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Hospital patients moved to safety in storm evacuation
week of September 12, 2019

For 48 patients at Sebastian River Medical Center, memories of Hurricane Dorian are considerably more vivid than twisting palm fronds and big waves hammering the beach. In the middle of the night, in what appears to be the first time in its 45-year history, Sebastian River evacuated its entire inpatient population as Dorian hovered over the Bahamas with winds as high as 200 mph. It was one of eight hospitals in Florida that evacuated for the storm. Starting around midnight on the Sunday before Labor Day, while the storm was still offshore and its path unsure, and continuing through Monday midday, a fleet of ambulances coordinated by the state took turns pulling into the bay of Sebastian River’s emergency department. Patients were brought down one by one, including some on stretchers, and sent to hospitals in Orlando and Melbourne. Only Sebastian River’s emergency department stayed open, though doctors would have had to send patients elsewhere if they required hospitalization. While Sebastian evacuated, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital was activating a plan to remain fully operational during Dorian, with more than 400 people including patients staying at the hospital. READ FULL STORY

Dorian causes $7 million in beach erosion here
week of September 12, 2019

Although Florida’s east coast was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian, waves driven by the powerful storm’s outer bands pounded Indian River County beaches, causing significant erosion. Vero and county officials report 3 to 10 feet of dunes and beach were washed away on segments of shoreline – likely costing more than $7 million to replenish – as Dorian skimmed the state on Sept. 3 as a Category 2 storm after weakening while it hovered over the Bahamas. The most severe erosion occurred in the city of Vero Beach under the Conn Beach boardwalk. Sand beneath the southernmost 250 feet of the boardwalk washed away, hollowing out the dune right up to the edge of pavement where cars park along Ocean Drive and exposing the boardwalk’s foundation, prompting city officials to close off that section of the walkway, City Manager Monte Falls said. Humiston Park’s boardwalk was undermined, too, but not as severely, as storm waves washed sand out from underneath it. READ FULL STORY

Vero City Council race has a surprise field of 8 running for 2 open seats
week of September 12, 2019

The race for two open Vero Beach City Council seats suddenly became crowded minutes before the noon filing deadline last Friday, allaying any concern there would be little competition for the seats abandoned by their incumbents. Eight candidates are now vying for the City Council seats being vacated by Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle. The diverse crowd includes political newcomers along with faces familiar at council meetings and throughout the community. Five island and three mainland residents are running. The race will be decided Nov. 5 with the top two vote getters winning the open seats. Bob McCabe, an island resident who unsuccessfully ran for a City Council seat last year, hopes he’ll have better luck this election cycle. McCabe, 76, who is president of the Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce and worked for General Motors for 32 years, has called Vero home for nearly nine years and wants to “Keep Vero Special,” he said of his campaign platform. READ FULL STORY

Commissioner Solari to retire at end of term
week of September 12, 2019

At age 67, County Commissioner Bob Solari has decided to retire in 2020, when he completes his third term – in part because he sees the opportunity for a smooth transition from one staunch fiscal conservative to another. So in announcing his plans Monday, Solari endorsed Indian River Shores Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter, who declared his candidacy for Solari’s District 5 seat on the commission at a joint news conference. But Auwaerter had only been in the race a matter of hours when Vero City Councilmember Laura Moss announced that she planned to run as well. Several other prominent local politicians are also expected to join the race long before next August’s Republican primary, which likely will determine Solari’s successor. Solari said Auwaerter, a retired Vanguard investment management executive who has served on numerous committees in local government, is a kindred spirit who “shares our conservative values” and possesses the “financial skills necessary” to fully understand the county’s budget and maintain fiscal responsibility. READ FULL STORY

Many local nursing and assisted living facilities also evacuated
week of September 12, 2019

Like Sebastian River Medical Center, many Vero nursing homes and assisted living facilities evacuated their residents as Hurricane Dorian approached – but others stayed put, relying on back-up generators and impact resistant windows. Florida Baptist Retirement Center took the county’s evacuation order for people east of U.S. 1 literally. “We go by emergency services,” said a spokesperson. “They required everyone east of U.S. 1 to evacuate. It was mandatory.” Consulate of Vero Beach, part of a chain of 82 centers, followed its corporate policy to evacuate if the local authorities say so. “It’s always a last resort,” said Jennifer Trapp, vice-president of corporate communications. “Vero was a mandatory evacuation. It was not a ‘do we stay or do we go.’” READ FULL STORY

Rey Neville: Fascinating tale of political newcomer with Vero roots
week of September 12, 2019

Unless you’re a member of the Vero Beach Yacht Club, where he served as commodore last year, you probably don’t know much about Rey Neville, a 78-year-old political newcomer who last week filed to run for a seat on the City Council. But you might’ve dined at the house his family built – the one he grew up in, was married in and sometimes returned to for anniversary dinners before his wife died last year. That house is now The Tides restaurant. “My bedroom was where the kitchen is now,” Neville said, adding that he and his bride, Mary, were standing in front of the fireplace when they exchanged wedding vows they honored for 49 years. “We’d go to The Tides for anniversary dinners,” he added, “and the staff there would rearrange the tables so we could sit in front of that fireplace.” So Neville’s roots here run deep, even though he was at most a part-time resident here for much of his adult life – until he and his wife returned to make Vero Beach their permanent home in 2014. READ FULL STORY

County still figuring out how many turtle nests were destroyed by Dorian
week of September 12, 2019

Vero Beach's human residents and their homes were spared the worst of Hurricane Dorian's pummeling winds and storm surge but many of the threatened and endangered sea turtles that nest on our beaches each year between March and November didn't fare so well. Beachgoers have reported numerous dead hatchlings and broken, exposed and scattered eggs all along our island’s more than 22 miles of eroded shoreline since Dorian's passage last week. County sea turtle coordinator Quintin Bergman says the storm swept through our area in the midst of a banner sea turtle nesting season. Prior to the storm, more than 6,100 loggerhead, 2,300 green and 37 leatherback nests had been counted. Bergman said impacts on turtles and their nests are still being assessed, and he hopes to have an estimate this week or next of how many nests may have hatched before the hurricane and how many may have been lost. The good news, Bergman said, is that "we didn't lose all of our nests" and that green turtles have already laid new nests since Dorian exited east-central Florida waters. READ FULL STORY

Council not pleased with Mayor Zudans’ official letter to San Francisco
week of September 12, 2019

Vero Beach Mayor Val Zudans steered the city into the cross hairs of the national gun debate after penning a letter aimed at San Francisco leaders, lambasting their recent decision to label the National Rifle Association a terror organization. Zudans on Sept. 6 inked a two-page letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in his official capacity as mayor, ripping the unanimous Sept. 3 resolution by the board – their equivalent of a city council – declaring the NRA a “domestic terrorist organization.” The correspondence, which was not publicly discussed or voted on by the Vero Beach City Council and lacked signatures from fellow council members, slammed San Francisco as a “sanctuary for criminals, addicts and homeless encampments. “Your stifling big brother government is your downfall,” Zudans wrote. “Your most recent action stinks like the steaming excrement on your streets.” Zudans, who identified himself as “a lifetime NRA member, concealed carry permit holder, and Mayor of Vero Beach, Florida,” went on to claim the California city’s declaration amounted to calling “millions of law-abiding NRA members ‘terrorists.’” READ FULL STORY

Will School Board try to skirt law in search for Superintendent?
week of September 5, 2019

A search firm hired to find a new school superintendent is encouraging School Board members to skirt Florida’s Sunshine Laws by individually interviewing candidates and then using an Internet portal to privately discuss finalists without the public’s knowledge. Bill Adams, vice president for Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, urged board members during their Aug. 26 meeting to take turns meeting individually with each of the finalist candidates so they can conduct interviews in private without breaking the law. It was one of several recommendations Adams has made in recent weeks giving the board information about how to circumvent the state’s Sunshine Laws, which require public business to be conducted in open meetings and restricts officials from discussing public business among themselves in private. “You have to be careful,” Adams told board members. “I recommend that board members take turns meeting one hour with each candidate so it’s not in violation of the Sunshine Act.” The board has not officially decided whether to conduct the one-on-one interviews yet, but appeared to be open to the idea. READ FULL STORY

Is staff still secretly hoping to keep sewer plant on lagoon?
week of September 5, 2019

Is Vero Beach city staff ignoring the long-standing desire of the city and its neighbors to move the sewer plant off the Indian River Lagoon as soon as is feasible? Or are they just playing the tried-and-true game of delay, defer and deflect? Moving the plant off the river has been the “marching orders” from the City Council to the staff for the past seven or eight years. It’s something the vast majority of area residents – both island and mainland residents – have been eagerly anticipating, for environmental and aesthetic reasons. Removing it would complete the clearing of Vero’s riverfront of unsightly utility equipment, paving the way for the city to redevelop Centennial Place as a park or enter into a public/private partnership to create a mixed-use riverside project with restaurants, docks and other amenities. The fact that the City of Vero Beach has hired consultants to plan and estimate the cost of various options for modernizing and extending the life of the existing sewer plant so it can stay on the river seems surreal. So does the idea of residents and visitors someday strolling Centennial Place in view of and downwind of the sewer plant. READ FULL STORY

Vero pickleball club interested in building courts at Dodgertown
week of September 5, 2019

With its ranks having swelled to more than 500 members, Vero Beach’s largest pickleball club has outgrown the 12-court complex it leases from the city at Pocahontas Park. The solution could be a move to Dodgertown – or, to be more precise, the former Dodgertown Golf Club property. “That would be a dream come true,” Pickleball University president Mari Colacino said. “Our members don’t want to have to spread out over different sites. They want to stay together. The old Dodgertown golf course would be the perfect place.” County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan thinks so, too. The county paid $2.4 million to purchase the 35-acre parcel from the city earlier this year, primarily because Major League Baseball, which now operates the Jackie Robinson Training Complex at the former Dodgertown complex, wanted an overflow parking area for marquee events at Holman Stadium. But as O’Bryan put it: “We don’t need all 35 acres for parking.” Pickleball University needs only two – preferably the two acres on the north end of the property, where it could refurbish the golf course’s former clubhouse. READ FULL STORY

Tax Collector’s Office hit by ex-employee’s discrimination claim
week of September 5, 2019

A former Indian River County Tax Collector’s Office employee has filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Florida Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming she was called the N-word by a supervisor and, along with a co-worker, was subjected to other vulgarity and racial slurs. According to her attorney, Ketonya Curtis of Vero Beach also alleges that she was targeted for “harassment, insults, badgering and hostile behavior in retaliation” after reporting the incidents to Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan’s executive staff. Iyada Jackson, the Altamonte Springs-based lawyer representing Curtis, said the “bullying” became so harsh that her client began having anxiety attacks – one that was so severe she needed to “flee her job” and go to the hospital. “As I understand it: When Ms. Curtis told her supervisor she was having a panic attack, she was told, ‘Just deal with it,’” Jackson said last weekend, days after holding a news conference outside the Tax Collector’s Office at the County Administration Complex. READ FULL STORY

Sebastian’s latest annexation seen likely to draw lawsuits
week of September 5, 2019

The Sebastian City Council’s controversial decision to annex more than 1,000 acres of citrus land into the city – a tract expected eventually become a 3,500-home development – has so many opponents it seems highly likely to become the subject of litigation. The City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 28 unanimously approved the annexation of 1,118 acres of citrus groves despite loud objections from dozens of public speakers, including environmentalists, representatives of the Indian River Neighborhood Association and Indian River County officials who claim the maneuver is unlawful. Graves Brothers Companies, a locally-based citrus grower, made the request for voluntary annexation of the nearly 2-square-mile tract located north of 69th Street, west of 74th Avenue and east of 82nd Avenue in the county. The company last year had 76 acres annexed into Sebastian along the city’s southern border – even though the property shared only a 436-foot border with the city – likely to pave the way for last week’s annexation, County Attorney Dylan Reingold said, adding a similar annexation proposal in Volusia County was denied because the connection was so slight. READ FULL STORY

Treasure Coast Community Health opens in Gifford
week of September 5, 2019

The waiting room was busy, the newly-minted staff ready to serve patients last week as Treasure Coast Community Health Care took charge of a revitalized, expanded Gifford Health Center. That clinic, built in 2003 by the Indian River County Hospital District, becomes the eighth in TCCH’s rapidly growing network. As an unexpected benefit of the takeover of Gifford, all eight of Treasure Coast's low-cost clinics are now available at no cost to patients that qualify for Hospital District care. Previously, the lowest-income patients of TCCH were asked to pay $5 to $25 toward their care, with most others paying on a sliding fee scale. Because care at Gifford had always been free under the Health Department, which ran the clinic up until earlier this year, leaders of the expansion effort hoped to convince TCCH to waive fees for Hospital District-qualified patients. With less than two weeks to opening day, the TCCH board of directors agreed to not only eliminate the nominal fee at Gifford, as well as sliding scale fees, but to reduce both types of fees for lower-income patients across the clinic system. It will also drop a separate charge for labs and other ancillary services, said TCCH’s Vicki Soule. READ FULL STORY

2 McKee Gardens palms declared ‘champion trees’
week of September 5, 2019

Two stately palm trees shading Vero Beach's McKee Botanical Gardens have been officially declared the largest of their species growing in Florida by the state Forest Service. A date palm that stands 44 feet tall, has a circumference of 39 inches, and a crown spread of 17 1/2 feet and a 43-foot Grugru palm with a 31-inch circumference and 22-foot crown spread just made the National Register of Big Trees maintained by the American Forestry Association – one of the nation's oldest conservation organizations. The new honorees are among 126 "champion trees" registered in the Sunshine State. They were nominated by Andreas Daehnick, McKee's director of horticulture and research, and measured by Florida Forest Service senior forester Calin Ionita. "It's just something a lot of people are interested in," Daehnick said of the big tree registry. "These are the biggest trees of their type and it could be that the tree is genetically a little different that, in time, makes this a better, stronger tree than the one next to it." READ FULL STORY

School Board’s search firm has a shaky record
week of August 29, 2019

The search firm that the School Board hired to lead the effort to find a new superintendent for Indian River County has previously recommended candidates accused of sexual harassment, bid fixing, lavish spending and lying about their qualifications, a review of the firm’s previous assignments disclosed. The board voted 4-1 at its Aug. 13 meeting to hire and pay Chicago-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates up to $40,000 to help the district find a new superintendent. The board would like to have a new superintendent hired by January. “There are numerous incidents where HYA did not properly investigate candidates,” said School Board member Jacqueline Rosario, who argued vigorously with her peers before casting the lone dissenting vote. “I think the board should take its time and investigate some of these allegations before voting to hire HYA. “These incidents include incidents of nepotism, the firing of one administrator after nude photos were found on their laptop, and a company president who was fired from his previous position for sexual misconduct.” READ FULL STORY

Bitcoin ATMs offer criminals new way to get your money
week of August 29, 2019

Two Bitcoin ATM companies have set up currency exchange machines in convenience stores in Indian River County, providing local residents an easy new way to acquire relatively small amounts of this new kind of money. But local law enforcement officials are concerned that machines where you can buy this little-regulated cryptocurrency mostly offer criminals a new way to scam you out of savings while making an untraceable getaway. Up till now, bitcoin-related crimes in Indian River County are believed to have been relatively rare, but recently there has been more reason for concern, said Sheriff’s Major Eric Flowers. One of several scams that has cropped up involves a phony FPL representative telephoning utility customers and threatening to shut off their electricity for unpaid bills unless they immediately make a payment using bitcoin, Flowers said. “When Vero made the switch from Vero Electric to FPL, we actually had several businesses get the scam call saying that their electric was going to get cut off and they needed to pay in bitcoin over the phone,” Flowers said. READ FULL STORY

State report: Drinking water source for Vero Beach ‘in pitiful condition’
week of August 29, 2019

More than six months after a poor inspection by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the results showing the sad state of Vero’s drinking water infrastructure are finally coming to light. “The water source for the system is in pitiful condition,” wrote inspectors Jocelyn Labbe and Zachary Shulman at the conclusion of a two-day, systemwide inspection of Vero Beach Utilities in February. Widespread leaks. Heavy Corrosion. Missing pumps. Thirteen wells out of service, some for many years. That’s just a sampling of the comments on the inspection reports and non-compliance notice the city received in March. Utilities Director Rob Bolton responded partially to the notice on April 12, saying staff was working on rehabilitating wells or replacing non-compliant components. An example of the types of bureaucratic answers provided to FDEP by Bolton: “The city is reviewing the cost to repair vs. replace and will add the project to the 5-year capital plan. Once the study is completed the City will forward it to the Department.“ READ FULL STORY

Vero High swim team worries about closure of Leisure Square pool
week of August 29, 2019

Vero Beach High School swim coach Gavin Ross said Sunday the swimming program’s future could be in doubt if the City Council decides to shut down the Leisure Square pool, where the team trains for its meets. Closing the city-owned pool, Ross said, would force the team to move its practices to the county-operated Gifford Aquatic Center on 43rd Avenue or the North County Aquatic Center in Sebastian. Both options present transportation challenges that would be difficult to overcome for many of the team’s 45 swimmers, who began practice last week and were scheduled to open their season on Wednesday. “We’d have a significant fall off in the number of swimmers or, in a worst-case scenario, the team would simply fall apart – because the school district provides bus transportation, and I don’t know if we could still make that happen if we have to travel to Gifford or the North County pools,” Ross said. “Most of our kids swim year-round for one of the swim clubs in the area, and they’d simply continue to swim for their clubs,” he added. “But we’d probably lose as many as 20 of the kids who swim only for the high school team. READ FULL STORY

Changes to Endangered Species Act threaten lagoon wildlife
week of August 29, 2019

Local environmental scientists and conservationists are pushing back against proposed changes to the U.S. Endangered Species Act that they contend will roll back more than 45 years of conservation gains for animals that live in and around the Indian River Lagoon, such as sea turtles, manatees and scrub jays. The Trump administration announced the changes to regulations governing implementation of the Endangered Species Act earlier this month, promising to reduce regulations and make the listing process more transparent. The overhaul ends blanket protection for animals proposed for new 'threatened' designations. It would allow economic impacts to be considered in the listing process, would limit designations of critical habitat deemed vital to a species' survival, and would not factor in the effects of climate change. Environmental groups – including the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Humane Society of the United States – quickly joined together to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior to block the rule changes, which are slated to take effect next month. READ FULL STORY

FPL hardening its grid to reduce tropical storm outages
week of August 29, 2019

Even before Tropical Storm Dorian began making its way through the Caribbean, Florida Power & Light Co. announced it was working to improve its system locally in hopes of averting mass power outages in the event Vero is hit by a hurricane. Representatives from the state’s largest utility – which in December bought the city of Vero Beach’s electric system for $183.3 million – outlined plans at a recent City Council meeting to harden its grid, install smart meters and switches that assist in avoiding outages. It also announced it was undertaking an aggressive tree trimming strategy near power lines, since wind-blown branches and debris are a major cause of power outages during a storm. FPL, which serves more than 5 million customer accounts in 35 counties across the state, plans to harden six main power lines in Vero Beach next year and harden all main power lines in the city by the end of 2024. Hardening consists of installing wooden or concrete power poles that can withstand major hurricane-force winds. The process includes shortening the span between poles by installing additional poles and possibly placing some segments of lines underground. READ FULL STORY

Broad public involvement sought in planning for Centennial Place
week of August 29, 2019

The Vero Beach City Council has underscored the importance of transparency in planning for redevelopment of the former city power plant site following public complaints about the process proposed by a Miami-based consulting firm. The City Council at its Aug. 20 meeting discussed at length a $144,000 proposal by DPZ CoDesign for consulting services meant to guide redevelopment of the 35-acre riverfront property at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard known as Centennial Place. The six-month plan included time to analyze the site, hold a “kick-off” presentation to the board in mid-November, formulate a public survey, hold a series of public meetings in January and present a final report summarizing the community’s wishes in May. In its plan, DPZ CoDesign suggested formation of a steering committee to guide the design team throughout the process. The small group would likely consist of the city manager, planning director and a few key administrative staff familiar with decision-making and city protocols. The company also proposed creation of a committee of community ambassadors consisting of 10 to 12 members representing residents and civic leaders on the mainland and the barrier island who would host small groups in their homes to solicit input and encourage engagement. READ FULL STORY

Jones’ quest for new legal team may delay start of murder trial
week of August 29, 2019

If accused killer Michael David Jones succeeds this week in his quest for new a defense attorney who isn’t urging him to take a plea bargain, it’s safe to say that jury selection for Jones’ trial on first-degree murder charges will not begin on Oct. 1 as planned. Last week, after a hearing where Jones’ three-attorney legal team was clearly outgunned by State Attorney Bruce Colton’s prosecutors, Jones filed a hand-written, pro se motion to fire his appointed attorneys from Public Defender Diamond Litty’s office and get new representation. Jones claims his lawyers have been manipulating his family members and their contributions to his jailhouse commissary account to pressure him to accept a plea deal. “Defendant’s counsel do not wish to have a trial. Defendant and his counsel vehemently disagree on his trial strategy,” Jones wrote in the seven-page motion. “Defendant’s counsel strongly wish to resolve this matter via plea bargain contrary to their client’s wishes. There has never in fact been a plea offer.” After qualifying as indigent, the former financial advisor at PNC Wealth Management on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach was assigned a team of three attorneys to handle his defense in the strangulation slaying of 26-year-old Diana Duve in June 2014. READ FULL STORY

New extended-stay hotel to open this fall on Route 60
week of August 29, 2019

A 109-room, three-story Staybridge Suites hotel – an extended-stay and corporate brand that is part of the InterContinental Hotels Group – will open on Route 60 this fall just east of the Walmart. Neil Densmore, founder and president of Wisconsin-based Great Lakes Management Group, which will own and operate the hotel, said construction is expected to be completed by the end of October. Staybridge Suites’ rooms will range in size from studios to two-bedrooms, and come with 49-inch televisions, full size refrigerators, microwaves, cook tops, dishwashers, garbage disposals, pots and pans, and full table settings, Densmore said. The hotel also will offer a fitness center, pool, business center and free hot breakfast. “We selected this site as it was located close to the airport and historic Dodgertown, between downtown and Interstate 95 with close proximity to several support services from shopping at the mall, dining and gas,” Densmore told Vero Beach 32963. “There was not an extended stay hotel in the Vero market and we felt a need for extended stay with the corporate business Vero currently has year-round, plus a place to offer for the people visiting Florida in the winter months rather than finding a short- term lease in a condo or apartment.” READ FULL STORY

Rendell said to hide info from School Board
week of August 22, 2019

Former Superintendent Mark Rendell faces the prospect of a lawsuit for withholding financial information from the Indian River County School Board that could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars and place future construction projects in jeopardy. According to documents obtained by Vero Beach 32963, the district’s financial advisor, Ford & Associates, Inc., sent a letter to Rendell on April 4 notifying him the district’s credit outlook had been downgraded from “Stable” to “Negative” by Fitch Ratings, one of three watchdog agencies that rate the district’s creditworthiness. The letter noted that the downgrade was due to “recent weak operating performance” and a “reduction in fund balance,” and warned the change “indicates a declining trend in credit quality” that could “cause the district’s outstanding debt to lose value” and “increase the cost of future borrowing.” The email that accompanied the letter said very specifically, “We are sending this letter to you ... for distribution to the Board members,” but Rendell, who at the time was angling for a contract renewal and telling the board that the district’s finances were in “good shape,” did not share the letter with board members. READ FULL STORY

Courts rebuff Jones’ bid for pretrial ‘religious fast’
week of August 22, 2019

Unless he contents himself with pushing the meat aside on his dining tray at the Indian River County Jail and just eating the veggies, accused killer Michael David Jones likely won’t be conducting a vegetarian “religious fast” as his October trial for first-degree murder draws near. Last week Jones re-filed his new 10-page complaint under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act after Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom ruled against Jones in a prior lawsuit. The matter arose in February when Sheriff Deryl Loar rejected an internal jailhouse request, so Jones filed hand-written pleadings appealing to the civil court for relief. A University of Miami law school graduate, Jones is acting as his own attorney. The merits of Jones’ case, the way he originally filed it, just were not there, Croom wrote. “The petitioner has not established that he has a clear legal right to a vegetarian or vegan diet or that the respondents have an indisputable ministerial duty to provide him with said diet.” In her July 31 order, Croom explained that Florida Statute regarding the protection of religious freedom is even broader that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but that Jones failed to demonstrate that his proposed “vegetarian fast” met the requirements of “religiously motivated conduct” under the law. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach airport seeking go-ahead for customs facility
week of August 22, 2019

Local officials last week rolled out the red carpet for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Vero Beach Regional Airport in an effort to convince the federal government to approve a customs facility there – an addition they say would make life more convenient for Vero-bound international travelers arriving on private jets and could attract more airlines and international flights. Right now, travelers headed to Vero Beach who are flying in from abroad have to land at Treasure Coast International Airport and Business Park in Fort Pierce – the closest airport with a customs post – and then take off again and fly to Vero, a procedure that adds time and expense to each trip. Vero Beach is the lone regional airport in the area to lack a customs facility, officials said during the Aug. 15 tour with two CBP agents. Stuart, Fort Pierce and Melbourne all have customs facilities. An estimated 25 percent of air traffic that clears customs in Fort Pierce goes on to Vero Beach, Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc said during the visit. READ FULL STORY

3 more St. Edward’s graduates heading to Harvard this fall
week of August 22, 2019

Saint Edward’s School has produced plenty of outstanding students over the years, but even school officials were surprised when they discovered three 2019 graduates were headed to Harvard College this fall, an amazing accomplishment for such a small school. The three students starting Harvard on Sept. 3 are Omar Shareef, 17, Katherine Alarte, 18, and Ivor Zimmerman, 18. Two other Saint Edward’s graduates already attend Harvard including Shareef’s sister, Sana, who will be a sophomore this fall, and Alarte’s brother, Zach, who will be a junior. “The standards for students to be accepted at Harvard or any of the most highly selective schools are almost hard to believe,” said Michelle Sternberg, Upper School Academic Dean at Saint Edward’s. “The expectation is that these students need to be near perfect in the classroom – straight A’s – have perfect or near perfect test scores, but on top of that, have made a significant impact on their community or in a particular outside activity. READ FULL STORY

Two more beach replenishment projects to start late next year
week of August 22, 2019

Critically eroding segments of barrier island shoreline, a victim of hurricanes Matthew and Irma, will be replenished with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand starting late next year, county officials said. Indian River County plans to start two multimillion-dollar beach renourishment projects in November 2020. The projects will place 400,000 cubic yards of sand along a 6.6-mile stretch of shoreline between the north island community of Seaview and Turtle Trail beach park near the Carlton condominium, an area the county calls Sector 3. It will put an additional 250,000 yards of sand on south beach in what is called Sector 7, the area which stretches for 2.2 miles from Seagrove to the Moorings. “Hurricanes Matthew and Irma have impacted both of those areas, so we’re moving forward with the permitting and design,” County Administrator Jason Brown said. The two sectors have lost roughly one foot of shoreline a year since Hurricane Matthew brushed the Treasure Coast in 2016. READ FULL STORY

Colton picked to oversee Florida probe of Epstein’s 2008 plea deal
week of August 22, 2019

Bruce Colton, the longtime Vero Beach resident who has served as the 19th Circuit’s State Attorney for more than three decades, can add another high-profile distinction to his campaign literature when he runs for re-election next year. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Colton to oversee a Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal investigation into the secret plea deal and cushy work-release arrangement offered in 2008 to Palm Beach pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, a hedge-fund billionaire who was arrested again in early July on child sex-trafficking charges in New York, is believed to have hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell where he was found dead on Aug. 10. Despite his apparent suicide, Colton said the FDLE’s investigation will continue. “It doesn’t impair the investigation at all,” Colton said last week. “We’re not looking at him. We’re looking at the plea deal and the circumstances surrounding his work-release privileges.” Colton, who was notified he would serve as the case’s lead prosecutor only 90 minutes before DeSantis’ executive order was made public, said he anticipates the FDLE will do the “bulk of the legwork” during the investigation. READ FULL STORY

Local employers having trouble finding skilled workers
week of August 22, 2019

Helene Caseltine’s conversations with local employers these days usually begin with a request – from them. “The first thing they say is, ‘Find me some workers,’” said Caseltine, who is economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. To be more specific: The owners and managers of local businesses are seeking workers already trained to do the jobs they have available. “A lot of employers throughout the Treasure Coast, not just here in our county, are struggling to find workers with either the experience or skills needed to fill their open positions,” Caseltine said last week. “With the unemployment rate down to 4.3 percent, it’s getting tougher to find those people. “And we’re not talking about just manufacturing or healthcare or the trades,” she added. “It’s a problem that crosses all industry boundaries.” For that reason, Caseltine’s office and other economic development organizations in neighboring counties again are partnering with area business leaders, educational institutions and CareerSource Research Coast – the employer-driven regional workforce resource agency – to reassess the challenges of finding qualified candidates. READ FULL STORY

Scientist: Toxic algae blooms not ‘going away anytime soon’
week of August 22, 2019

While the Indian River Lagoon is relatively free of toxic algae blooms right now, residents shouldn’t get too comfortable because more are bound to occur in the future – including blooms of some algae we haven’t seen before. "This isn't going away anytime soon," Dr. James Sullivan told a large audience at the Emerson Center. "Worldwide, harmful algal blooms are increasing in type, frequency, duration and severity. There are a whole bunch of algae that were never there before ... [and] Florida is the most impacted state in the U.S." That was also the gist of a talk Sullivan, executive director of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and member of the state’s blue-green algae task force, gave at a public meeting of the Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County in Vero Beach last Thursday. Algae blooms are caused by nutrient pollution from phosphorus and nitrogen due to fertilizer runoff and leaking septic systems; warming waters due to climate change; and other human impacts related to land use practices, stormwater management and dredging, according to Sullivan. READ FULL STORY

County furious with Waste Management over trash contract
week of August 22, 2019

Indian River County’s plan to institute mandatory garbage pickup to stop people from putting garbage in recycling bins ended up on the trash heap after county commissioners and staff clashed with the county’s waste hauling contractor. Angry commissioners scrapped the notion of mandatory trash pickup after tempers flared during a recent board meeting. “Our relationship with Waste Management is broken at this point and I don’t know how we move forward,” Commission Vice Chair Susan Adams said. The conflict was set up when commissioners discussed implementing mandatory garbage pickup for households in unincorporated areas of the county to curb contamination of recycling bins after the county’s recycling vendor reported a 34 percent contamination rate, with dead animals, soiled diapers and chicken bones ending up in the blue bins. That figure should be lower than 20 percent, and county officials said the excess contamination was a threat to the county’s entire state-mandated recycling program. The commission tentatively agreed to add a $51 mandatory garbage-service assessment to next year’s tax bills to cover the first six months of a program that would have started April 1. READ FULL STORY

Neighbors worry about expansion of Vero Marina
week of August 15, 2019

City officials are attempting to quell the concerns of an island community group that redevelopment and expansion of the deteriorating Vero Beach Municipal Marina will bring mega yachts and commercial businesses to the site along with traffic congestion. New Marina Manager Sean Collins has been assuring the Community Park & Marine Group – a citizens group formed by Central Beach residents and members of the boating community – that although some marina expansion concepts call for additional and bigger boat slips, mega yachts are expected to steer clear of Vero Beach since they tend to dock in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. “To say just because we rebuild the marina, mega yachts will come is a stretch,” Collins said, adding he expects only “a few” would dock at an improved facility. Hotels, restaurants and other commercial space are not in the cards either – just an expanded marina with aging docks swapped out for new ones, Collins said. “The city marina is already a destination. We have thousands of boats that come through here every year, not to mention all the local ones that call this place home,” Collins said, noting some parts of the facility still standing today were built in the 1930s. “This place is a gem. It’s just a little bit buried in the dirt. It needs to be cleaned up quite a bit.” READ FULL STORY

Prosecution lays out evidence it wants to use in Jones murder trial
week of August 15, 2019

With less than two months to go before jury selection in the first-degree murder trial of former PNC Wealth Management advisor Michael David Jones, the admissibility of key evidence tracking the movements of Jones and victim Diana Duve is being debated by attorneys. Credit card receipts, cellphone records, hotel reservations and video surveillance footage from three counties have helped investigators piece together the events of the last days of 26-year-old Duve’s life, plus the next few days after she went missing in June 2014. State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office filed paperwork to admit those business records by certification, as representatives from the businesses providing the evidence to the court attested to the authenticity of the records. “All of the evidence which the state seeks to admit pursuant to this motion has been either provided to or made available to the defense pursuant to the state’s discovery obligations,” Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman wrote, adding that defense attorneys have had ample opportunity to explore or question the validity of the records and to depose the people who provided the receipts, video recordings or other records. READ FULL STORY

Council to discuss options for moving sewer plant off lagoon
week of August 15, 2019

Later this month, the City Council again will discuss turning over Vero Beach’s municipal water and sewage systems to the county as a possible alternative to spending more than $30 million to build a new wastewater treatment plant at the airport. City Councilman Harry Howle said last week he plans to put the matter on the panel’s agenda later this month. “When the topic was brought up a few years ago, there wasn’t much interest on the city’s part,” Howle said. “But now that we’re talking seriously about moving the wastewater treatment plant off the lagoon, this could be a way to fast-track the process. “Certainly, it’s an option we should consider,” he added. “The alternative is to borrow $30 million to $50 million to build a new facility.” Recently retired city manager Jim O’Connor said it probably would take two years to build a new plant at the airport. Howle, who has announced he will not seek re-election, said he has had informal conversations with County Commissioner Bob Solari to gauge the county’s potential interest in the city’s water and sewage systems. READ FULL STORY

More teachers, fewer subs in classrooms as new school year starts under new leader
week of August 15, 2019

For the first time in at least three years, the school district started the new school year on Monday with a permanent fulltime teacher assigned to each classroom. That’s a far cry from recent years when the district utilized as many as two- to three-dozen substitutes instead of hiring permanent teachers in an effort to save money. The new strategy is one of many changes implemented by Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley, who vowed when she was hired May 24 to improve student learning – in part by equipping classrooms with full-time, qualified teachers. Substitute teachers are poorly paid – $75 a day is the base rate in the IRC school district – and often lack the education, training or experience of regular teachers. Another drawback to subs that come and go is a lack of consistency in teaching methods and classroom expectations that can undermine children’s success. “We want regular teachers in the classrooms so that they can set the expectations we have for students,” Moxley said. “Having a full-time teacher in the classroom is better for the students because they can begin forming relationships on the first day.” READ FULL STORY

Blue-green algae toxin found in tissues of bull sharks in Lagoon
week of August 15, 2019

Toxic blue-green algae blooms are threatening the health of bull sharks in the Indian River Lagoon, one of the most important blue shark nurseries on the Atlantic coast, according to Harbor Branch researchers. Young bull sharks that spend the first few years of their lives in the Lagoon show microcystin toxin – a harmful chemical emitted by blue-green algae – in their tissues even when the algae that produce the toxin aren’t blooming in the estuary. That’s the bottom line of a new, ongoing study by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute assistant research professor Dr. Matt Ajemian and his colleagues at the institute’s Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health. The Center was established about a year ago to investigate harmful algal blooms in the lagoon and determine how they affect the health of people and marine creatures. Ajemian said bull sharks are a potential “sentinel” species in the study because they are relatively high up on the food chain and accumulate toxins from what they eat. Sentinel species are ones that give early indications of ecological problems that can affect humans as well as animals. READ FULL STORY

County deploys 2 artificial reefs south of the Sebastian Inlet
week of August 15, 2019

Indian River County has deployed two new artificial reefs to increase fish habitat and diving opportunities. In July, workers sank 500 tons of recycled concrete from old culverts, barriers and bridge decking in about 50 feet of water three miles offshore about five miles south of the Sebastian Inlet to form JK Patch Reef South. At the same time, they put down JK Patch Reef North – a cluster of 10 limestone-concrete pyramid modules about 600 feet away. The two new reefs are located near the Wabasso Fishing Reef – a structure deployed in June that was made of broken up concrete from the hurricane-ravaged fishing pier on the south side of the Wabasso Causeway. All three structures are part of what the county's Coastal Resources Coordinator Kendra Cope calls "a small but growing artificial reef program" spread across a series of 40-acre sites five to eight miles south of the inlet that were permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016. READ FULL STORY

Sheriff and deputies deadlocked over pay raises
week of August 15, 2019

The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and a union representing nearly 150 deputies are hopelessly deadlocked on how to distribute pay raises after months-long negotiations broke down, triggering a hearing next month before the County Commission intended to end the stalemate. The sheriff and Indian River County Deputies Association – part of the International Union of Police Associations – will have a showdown on Sept. 13 before the County Commission after meeting numerous times last year without reaching an agreement and then disagreeing in June over the recommendations of a special magistrate called in to referee the matter. The commission at the upcoming meeting must render a final decision on raising base salaries and how to distribute pay increases for 149 deputies for the current budget year, which ends in late September. The stalemate started on Dec. 3 when the union sent Undersheriff James Harpring a letter declaring an official impasse in negotiations, Indian River County Detective Joseph Karman said. The union sides with the recommendation of special magistrate Dennis Campagna to start new deputies at $42,000 a year – roughly $3,000 more than the current starting salary of $38,950; increase the top of the pay scale for long-employed deputies from $63,151 to $65,867; and give all other deputies a 4.3 percent raise. READ FULL STORY