on South Beach Sunday evening to celebrate the life of 57-year-old Michael Gianfrancesco who, with his terrier mix Molly, was struck by a speeding car and killed while walking along A1A near his home in The Dunes. For a couple of hours, the good memories shared by family, friends, fishing buddies and neighbors – toasted with a shot glass of Scotch – eased the pain. Former pastor of Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church Rev. Cliff Melvin, a family friend, described Gianfrancesco as being on top of the world prior to his death. “He retired a few years ago and everything he wanted was right here,” he said. But Sunday night’s respite from the circumstances surrounding Gianfrancesco’s death was short. Huge questions remain. The biggest one: Why has no one been arrested yet, despite a loaded gun and drugs being found near the car that struck Gianfrancesco, and the alleged driver of the vehicle in violation of his probation on felony charges? READ FULL STORY


Potentially toxic algae in lagoon at Oslo boat ramp
week of June 17, 2021

An ugly outbreak of lyngbya, a potentially toxic blue-green algae, has the summer off to an ominous start at the Oslo Road boat ramp. Arriving at the ramp at the end of a long, narrow shell road in southern Indian River County last Friday with a group of summer camp kayakers, Dr. Richard Baker was shocked by what he saw – large mats of green and white goo blanketing the surface of the shallow lagoon. “It was awful looking stuff,” said Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society. “I said, ‘No way we’re going to have our kids going in this.’” The group turned around, headed back up the shell road and went elsewhere to launch their colorful kayaks. Baker took photos of the foul-smelling gunk and fired them off to Vero Beach 32963 and other news media and conservation groups, raising the alarm. READ FULL STORY


Environmental groups ask Gov. DeSantis to declare an emergency
week of June 17, 2021

The Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County – joined by the Indian River Land Trust, the Environmental Learning Center and other environmental groups – is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to battle pollution in the Indian River Lagoon. The alliance’s appeal comes as manatees are dying in record numbers, and follows the release by the Marine Resources Council of its fourth annual environmental health report card for the Lagoon, assigning the waterway an overall grade of F-plus. The Clean Water Coalition and groups aligned with it are calling for the state to dedicate millions of dollars more to stopping the flow of pollutants from homes, businesses and farms into the lagoon that kill the manatees’ primary food source – seagrass – and harm other marine life, including bottlenose dolphins. READ FULL STORY


County public school students to be issued high-tech ID cards
week of June 17, 2021

High-tech identification cards will be issued to Indian River County’s 17,000 public school students for the upcoming school year that will enable educators to upgrade security on campuses and buses. The new ID cards will also be part of a new system that alerts parents when their child’s school bus is approaching a nearby stop to pick up or drop off students, said Deputy Superintendent Scott Bass. In addition, students will be able to use the new ID cards to borrow and return items at their school’s library and media center, and to pay for meals in the cafeteria, Bass said. “We needed to take one more step to keep our students safe,” Bass told the School Board during the May 25 business meeting. “This is so long overdue. It is used in many other districts. It really will bring us to where we need to be.” The School Board voted unanimously May 25 to approve an agreement to pay CI Solutions, of Seattle, $65,820 for the ID cards, breakaway lanyards and a service agreement for the 2021-2022 school year. READ FULL STORY


Island resident Helen Westbrook, who worked in JFK’s White House, dies at 88
week of June 17, 2021

Island resident Helen Westbrook, 88, who worked for many years in politics and government, including serving on the White House staff under President John F. Kennedy, passed away on June 4. Inspired by a speech given by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in her hometown in Massachusetts, Westbrook, then 23, moved to Washington, D.C. in 1956 to serve on Kennedy’s senatorial staff. She later worked on his campaign for president in 1960. When Kennedy won, he asked Westbrook to join his White House staff, where she served as a Secretarial Assistant in the Office of the President. Westbrook later worked following Kennedy’s death as executive assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy, where she became close to the family’s children, John and Caroline. Her closeness to the Kennedy family was illustrated at a 2015 auction featuring articles related to President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during their time at the White House. Among the items were a gold vermeil over sterling cigarette case from Tiffany & Co. gifted to Westbrook from Jacqueline, along with pictures drawn by Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. to bid Westbrook farewell when she left Jacqueline Kennedy’s employ to start her own family. READ FULL STORY


Teel wrongful death suit against Sheriff’s Office, Deputy now set for July
week of June 17, 2021

A $10 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office – and Deputy Jonathan Lozada, who fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in 2017 – has been selected by a U.S. District Court judge to serve as a “pilot” for resumption of jury trials in this area. The pilot trials are the latest phase in the federal court system’s reopening plan as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Judge Donald Middlebrooks notified the parties that the trial, set for July 6 at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, was excluded from a previous order continuing all jury trials in the U.S. Southern District of Florida until July 19. According to Todd Norbraten, one of the Stuart-based attorneys representing the plaintiff Dr. Dudley Teel, the pilot trials will require physical distancing and the wearing of masks in the courtroom. “I think you’ll be allowed to remove your mask when you’re speaking, and masks may be optional for jurors,” Norbraten said. “This is all new, and the judge will have some discretion. No one can anticipate everything that can happen during a trial. READ FULL STORY


Upscale restaurants and shops proposed for vacant lot between downtown and Miracle Mile
week of June 17, 2021

A vacant lot that covers a full city block – on the south side of eastbound State Road 60, east of the Vero Beach Police Department – is under contract to a buyer who wants to build a 12,000-square-foot commercial development featuring upscale restaurants and retail stores. Billy Moss, a broker with Lambert Commercial Real Estate, said the sale of the 3.75-acre property, located between 9th and 10th avenues, is expected to be completed “in the next few weeks.” Moss said he was not permitted to identify the buyer at this time, but the working name of the planned dining and shopping area is Vero Central Station, which would include two outparcels. The development would not include a hotel or big-box stores, Moss said. “We’ve been working on this one for a while, and it’s going well, but we’re not there yet,” said Moss, a prominent commercial realtor who specializes in selling and leasing restaurants locally. According to the Indian River County Property Appraiser’s Office website, the current owner of the parcel, which has a market value of $1.18 million, is TV 20 LLC. READ FULL STORY


Vero, county seem headed to mediation on utility territory
week of June 17, 2021

The City of Vero Beach and Indian River County have one more chance to resolve their dispute about whether a 1989 territorial agreement can be enforced to keep Indian River Shores and South Beach water-sewer customers chained to Vero’s utility service until the end of time. If the parties come out of a June 24 meeting not having budged from their corners – Vero saying it has a permanent territory and county officials saying the territory is not permanent – the two sides will enter formal mediation, with the next step being a joint meeting of all five Vero council members with all five county commissioners. The Vero Beach City Council voted to launch the mediation process, outlined in Florida Statute, Section 164, as required whenever two municipalities have a dispute that could land in court. Vero got upset when county officials agreed to devote staff time to help Indian River Shores complete a feasibility study of whether it would be possible and practical to terminate the town’s water-sewer service with Vero, and hook up to the county system in 2027 when the current franchise agreement expires. READ FULL STORY


South Florida woman arrested after getting tossed out of Mulligan’s and the Holiday Inn
week of June 17, 2021

A night out for a visiting South Florida woman turned into a night in jail after she managed to get kicked out of Mulligan’s Beach House and the Sexton Plaza Holiday Inn lobby for being drunk and disorderly, and was literally carried off to jail – all before 11 p.m. Mona Kaye Mulberry, 53, of Fort Lauderdale allegedly created enough of a fuss Sunday night that hotel security called the Vero Beach Police Department to remove her from the premises of the hotel on Ocean Drive. Two officers responded at 9:57 p.m. The hotel did not know the woman’s name but told police they could find her wearing a cardigan sweater. “Upon making contact with Ms. Mulberry, I could smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from her person. Ms. Mulberry was unable to complete sentences and had slurred speech while attempting to speak with her,” the report states, then going into detail about the R-rated encounter. According to the police report, officers asked Mulberry if she knew anyone who could come and assist her and she yelled obscenities. They asked her if she knew where she was staying and she called the police offensive names. At that point, the officers escorted her out of the lobby and to the patrol car, attempting to get identification from her, but she refused. READ FULL STORY


2 islanders killed in 3 days by cars swerving off A1A
week of June 10, 2021

Two fatalities in less than three days caused by autos swerving off State Road A1A – one killing a bicyclist, the other running down a man walking his dog – have intensified demands for reduced speed limits and more safety devices on the heavily traveled island thoroughfare. It was mid-morning on Saturday, May 29 when the first death occurred. John’s Island resident Carl Cutler, 63, a retired investment banker and accomplished athlete, was riding his bike on North A1A near the Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary when a 49-year-old Melbourne man driving a red Nissan sedan swerved off the road onto the right shoulder and struck him. Both men were traveling north. The following Monday evening, Memorial Day, Michael Gianfrancesco, 57, and his dog, Molly, were walking on the grass shoulder on the east side of South A1A near the Dunes subdivision where he lived when they were struck and killed instantly by a northbound Chevy Impala traveling at high speed that veered off the road. READ FULL STORY


Dr. Richard Moore: Has Vero ‘lost the flavor of the community hospital?’
week of June 10, 2021

It took some frank conversations and soul-searching for cardiologist Richard Moore to decide to retire from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, where he practiced as an employed physician for the past decade. His wife, Charlotte, a former cardiac critical care nurse, brought it up first when she noticed a change in him that started not long after Cleveland Clinic took over the Vero hospital. “You aren’t yourself,” she told her husband several times in the past year, he said. So this spring, as a string of physicians and other practitioners began leaving the hospital, Moore sat down with Cleveland Clinic administrators and told them he was calling it quits. With that, Moore, who is 66, added his name to a list of five cardiologists who have left or given notice to Cleveland Clinic Indian River since the fall. That’s five of the eight employed by the hospital prior to Cleveland Clinic taking over in January 2019. Most of the departing heart doctors have gone back to private practice, freed of the corporate model. READ FULL STORY


County reaches deal ending its efforts to block high-speed Brightline train
week of June 10, 2021

Indian River County has negotiated a $31.6 million deal that will end its expensive seven-year battle to halt the Brightline high-speed passenger train project. Under a proposed settlement agreement, Brightline – not Indian River County – would pay for the installation of new safety devices at the county’s 32 railroad crossings to accommodate high-speed passenger trains. Brightline also would pay to install fencing along the tracks in areas identified by a hazard analysis. In exchange, the county would drop its lawsuit in state court concerning the railroad crossing costs and not take any other action challenging Brightline’s ability to operate within the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way. The county also agreed to work with Brightline to obtain state and federal grants to help pay for the railroad crossing upgrades. Brightline plans to run 32 trains per day through Indian River County at speeds of up to 110 mph en route between Orlando and South Florida starting in early 2023. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne Aviation Academy Vero Beach getting off ground fast
week of June 10, 2021

The new signage hasn’t yet arrived, but Skyborne Aviation Academy Director Jeff Devlin said significant improvements have been made – to the campus, technology systems and strategic partnerships – since the British company closed on its purchase of the former FlightSafety facility here May 1. “It’s been only a few weeks, but a lot has happened,” Devlin said, “and we’re just getting started.” Among the upgrades Devlin cited were building renovations, new flight simulators and five freshly signed agreements to provide airlines, including United and Delta, with newly trained pilots. Training aircraft are being repainted with Skyborne’s colors and logo, and new student uniforms have been ordered. “Right now, our enrollment is at 110 students, but we’re getting an influx of new contracts and we expect that number to increase substantially in the coming months,” Devlin said. “We think we’ll be up to 300 within 18 months.” READ FULL STORY


Property values soar, but a cut in tax rates seen unlikely
week of June 10, 2021

Despite an exhilarating jump in Indian River County property values in 2020, most residents probably won’t see the lower tax rates many are hoping for – in which case property tax bills issued this fall will be higher than they were last year. Property Appraiser Wesley Davis released a preliminary estimate last week showing that real estate in the county has gained nearly $700,000,000 in taxable value. Officials say that will net about an extra $4.2 million in tax revenue for the county government if the property tax rate, commonly called the millage rate, stays the same. Seeing that extra income in the pipeline, county commissioners could lower the millage rate to keep property tax revenue the same as last year, leave the rate unchanged to reap the extra cash, or raise the rate to increase income even more. Based on conversations with county – and Vero Beach – officials, property tax rate rollbacks are a longshot. No official would confirm that rates will stay the same, but all talked about increasing expenses and possible reductions in other revenue sources. READ FULL STORY


Will high exit costs chain Shores to Vero water-sewer pact?
week of June 10, 2021

The City of Vero Beach’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory that includes the Town of Indian River Shores is still in dispute, but it might not matter if the price tag for the Shores to exit Vero’s system becomes a poison pill. Vero officials last month talked about appraising the city’s utility assets in the town should the Shores try to break with Vero in 2027, determining an amount the Shores would have to pay for water infrastructure owned by Vero. That exit cost would be on top of two other costs – the cost of the county running pipes under the Indian River Lagoon and the cost of increasing county utility plant capacity to serve the Shores. The Shores has hired a consultant to calculate those expenses, but they have not yet been determined. “The third cost to find an amicable solution would be the cost to purchase the Indian River Shores portion of the Vero water and sewer utility,” Vero City Manager Monty Falls said. If Vero can make it cost prohibitive for the Shores to leave Vero utilities by attaching a high price tag to its infrastructure in the town, then the matter of whether or not Vero indeed has a permanent service territory will likely become moot. READ FULL STORY


School Board begins work on civility policy after disturbance at meeting
week of June 10, 2021

Angry, insulting and threatening comments and behavior by a handful of public speakers at recent School Board meetings have prompted the board to rethink its approach to maintaining decorum and civility. The civility issue came to a head after several parental rights activists disrupted a School Board meeting last month as educators were preparing to honor the “Academic All-Stars” of Vero Beach and Sebastian River high schools. Taken aback by the confrontation, the School Board plans to review its policies regarding public speaking and behavior during board meetings, possibly as soon as its June 22 meeting. In the meantime, the school district has asked the Sheriff's Office to assign additional deputies to the board’s June 8 and June 22 meetings to maintain order, spokeswoman Cristen Maddux said Monday. The May School Board meetings attracted crowds that filled the seats in the meeting room and lobby, and overflowed to the sidewalk in front of school district headquarters, and similar crowds are expected at the June meetings. READ FULL STORY


End of an era: Two Charter High arts educators retiring
week of June 3, 2021

The county’s top-rated public high school, Indian River Charter High, is losing key leadership to retirement just as it faces the challenges of reintegrating its close-knit student body after a year of pandemic disruption and separation. Two defining educators at Charter’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, or VAPA, the county’s only school-based arts academy, are leaving after two decades at the school. Ray Adams, VAPA’s artistic director, and Gary Miller, director of vocal arts, were clearing out their offices last week, a day after saying goodbye to students for the last time. VAPA kids account for about half the school’s total student population of around 700. Another department head, Lucie Burke, director of visual arts, is retiring, too, though she will remain active at the school through next year, administrators said. And next year, school director Cynthia Aversa will step down. Like Adams and Miller, Aversa will have held her title for 20 years, a period that spans nearly the entire existence of the school. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways move from Vero is only temporary
week of June 3, 2021

Elite Airways President John Pearsall said he’s optimistic island travelers will continue to choose the convenience of his airline’s nonstop jet service to the Northeast when its flights are temporarily moved to Melbourne’s airport this fall while the longest runway at Vero’s airport is resurfaced. The airline will continue its regular commercial service connecting Vero Beach to Newark, New Jersey, and Portland, Maine, through early September, when those flights will be moved to Melbourne for at least six months. “We really do appreciate the support of all of our Vero Beach customers, and we’ll start up again as soon as the city tells us the project is finished,” Pearsall said last week. “The timing is unfortunate because the holidays are big for us, but we can’t operate without that runway, so moving the flights was the only thing we could do,” he added. “I understand Melbourne is a little more of a drive, but it’s still a lot closer than Orlando or West Palm Beach. READ FULL STORY


Chamber executive accused of ‘bullying’ School Board fired
week of June 3, 2021

John Corapi, the county Chamber of Commerce’s business retention manager, has been fired after the organization’s president investigated allegations that he disrupted a School Board meeting and encouraged others in a social-media post to intimidate board members at their homes. Chamber President Dori Stone did not return numerous messages left at her office, but Corapi’s name had been removed as a staff member from the organization’s website on May 24, and phone calls asking to speak with him last week were forwarded to Stone’s voice mail. Vero Beach 32963 ultimately confirmed Corapi’s termination through multiple Chamber sources – including at least one member of the board of directors – all of whom requested their names not be used. “Dori looked into it, brought her findings to the board and told us what she wanted to do,” one of the directors said. “No one objected.” Though Corapi could not be reached for comment, he said publicly last week he had been notified by Stone after the School Board’s tumultuous May 11 meeting that, effective immediately, he was suspended with pay as she continued to “investigate allegations that may impact your employment.” READ FULL STORY


Historic Sebastian Inlet bridge will get major rehab or be replaced in five years
week of June 3, 2021

Construction on the repair or replacement of the Sebastian Inlet bridge is tentatively set to begin in the winter of 2026, but exactly what the multimillion-dollar project will entail is not yet known. Officially named the James H. Pruitt Memorial Bridge, the heavily traveled 2-lane, 1,548-foot-long bridge is historically significant as the first bridge to span the often turbulent tidal waters of the Sebastian Inlet where the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean interconnect. Built in 1964 to connect A1A from Brevard to Indian River County, bridge opened Feb. 27, 1965 with great fanfare, complete with a military aircraft fly-over during the official ceremony. According to FDOT, the 57-year-old structure is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But the historic bridge has no accommodation for bicyclists or pedestrians, and the purpose of the rehab or replacement is to “address the gap in system linkage for bicyclists and pedestrians,” as well as to address “the structural and functional deficiencies” of the steeply arched structure. READ FULL STORY


Revered Shores Mayor Tom Slater victim of COVID-19 pandemic
week of June 3, 2021

Former Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Slater’s death last week at age 76 serves as a stark reminder that, even as the pandemic subsides here, COVID-19 has robbed our community of friends, family members, colleagues and even revered local leaders. Slater’s close friend of 40 years, former Shores Councilman Dick Haverland, confirmed the sad news quietly spreading around the Shores in the days after Slater’s death – that the man who beat back terminal cancer twice had been lost on May 26 not to cancer, but to complications of COVID-19. Slater passed away at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he had gone to be treated once again for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “He got COVID soon after arriving in New York,” Haverland said. “His immune system had been weakened over the years due to various cancer treatments. Tom had an incredible number of great friends. I am still trying to process his loss. He will be missed by so many.” READ FULL STORY


Pandemic produced a school year ‘like no other’
week of June 3, 2021

A student tested positive for COVID-19 at Storm Grove Middle School on the second-to-last day of classes as the pandemic impacted virtually every aspect of the 2020-2021 school year. Two other students and two staff members also tested positive for the virus last week as Indian River County’s public schools closed for summer vacation. Altogether, the school district reported 506 cases of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 school year with 390 students and 116 staff members testing positive for the virus. The 390 student cases amounted to less than 3 percent of the approximately 14,000 students who attended class in person during the school year, district records show. The 116 staff cases amounted to nearly 6 percent of the district’s roughly 2,000 employees. The school year “like no other” started with a Vero Beach High School football player being diagnosed with COVID-19 on the first day of classes on Aug. 28, causing the quarantining of several teammates and cancelation of the season opening game at Venice. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections decline sharply here, but vaccinations are also down
week of June 3, 2021

The month of May brought a steep decline in COVID-19 cases here, and an even steeper decline in vaccinations. With no reporting over Memorial Day weekend, the running count of new infections in Indian River County during May as of Friday was 430, for an average of 16 per day, down 34 percent from the previous month. Thirty-six people were hospitalized with COVID-19 disease in May and tragically, 11 people died. Twenty-two barrier island residents tested positive for the virus in May. About 7,500 people joined the ranks of those in Indian River County who got at least one shot of vaccine in May, a 62 percent decrease from the more than 20,000 people who got a shot in April. As of last Friday’s reporting, 88,561 Indian River County residents, or 56 percent of the population, have had at least one jab of COVID-19 vaccine, and 69,190 are fully vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as of Sunday, 38.66 percent of Floridians are now fully vaccinated, placing Florida 29th among the states. Nationwide, 40.5 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. READ FULL STORY


Five local lawyers seek to become Indian River Shores town attorney
week of June 3, 2021

Five local lawyers have applied to take up the mantle of Indian River Shores Town Attorney as the town’s longtime legal counsel Chester Clem retires after more than 40-plus years of service. Last week the town council delegated the search and negotiation of terms to Town Manager Jim Harpring, an attorney with decades of experience and knowledge of the area’s legal talent. So far, the candidates who have shown interest are Paul Amos, Warren Dill, Ashley Novander, Jennifer Peschke and Pete Sweeney. “I know it will be difficult to replace Chester Clem. However, we are fortunate to have excellent candidates from which to choose,” Harpring said on Friday. Harpring said the position is part-time as needed, not a full-time governmental attorney job, so the person the town hires must have an established law practice or other source of income. READ FULL STORY