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John’s Island seeks to build reuse water pipeline under lagoon
week of January 11, 2018

John’s Island wants to build a $6 million, 5-mile-long pipeline, about a mile of it under the Indian River Lagoon, to meet long-term irrigation-water needs. The pipe will carry “reclaimed” water from Indian River County’s wastewater plants that has been treated to a high level of purity, just shy of drinking water. The 1,650-acre barrier island gated community – which until now has been getting most of its irrigation water from the City of Vero Beach – needs more reclaimed water for its two island golf courses, and for its 1,382 residents, who live in large single-family homes with big lawns and in condominiums with acres of lushly planted communal land. Vero Beach is unable to fully meet John’s Island’s reuse water needs. The John’s Island Property Owners Association, formed in 1969, created John’s Island Water Management, Inc. around 1990 to handle irrigation water, said Jim Moller, whose duties as general manager include overseeing both, which he has done for 25 years. READ FULL STORY


Visits to IRMC’s four suitors start with Cleveland, Orlando
week of January 11, 2018

An arduous schedule of travel and meetings wrapped up Tuesday as Indian River Medical Center officials toured eight hospitals in four days. They visited two campuses – the health system flagship, and a recently acquisition – for each of four prospective partners vying to take over Vero’s community hospital. IRMC officials will make their decision about who to partner with near the end of this month. Keeping straight the swirling images of hospital corridors and conference rooms will be of critical importance in the days ahead as board members and trustees meet to discuss their impressions and make their final choice. Four Indian River Hospital District trustees and four IRMC board members made the tours, with two or three more joining by conference call at District offices in Vero. The first leg of the tours began last Thursday with Cleveland Clinic’s stunning main campus in East Cleveland, in tandem with its relatively recent acquisition, Akron General. Cleveland Clinic’s main campus is a world-renowned academic and research center focused on treating high acuity patients. READ FULL STORY


Crisis intervention training pays off
week of January 11, 2018

Two Vero Beach Police officers were honored last Tuesday for their work diffusing a potentially dangerous situation at an Ocean Drive resort and getting help for a mentally unstable island resident. Sergeant Chris Roberts and Officer Russell Laconic were recognized at the Indian River County Courthouse for outstanding implementation of Crisis Intervention Training during a gathering of the Mental Health Court Team. CIT allows police to better respond to calls involving people with mental illness. It challenges officers to rethink traditional law-enforcement tactics and utilize skills of compassion, patience, communication and collaboration to de-escalate and resolve an incident. A 53-year-old woman who is a seasonal resident of the Moorings was staying at the Costa d’Este Beach Resort and Spa when she began acting irrationally, Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey told the group. Over a two-day period, the woman, who was confused and complaining, went into the hot tub naked, bizarrely recited nursing rhymes and tried to trade pebbles collected from outside for a toothbrush. She was pacing back and forth. READ FULL STORY


$9.9 million oceanfront spec home attracting interest
week of January 11, 2018

Developer Marianne Casarella seems to have timed her first Vero spec house perfectly. The brand new 8,400-square-foot oceanfront home that debuted last month – listed for $9.9 million – has little competition in its price range, and has already been shown to seven qualified buyers. “I have one buyer who has been to the house three times, and another agent in town has had her buyer in three times as well,” said Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare, who shares the listing with her partners Richard Boga and Clark French. “It is highly unusual to have this much interest in the first few weeks.” The 5-bedroom, 8-bath transitional style house designed by Casarella, engineered by Bill Stoddard and built by Vic Lombardi of Waters Edge Estates, has plenty of inherent virtues. It sits on a rolling 2.3-acre lot that is the deepest in Vero’s prestigious Estate Section – 1,000 feet from A1A to the Atlantic Ocean – and has exceptional design features and finishes, expansive outdoor living space and gorgeous landscaping. READ FULL STORY


New push to control fertilizer runoff into the lagoon
week of January 11, 2018

Though the plight of the Indian River Lagoon has faded from the news somewhat in the several years since widespread illness among bottlenose dolphins was first discovered and unprecedented algae blooms decimated the waterway’s extraordinary ecology, the lagoon is still plagued with high levels of pollution that endanger many of the species that call it home. Now the Pelican Island Audubon Society is aiming to reawaken awareness and help solve some of the underlying problems, inviting local residents to attend a lagoon conference focused on native landscaping and responsible use of fertilizer. Local Audubon President Dr. Richard Baker said he was approached by members of The Moorings Club who saw disturbing images of the canals feeding into the lagoon in and around the south barrier island community. The Moorings waterways appeared red on the images, indicating high quantities of nitrogen in the water. Since that part of the Moorings is on a sewer system, the most likely culprits, Baker said, are lawns and fertilizers. READ FULL STORY


Wicked nor’easter brings pounding 11-foot waves, damaging beaches
week of January 11, 2018

Island beaches already damaged by Hurricane Irma got slammed again last week by the nor'easter that nailed the eastern seaboard, bringing high winds and pounding seas from New England to South Florida. Indian River County Coastal Engineer James Gray says south county beaches suffered the most significant damage, with dunes eaten up by 10- and 11-foot waves that peaked last Tuesday. Beaches “are still being impacted by the continuing wind and rough surf. We're still assessing the damage. We're hearing from a few homes with acute erosional impact,” Gray said. According to Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor, city beaches still recovering from Irma “did see some erosion, but seem to be stable. Humiston Park did lose a couple of trash containers, but we found them, headed south.” O'Connor noted that the storm had apparently caused sand accretion at South Beach, which is situated to catch sand washed off beaches to its north. Beaches in the Town of Orchid also suffered serious dune erosion in the January storm, exacerbating the major damage suffered in last year's hurricane. “With much of the slope already gone,” there was little protection when the winter storm hit, said Town Manager Noah Powers. READ FULL STORY


Prosecutor says fatal road-rage shooting still under investigation
week of January 11, 2018

Seven weeks after a man emptied his pistol at a busy Route 60 intersection, killing one man he said had threatened him and spraying another car with bullets, no charges have been brought in the case. Despite the lack of action, the lead prosecutor handling the fatal road-rage shooting denied there was any conflict between the State Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Office, saying late last week that the November incident was still under investigation and he was waiting for more evidence to be gathered. "I'm still waiting on materials that haven't come in yet," Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell said. "When I have everything – when I have all the facts available – I'll go through it and make a determination. "I understand that when there's a shooting and someone gets killed, everybody wants to see an arrest," he added. "But, as a prosecutor, you have to make sure you can establish there's probable cause that there was an unlawful killing. "In this case, the claim of self-defense has been raised." READ FULL STORY


Construction issues again delay St. Paul’s Church opening
week of January 11, 2018

County officials' final inspection of the new St. Paul's Church, currently nearing completion on Flamevine Lane, was postponed last Friday because of construction issues that still need to be addressed. According to Scott McAdam, a county building official, the most serious problem was the operational failure of smoke detectors in the church's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ducts. "In HVAC systems of that size, the building code requires detectors in the ducts so that, if there's a fire, the sensors detect the smoke and shut off the unit," McAdam said. "You don't want to blow smoke through the vents and into the building. "The Fire Department inspected the system on Dec. 21, and it failed the smoke test. Apparently, the detectors didn't go off." A fire official also found, while inspecting the alarm system, that attic-access ladders weren't "fire rated," McAdam said. In addition, the church hadn't yet submitted the necessary proof of a termite inspection, he said. McAdam said the county cannot issue a Certificate of Occupancy until the building passes all the required inspections. READ FULL STORY


Osceola teacher fined by state for bullying a pupil
week of January 4, 2018

Scott Sanders, who for four years was director of facilities planning and construction for the Indian River County School District, and his wife, Denise Sanders, a regular substitute at Osceola Magnet School, claim staff at Osceola mistreated and harassed their son after he was injured in a car accident and had difficulty with school work, and the Florida State Education Practices Commission agrees. Ashley Darnell, then a fourth- but now a fifth-grade teacher at Osceola Magnet, was reprimanded and fined for violating the Principals of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession, by failing “to make reasonable effort to protect the student from harmful conditions,” intentionally exposing “a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement,” and failing “to keep in confidence personally identifiable information” on students. Darnell did not admit, deny or contest she violated one state statute and three administrative codes. She did, however, accept without contest the settlement agreement, which puts her on probation for one year and orders her to pay $900 in a fine and costs. READ FULL STORY


Work underway on house that will be largest in Riomar
week of January 4, 2018

Site work is underway for a magnificent home on the ocean, two lots north of the Riomar Country Club Golf Course, which knowledgeable realtors say will be the largest house in Old Riomar. The island’s most venerable neighborhood, Riomar came of age in the 1920s when Addison Mizner was transforming Palm Beach, and many of the original homes along Riomar’s oak canopied lanes were built in the romantic Mediterranean Revival style he perfected. Members of the 98-year-old Riomar Country Club and other residents are deeply attached to the neighborhood’s narrow shell roads and sleepy ambiance, and word on the street is some of the old guard are not too enthused about a 17,400-square-foot home with two swimming pools and three guest houses going up in the coming year. But the house at 2310 Ocean Drive – which upon completion will be worth $15 million to $20 million – is no McMansion. Looking more British West Indies than anything else on the plans drawn by Melbourne architect Jackson Kirschner, it is nicely sited on the 74,500-square-foot lot, leaving 56 percent of the property as open space. READ FULL STORY


Vero electric sale moving forward
week of January 4, 2018

The sale of Vero electric continues to move through needed approvals, with more than half Vero’s sister cities in the statewide Florida Municipal Power Association co-op voting ‘yes’ to let the city out of its membership, and the Florida Public Service Commission giving notice that it will audit the value of the utility assets being acquired by Florida Power & Light. Both FPL and the city say the audit is standard procedure, and that the deal is still on track for a closing on or before October. “A PSC audit is a common practice in dockets involving rates or financial transactions. While the Commission has not issued a formal schedule for completion of the audit, we would not expect it to affect our schedule for closing,” said FPL spokesman David McDermitt. One of the PSC’s responsibilities, along with redrawing FPL’s territory to include Vero Electric’s nearly 34,000 customers, is to review the proposed sale terms to ensure that FPL’s existing 4.9 million ratepayers will not be harmed by FPL paying Vero $185 million to grow its customer base. READ FULL STORY


Ready or not, the train appears to be leaving the station
week of January 4, 2018

Despite the apparent willingness of the County Commission to continue funding legal maneuvers aimed at blocking All Aboard Florida’s high-speed passenger rail project, Brightline, from traversing Indian River County, that train appears to be leaving the station. Brightline, the only privately-owned passenger train in the U.S., is scheduled to start service in South Florida any day now, and the company says it will begin work on Phase 2 – which will connect West Palm with Orlando, running through downtown Vero Beach – in early 2018. “This was a great year for us as we completed construction on two of our major stations and rail infrastructure, successfully presold tickets and corporate packages to individuals and businesses throughout the region and priced $600 million in Private Activity Bonds to fund Phase 1,” said Brightline Chief Executive Officer Dave Howard Dec. 15. “We look forward to launching service to Miami and starting construction north to Orlando in the first quarter of 2018.” The first train service will be between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, starting the week of Jan. 8, Brightline said last week. Ticket prices and train schedules were still unannounced at press time. READ FULL STORY


Accused island killer seeks hypnotist to recall details of his wife’s murder
week of January 4, 2018

An island man’s request to use hypnosis for help recalling events that led to his estranged wife’s murder prompted an assistant state attorney to suggest that pretrial arguments were entering into the realm of the ridiculous. Asbury Perkins II, who was indicted for first-degree murder in 2015, told Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox it was his right to introduce hypnotically-induced testimony in court. Perkins is acting as his own attorney as he stands trial for the murder of Cynthia Betts, whose gunshot-riddled body was found rolled up in a rug in the couple’s home on Seagrape Drive on the island. Investigators claim Perkins confessed to shooting his wife because “she took money out of their banking account without his knowledge and because she continually nagged him.” Perkins has been found indigent by the court. Fees related to his defense, such as mental health evaluations, investigative and forensic work – including hypnosis – and the assistance of standby counsel, are paid for with public funds. READ FULL STORY


Utility firm sued for negligence by 2 injured along A1A
week of January 4, 2018

An underground utility firm contracted by the City of Vero Beach for work along A1A and other parts of town has come under fire after two island residents filed separate lawsuits alleging negligence on the job. Attorney Douglas Tuttle, of Tuttle Law in Vero Beach, recently filed a complaint blaming the Jensen Beach company, Coastal Drilling and Backhoe, for a May 2016 bicycle accident. His client, William Borrow, was riding his bicycle northbound along the state road near the intersection of Bahia Mar Road when he ran into a pipe and fell over, injuring himself, the attorney claims. The equipment had been placed across the sidewalk by Coastal Drilling. “Coastal Drilling failed to follow FDOT regulations regarding work zone safety requirements and sidewalk conditions,” the attorney said. “Coastal Drilling should have blocked off the sidewalk with a barricade and provided signage, indicating that the sidewalk was closed.” The company “owed a duty to users of the sidewalk, including the Plaintiff, to exercise due care while working,” his lawsuit alleges. READ FULL STORY


New traffic light at Fred Tuerk Drive will use smart-signaling technology
week of January 4, 2018

When town officials announced last year Indian River Shores would be getting a pedestrian crosswalk and a fully activated traffic signal where the blinking light is now at Fred Tuerk Drive, residents raised concerns that the light would slow the traffic flow on Highway A1A. In response, Town Manager Robbie Stabe told the Town Council at its December meeting that the traffic light would use smart-signaling technology to minimize disruption on the busy state highway. Sensors in the ground will pick up the presence of a vehicle approaching the intersection from Fred Tuerk Drive, where residents exiting The Estuary, or the back gates to Bermuda Bay and John’s Island, would travel, but the signal would only turn yellow, then red, if the vehicle stops and lingers for a time at the light. “It will be delayed, so if someone makes a right turn, it won’t activate the light,” Stabe said. “If someone sits there a certain number of seconds, it will know that it’s somebody making a left turn and it will activate the light.” READ FULL STORY


Heaton trial for mortgage fraud set for Feb. 20
week of December 28, 2017

Attorneys for Vero Beach Hotel and Spa developer George Heaton and his co-defendants have been granted an extra two weeks to finish analyzing bank records in preparation for a Feb. 20 trial on felony mortgage fraud charges. A federal judge allowed the extra time because the prosecutor requested it jointly with the defense – not because the U.S. Attorney’s Office was unprepared for trial, but due to a serious illness in a key attorney’s family. Instead of starting the trial on Feb. 5 as scheduled, both sides are due to appear in court in West Palm Beach for a status conference on Feb. 14, with the expectation of starting jury selection on Feb. 20 before U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg. In mid-December, Heaton’s attorney said he had recently received documents the defense had been trying to obtain from Orion Bank and from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and needed time to determine if and how those records might be useful. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Medical Center: Who owns what
week of December 28, 2017

By the time a “for sale or lease” sign goes up, it’s usually clear who owns the property. But in the case of Indian River Medical Center, ownership isn’t so obvious. As the officials currently looking for a healthcare partner know only too well, the hospital has ties to at least three entities, any or all of which could have some stake in a deal. Just who owns what is murky enough that two officials at first gave two different answers as to who owns the hospital’s cancer center. They eventually agreed: the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center belongs to county taxpayers. The guardian of those properties is the Indian River County Hospital District, which indisputably owns – on behalf of taxpayers – the hospital’s brick-and-mortar main campus and the land it sits on, plus the Behavioral Health Center across the street. The District leases all that property to IRMC, a separate management corporation that runs the hospital. IRMC has some ownership claims too, however. In 1996, it formed a real estate investment arm, Health Systems of Indian River Inc., a nonprofit corporation with a board of directors that mirrors the hospital’s board. Along with owning land by the hospital campus, Health Systems bought Vero Radiology, built the new Health and Wellness Center and is part-owner of medical office space in Sebastian. READ FULL STORY


Polish-American Club members lose another battle, but war goes on
week of December 28, 2017

Members of the Polish-American Social Club lost another court battle Tuesday in an ongoing fight to regain control of an estimated $1.25 million in assets once set aside to promote the culture and heritage of the Eastern European nation. But, that doesn’t mean the war over the property on U.S. 1 near 39th Avenue is over. Despite years of combat, no white flag of surrender is in sight. Factions remain split over the club Board of Directors’ 2015 decision to broaden its mission by dissolving the old club and forming a spinoff group, the Vero Beach Social Club, without the consent of its members. Some say that’s just what was needed to keep attendance high, but others argue the move was done in bad faith to push out the Poles and their commitment to elevating their culture. Judge Paul Kanarek denied the dissident members’ request to find the board’s disposition of assets and dissolution of the Polish-American Social Club unauthorized last week, saying their argument was legally insufficient. If approved, the move could have restored the original club and acknowledged its claim to the property. READ FULL STORY


Michael Creek, prime subdivision at east end of Wabasso Causeway, coming to life
week of December 28, 2017

A new, 60-home riverfront subdivision is coming to the island, with construction starting this spring or summer, according to Treasure Coast Sotheby’s broker Michael Thorpe. Gainesville builder and developer Peter Trematerra paid $6 million for the long moribund Michael Creek property at the eastern end of the Wabasso Bridge and has crews onsite cleaning up the property and dredging the channel between the shoreline and Intracoastal Waterway. Trematerra plans to build a 21-slip marina, along with parks and a clubhouse complex that was part of the original subdivision design created by Ironwood Properties and approved by the county a decade ago. Once the site is spruced up, finished lots will be sold to an authorized builder or builders for prices ranging from $200,000 to $500,000, with home sites on the river fetching the highest prices. Houses are expected to range from 2,000 to 3,500 square feet in size and sell for $600,000 to about $1.3 million. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor members: ‘A lot of good things underway’
week of December 28, 2017

The holiday season isn't the only reason Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club residents and members are feeling a bit more cheer these days. They're also optimistic about the changes they've seen recently throughout the country-club community on the mainland's waterfront. "There are a lot of good things underway," Grand Harbor resident John Gammino said. "Whether the developer follows through or not, we'll see. But, generally speaking, I think people are feeling more positive now." That wasn't the case six months ago, when frustrated residents were publicly grumbling about Grand Harbor's management, citing the cancellation of a wildly popular, summer-reciprocal agreement with local clubs, the halting of golf-course improvements and the failure to follow through on other promised community enhancements. Residents also shared concerns about staff turnover that had seen the departures of longtime tennis director Christophe Delavaut, golf-club personnel and chefs. READ FULL STORY


No early return for 3 Vero recreation facilities damaged by Irma
week of December 21, 2017

With the tropics quiet, coastal Florida is enjoying its off-season when it comes to hurricanes, but the scars of Hurricane Irma remain on several of Vero’s beloved and heavily used facilities. Three iconic city facilities are still unrepaired and will not be back in operation until spring or even next summer, according to city officials. Vero’s Director of Parks and Recreation Rob Slezak said the Royal Palm Pointe Dock, the Grand Pavilion at Riverside Park and the River House on the lagoon “are still closed and inoperable.” The Grand Pavilion, which is the three-gazebo structure at Riverside Park, will cost the most to repair, with estimates coming in at a quarter-million dollars to restore this much-used facility so it can again host parties and special events. That cost, Slezak said, will mostly be covered by the city’s insurance. Vero’s goal is to have the Grand Pavilion back open for the city’s big Fourth of July celebration in Riverside Park. Riverhouse had less damage, around $35,000 worth, but severe enough to make it unusable for the community and club meetings, parties and wedding receptions often held there. “Riverhouse had water intrusion from the roof and the ground,” Slezak said. READ FULL STORY


Concern mounts month after Bethel Creek sewage spill
week of December 21, 2017

Vero residents living along Bethel Creek say water birds, marine mammals and other wildlife have vanished from the picturesque waterway in the aftermath of a 3.2-million-gallon sewage spill that occurred in mid-November. They believe the pollution is lingering and fear that city and county authorities are not taking effective action to clean up the creek or warn fishermen and boaters about dangers posed by high levels of bacteria. “It seems that the contaminated creek is not a high priority with anyone who doesn’t live along it,” said Mike Johannsen, who lives at 4506 Bethel Creek Drive. “That’s a shame. When I look out my window at the eastern edge of the creek where there is a seawall, all I can see at low tide is a 2-foot band of poop.” Lou Dessart and Bob Prizito, who have homes on Bethel Creek Drive, took their concerns to the county commission, which told them it was an issue for the county office of the state Health Department. But when they went to the Health Department they were told by Environmental Specialist Charles Vogt that the department isn’t responsible for dealing with the problem because Bethel Creek is a “Class III” body of water, which he said means it is not for recreational use. READ FULL STORY


County saves $1 million on employee health insurance by limiting acupuncture
week of December 21, 2017

The County Commission’s decision last December to place a cap on the acupuncture benefit in the health-insurance plan offered to county employees saved taxpayers nearly $1 million in the 2017 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. County Administrator Jason Brown said he expects the acupuncture costs to decrease again in 2018. “We didn’t implement the cap until Feb. 1, so the fiscal 2017 numbers included the four months before we limited the acupuncture benefit,” Brown said. “With the cap in effect for the entire year, the 2018 numbers should be significantly lower.” According to Suzanne Boyll, the county’s human resources director, the county’s health-insurance plan paid out more than $1.1 million to one local acupuncture practice – Jill Jaynes’ Absolute Integrated Medicine – from October 2015 through September 2016. That amount covered 34,340 visits for 253 plan members who sought treatment at Absolute. Those numbers plummeted in the fiscal year that ran from October 2016 through September 2017, when only 126 members submitted claims for 3,863 visits and less than $180,000 was paid to Jaynes’ practice. “That’s a reduction of more than 84 percent,” Boyll said, “just to one provider.” READ FULL STORY


Neighbor burglarizes Island Club home
week of December 21, 2017

An island couple is asking a judge to go easy on their neighbor who pled no contest last week to burglarizing their island home and stealing an estimated $9,000 worth of jewelry, fine cutlery and cash. In letter read aloud in Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox’s courtroom, the couple requested leniency in the sentencing of 33-year-old Christopher Lockwood, who robbed their home while they were out of town last summer. “This whole situation is nothing short of tragic to say the least,” the letter says. “We have lived as neighbors to the Lockwoods for nine years. Christopher has done periodic work for us. We have been guests in the Lockwoods’ house. We consider them as friends.” The couple was not present at the plea hearing, but asked the assistant state attorney to share their correspondence with the court. The letter asks the judge to withhold adjudication pending Lockwood’s compliance with a reduced sentence. Withholding adjudication would prevent Lockwood, who has been charged with 11 felonies, from becoming a convicted felon. READ FULL STORY


Largest estate on island is auctioned for $19.6 million
week of December 21, 2017

The largest house on the barrier island was auctioned off last week for $19.6 million, including a 12-percent buyer’s premium added onto the winning bid of $17.5 million. The nearly $20 million price placed the sale among the top three in the history of island home sales but was far below the MLS list price of $45 million. “We were hoping for more,” said Katie Lawless, a business development manager with Concierge Auctions who was in town for a month showing the sprawling 40,800-square-foot oceanfront estate to buyers from around the country and the world. “But we did everything we said we were going to do: We showed the home to more than 50 qualified buyers, delivered a strong field of competitive bidders, and sold the house on a date certain, which was the seller’s top goal.” “The sale shows that there is liquidity in the very top end of the market and that people are willing to pay $20 million for a house in Vero,” said Premier Estate Properties broker associate Clark French, looking on the bright side. “It also exposed a new group of high-end buyers to Vero Beach who didn’t know about the town before.” READ FULL STORY


American Icon Brewery sues over negative online posting
week of December 21, 2017

As his first craft beer venture in Vero Beach unfolds, developer Michael Rechter said American Icon Brewery won’t tolerate false postings online, and he’s not kidding. American Icon Brewery filed a lawsuit in November against Indian River County resident Marissa Tirro for allegedly posting a review on the brewery’s Facebook page that contained inaccurate information. “Defendant stated, among other things, that Plaintiff ‘abuses its employees,’” says the Nov. 14 complaint drafted by Thomas Tierney, an attorney for the brewery. Even after American Icon responded that the allegations were false, at least 14 other people, thought to be connected with the defendant, wrote additional inaccurate comments online, the lawsuit contends. “Few, if any of defendant’s friends and family members had actually been to Plaintiff’s brewery restaurant,” it says. “One of the additional false reviews stated that the ‘owner is the rudest person I ever met.’” American Icon Brewery didn’t sue because it had a bad review – no company wants to sue the members of the community it is trying to serve, said Rechter, reached by phone. READ FULL STORY


Shores seeks ‘critically eroded’ designation for its beaches
week of December 21, 2017

Beaches in the City of Vero Beach have been deemed “critically eroded” by county engineers and state officials and are in the county’s beach restoration plan for a major project in late 2018 or early 2019, and Indian River Shores wants its southern beaches – which in the past few years have been losing ground – to be viewed with the same urgency. The county’s northern beaches from Windsor to the north end of John’s Island have been bolstered by massive dumps of mined, upland sand twice in recent years, partially paid for by state documentary stamp fees and partially from sales tax revenues and other funds from Indian River County. That area, called Sector 3, also benefits from drifts of sand that are placed periodically by the Sebastian Inlet District to mitigate sand loss from the inlet’s jetty. Vero’s beaches, called Sector 5, are next up for large-scale beach replenishment and will be ranked and considered as part of the Florida Legislature’s next budget cycle in 2018. The area in-between is what Vice Mayor Michael Ochsner and John’s Island residents are worried about. READ FULL STORY


Building in Indian River Shores approaches 2005 boom
week of December 21, 2017

Construction in Indian River Shores has been ramping up in recent years, despite the seemingly built-out status of the town, and is now approaching levels last seen during the building boom in the mid-2000s. Building and renovation permits peaked in 2005, when nearly 3,000 were pulled, and later declined drastically during the housing downturn. The number of permits started creeping back up in 2013 and grown steadily since then, from 1,430 in 2013 to 2,260 in fiscal 2016-17. Among the 2,260 permits, 426 were building permits, for new homes or additions, and 1,832 were “other permits” for swimming pools, screened enclosures or building trades, such as electrical, mechanical and plumbing. Indian River Shores Building Official Jose Guanch said 53 new single-family or attached homes were built in the prior 12 months. Because of increased permit revenue the budget for Guanch’s department jumped by more than 50 percent between the most recent and the current fiscal years, from $410,000 to $645,000. READ FULL STORY


Former Orchid town official pleads guilty to securities fraud
week of December 21, 2017

Former Orchid Town Council member Thomas Buck must appear in federal court next month. Buck, 63, agreed Oct. 31 to plead guilty to securities fraud following an extensive investigation by the FBI, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He could face 25 years in prison. For more than three decades, Buck, who has a northern residence in Carmel, Indiana, was a registered financial advisor with Merrill Lynch and other firms, according a statement from federal prosecutors in Indianapolis. He counseled thousands of clients on their investments, it says. Buck charged excessive commissions and intentionally failed to advise his clients of cheaper pricing options, defrauding them of some $2 million, the DOJ alleges. Officials there worked with the FBI, Merrill Lynch and individual investors to understand the alleged scheme and gather evidence. “These are not victimless crimes. These are crimes that can wipe out a family’s life savings and leave their financial future in ruins,” W. Jay Abbott, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division, said in the statement. READ FULL STORY


Special Report: Four suitors vie to take over Indian River Medical Center
week of December 14, 2017

Nothing else that occurs in Vero Beach in 2018 will be as important to the future of our community as choosing the right healthcare system to take over operation of the Indian River Medical Center. This is our hospital. This is the place you will be rushed to if a medical emergency occurs in the middle of the night. This is where split-second decisions may mean life or death. None of us have any illusions about IRMC being on a par with Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic. Our belief has been that this is on the whole a good – in recent years, in some specialties, a very good – community hospital. But now, at a time of rapid change in healthcare, local hospitals – including IRMC – are struggling. The outlook is not encouraging. Yet, out of these financial challenges, unexpectedly comes an opportunity to elevate our hospital to a higher level. We clearly need a partner for IRMC – a bigger, better partner who can raise a hospital, started 85 years ago by a lone nurse, to a new plateau – and quite surprisingly, we suddenly have amazing suitors. Last week, four impressive healthcare organizations – each clearly interested in expanding to Vero – made two-hour presentations to the directors of IRMC and the trustees of the Indian River County Hospital District. Vero Beach 32963 staff writer Michelle Genz was the only journalist present through all of these meetings. We strongly urge you to carefully read her report. At 6,800 words, this is the most space we have ever devoted to a single subject. As this process moves forward, we will continue providing the comprehensive coverage a matter this important to our community deserves.


Dr. Mike Jablonski rushed into the Indian River Medical Center conference room last Tuesday, out of breath, late from surgery, frazzled from rush hour traffic. He almost missed his chance to speak on behalf of Orlando Health. As it turned out, as the final speaker, he left a lasting impression. If that was the healthcare system’s intention when it invited a physician who isn’t even an employee to speak on their behalf, the strategy seemed to pay off. Jablonski all but dropped to one knee to ask the IRMC board and trustees of the Indian River County Hospital District to pick his favorite hospital group, which includes the Orlando Regional Medical Center. “They asked me to drive four hours to talk 10 minutes, and I said sure,” Jablonski told an amused room of IRMC leaders during the first of four meetings the group held last week in its search for a partner.
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The power point presentation of Hospital Corporation of America last week did little to disabuse a small-town audience of the notion that it was looking down the maw of an acquisition-hungry beast. If executives of the hospital management giant, the only for-profit among Indian River Medical Center’s four prospective partners, felt awkward wooing a hospital built largely on charitable giving, there was little sign of it. Unblinkingly, they pushed their numbers – almost as if they were presenting to Wall Street analysts – through a head-spinning first half of Thursday’s two hour-plus session. At one point, presenters paused to play a video, complete with surging soundtrack, of the role one HCA hospital played in treating victims of the recent Las Vegas mass shooting. As jarring as the subject was, the effort felt forced, and – to use an expression HCA leaders themselves used at one point – a “cram-down” of corporate marketing.
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Missionary zeal is in Daryl Tol’s DNA. The son and grandson of missionaries, Tol, now CEO of Florida Hospital and the Central Florida region of Adventist Health System, addressed Indian River Medical Center board members and Hospital District trustees last Friday with equal parts fervor and candor. Not that Adventist, a national 45-hospital health system with $10 billion in revenues, wasn’t already high on the list of partners IRMC considered last week. Florida Hospital in Orlando ranks fourth in the state on U.S. News and Report’s Best Hospitals list and is tied for No. 1 in the Orlando metro area with Orlando Health’s Orlando Regional Medical Center. By the time Tol and the others finished a two-hour, very persuasive presentation Friday, it was hard not to wonder whether IRMC prayers for a large, wealthy partner had finally been answered. Tol didn’t wait to be asked how faith fits into the Adventist Health System.
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With the fullest house of four for last week’s partner presentations, the nationally ranked Cleveland Clinic had headliner status going in. And the panel likely disappointed few in the IRMC meeting room audience, particularly when there was praise for the Vero facility from executives of both the corporate flagship in Cleveland as well as the Florida division, which includes a hospital in Weston. The team seemed to calm concerns that their somewhat vague initial proposal implied they were less than certain about wanting a presence here. As testament to its commitment, the organization brought in Dr. Toby Cosgrove, a heart surgeon and CEO who is weeks away from retirement; he will stay on in an advisory capacity. Since taking the helm in 2004, Cosgrove has greatly expanded the Cleveland Clinic brand, which is now considered world-class in a list of high-acuity specialties. Cosgrove has also led the charge to expand through acquiring community hospitals like Vero’s.
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Vero Electric sale to FPL seems to be moving smoothly
week of December 14, 2017

Vero Beach is hoping to complete the sale of its electric utility to Florida Power and Light by October 2018. With that in mind, the City Council last week approved resolutions that would end the city’s contracts with the Florida Municipal Power Agency and its ownership share in the FPL St. Lucie nuclear plant and Orlando’s Stanton coal plant when the sale closes. Vero is one of the FMPA owner-member cities that must approve its exit from the electric power cooperative. Vero’s transactional attorney Nathaniel Doliner explained that the Oct. 24 FPL sale contract included some contingencies – Florida Public Service Commission approval, other regulatory approvals and the release of the city from its long-term wholesale power agreements and other contractual entanglements related to the electric utility. “One of the provisions in our contract with FPL is essentially the requirement that we terminate our relationship with FMPA,” Doliner said. “What we’re looking at is the ultimate answer in this issue, the ultimate resolution which is that at the closing of the transaction between Vero Beach and FPL ... assuming that the closing is in October of 2018, which it is presently scheduled for, Vero Beach would pay from the closing proceeds $108 million and would get a release from FMPA from all obligations and liabilities to FMPA.” READ FULL STORY


Shrimp farm sold at auction to Chinese
week of December 14, 2017

Florida Organic Aquaculture has been sold at auction to a group of Chinese investors and will be renamed Pristine Water Aquaculture. When it opened in 2014, the state-of-the-art Fellsmere shrimp farm was widely acclaimed for its pioneering, environmentally responsible technology and for the economic benefit it was expected to bring to the rural community, but the company ran into production and cash-flow difficulties that led to bankruptcy earlier this year. Pursuant to a bankruptcy court order, the Chinese investors will pay $1,250,000 to take over the operation and acquire most of its property and assets. Certain systems and equipment being recovered by creditors were not included in the bid. “Pristine Water Aquaculture . . . is very excited to have such an opportunity to work locally with Fellsmere folks to further realize the potential of this amazing facility,” said Helen Ming, managing member of the investment group. READ FULL STORY


More minorities taking advanced classes, but how many are passing?
week of December 7, 2017

The Indian River County School District says it is making some progress in enrolling more minority students in upper level classes, but it has no idea how many are passing. The School District recently released a yearly, state-required “equity report” that lists how many minority students are signing up for advanced classes. While the report shows a small increase in the number of blacks and a slightly higher jump in the number of Hispanics taking these classes, it provides no information on how they are doing. The idea behind the report is to keep an eye on how “equitable” minority participation in advanced classes is compared to participation by white students as a way of seeing if the School District – which has labored under a federal desegregation order for decades – is helping minority students catch up in terms of educational success. But the report does not include statistics for how well minority students are doing in the upper-level classes they sign up for, rendering it meaningless for measuring the progress or success of black and Hispanic students. READ FULL STORY


Hopeful hospital suitors present acquisition plans
week of December 7, 2017

In 1932, a 29-year-old nurse from Nebraska shelled out her own cash for a hotel gone bust and turned it into Indian River County’s first hospital. By today’s standards, Garnett Radin’s gumption seems boundless. But her wildest dreams probably never envisaged the enterprise that exists today, as the Indian River Medical Center seeks a much larger partner to take over its sprawling campus. The institution Radin started with her $22,000 was appraised last year at more than $150 million. That was just the land, bricks and mortar, not equipment, machinery or furnishings. It also didn’t include intangibles like the reputation of the hospital, the devotion of its wealthy donors, and its strong position in an attractive market. Those are all desirables that four leading healthcare companies are making a pitch for in person this week in the hospital’s administration wing. Orlando Health was first up Tuesday. That company, a nonprofit, owns the well-respected Orlando Regional Medical Center. READ FULL STORY


One of county’s larger employers sues former staff who formed a rival firm
week of December 7, 2017

Two Vero Beach debt servicing firms have taken their battle over proprietary information to court. Omni Financial, one of the larger private employers in Indian River County, is suing a group of its former employees for allegedly stealing trade secrets and setting up a rival firm in violation of non-compete and non-disclosure contracts. Both companies specialize in locating people and businesses with large IRS or state tax liens and helping them settle their debts. Omni Financial, which is owned by El Dorado Financial, filed a lawsuit Nov. 17 in the 19th Judicial Circuit alleging the former employees, including Omni’s former president and CEO, took proprietary information and clients when they left the large firm to be part of a startup enterprise, ACS Financial. ACS Financial and seven former El Dorado staff members are accused of breach of contract, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation. El Dorado is asking the court to stop ACS Financial from operating and award damages. READ FULL STORY


St. Paul’s Church still not quite ready
week of December 7, 2017

The new St. Paul’s Church, currently nearing completion on Flamevine Lane, will not be ready for Christmas Day services and probably won’t open its doors to worshipers until early 2018. St. Paul’s Rector Jon Robbins was planning to welcome congregants to the new sanctuary on Oct. 8, but delays in the final phases of construction – some caused by Hurricane Irma – forced him to push back the scheduled date of the first service to November. But delays continue to plague the project, located just west of Ocean Drive in the Central Beach business district. “We are working hard to get the church open,” Robbins wrote in a text to Vero Beach 32963 on Sunday night. “We hope to have a Certificate of Occupancy before Jan. 1.” Robbins refused to comment on the latest delay, other than to say it had nothing to do with parking – a now-resolved issue that prevented the church from acquiring the initial permits it needed from the building division of the county’s community development department. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower work begins; Vero tower will be coming down
week of December 7, 2017

Just as site-clearing work finally began last week for the long-awaited cell tower in the Town of Indian River Shores, the City of Vero Beach is facing a cellular challenge of its own – the need to relocate a cell tower on the Big Blue power plant property that must come down as part of decommissioning. A little-known, 146-foot tower atop the power plant, that extends a total of 208 feet up into the air, serves Vero Isles, the heart of the city’s commercial district and part of the barrier island. It’s been there since 1993, but was hard to see amidst the stacks and all the other utility equipment on top of the power plant. The good news is that, with FPL taking over the substation and switching equipment embedded in the plant while a new substation is constructed on the Old Postal Annex property on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard, there’s time to get a new tower planned, permitted and built before the old one comes down. READ FULL STORY


Man charged with island murder struggles as own attorney
week of December 7, 2017

Money is just one of the many problems facing a former island resident accused of murdering his estranged wife in 2015 because, according to him, she nagged him too much and took money from a joint bank account. Asbury Perkins II, who has chosen to act as his own attorney and has been found indigent by the court, struggled Wednesday to adequately prepare his defense for trial. He won a victory when Judge Cynthia Cox granted his motion for temporary leave from jail to conduct depositions in his case, but the permission may not do him much good since he doesn’t have the ability to schedule deposition appointments from his county jail cell. Cox gave Perkins permission to question his former public defender, a prosecutor and the attorneys who represented him and his wife during previous disputes, but she wouldn’t allow his investigative team to schedule appointments on his behalf, at least not on the taxpayer dollar. “They are investigators, they are not secretaries,” Cox said. She advised Perkins that he could pay for the service himself. READ FULL STORY


School Board to take more hands-off role
week of November 30, 2017

Despite many serious challenges and pressing problems, the School Board just voted to hold business meetings only once a month, instead of twice a month as has been the practice until now. The push for fewer meetings came from Superintendent Mark Rendell, whom the board is supposed to oversee. Rendell said the move will save $22,000 a year in staff pay and legal notices out of a budget of nearly $300 million. He said he will continue holding workshops for the board the second Tuesday of the month. Only one board member, Laura Zorc, voted against cutting back the number of meetings. Zorc said, “I would like to see three or four meetings a month” in order to perform “the due diligence needed.” “One of my biggest challenges is the lack of respect for the board member’s role by the superintendent,” Zorc told Vero Beach 32963. “I work for the citizens, not the superintendent. Now that we are going to one meeting a month, it solidifies for me that the superintendent wants us to be seen but not heard. READ FULL STORY


Modernist architecture taking hold in Vero Beach
week of November 30, 2017

Modernism has arrived in Vero Beach in a big way, with a number of impressive modernist homes recently completed or underway on the island and more projects planned. Architects from London, the Hamptons and other parts of Florida are jetting in to design seven-figure oceanfront houses that brilliantly embody the clarity, functionality and drama of the style, which has emerged in retrospect as the highpoint of 20th century architecture. “The modernism you have seen for a long time in South Florida is definitely coming here now,” says island developer and builder Yane Zana, whose company Coastmark Construction recently completed a striking modernist home on Reef Road for English clients. There have always been scattered examples of modern residential design in Vero Beach, a house here and there – along with skepticism about a style many viewed as too urban or avant-garde for the community – but the trend is taking off as Vero continues to gain national and even international cache as a sophisticated but still unspoiled seaside resort. READ FULL STORY


Year after son died, Joe Graves prays for Christmas miracle
week of November 30, 2017

Nearly a year after his 15-year-old son died in a boating accident in the Indian River Lagoon, Joe Graves is praying for what he believes would be a Christmas miracle. Two new daughters. The Vero Beach attorney and his wife, Carole, have been trying since May to adopt two school-age sisters from Colombia, only to see their efforts stalled by government bureaucracy. So Graves has turned to social media in hopes of reaching someone with the political clout to answer his prayer. In a heart-tugging, six-minute video he posted last week on his Facebook page, Graves said he has been praying for weeks that “God grant a way for the right governmental official to get involved and make it possible so these girls can come and be home with us for Christmas.” Graves said the international adoption is “locked up” in an immigration system in which it is “not possible” to bring the girls to the United States in time for the holidays. READ FULL STORY


Negligence suits piling up against Vero nursing home
week of November 30, 2017

Severe skin infection. Malnourishment. Poor hygiene. Wrongful death. All charges made against Consulate Health Care of Vero Beach, a 159-bed nursing home on 37th Street. The large nursing and rehabilitation facility diagonally across from the hospital has been sued for some type of negligence 23 times in Indian River County Circuit Court since 2008. Eighteen of the suits involved allegations arising from patient deaths. Twelve of the 23 suits ended in confidential settlements. The most recent complaint was filed in May by the family of Lewis Reich. The lawsuit alleges Reich died after developing decubitus ulcers, or bed sores, pneumonia and sepsis while in the nursing home. The family isn’t alone in their grief-stricken fight for legal recourse. Five cases like Reich’s are still being litigated. Both an attorney and the general manager at the Vero Beach facility did not respond to requests for information about conditions at the nursing home. A spokesperson for the Maitland, Florida, parent company also declined comment. In court filings for Reich’s case, the company has claimed no wrongdoing. READ FULL STORY


Sewage spill into lagoon worse than early reports
week of November 30, 2017

The amount of sewage that poured from a pressurized pipe into the Indian River Lagoon was more than 30 times greater than first estimated, totaling more than 3 million gallons, according to the City of Vero Beach and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As first reported by Vero Beach 32963 last week, a 12-inch sewer main that carries waste water from most of Indian River Shores and a number of Vero neighborhoods to the city sewage treatment plant ruptured near Jaycee Park at the spot where it intersects a major storm water drain that empties into the lagoon. The spill came to light on Thursday, Nov. 16 when residents complained of a foul odor along Bethel Creek, an inlet that connects to the lagoon near the city marina north of the Barber Bridge. After a reporter called the city to check on the cause of the smell, Water and Sewer Department chief Rob Bolton investigated and discovered the broken line. READ FULL STORY


Night council meetings: Possibly a good move, but badly done
week of November 30, 2017

Four Vero Beach City Council members decided last week to move all regular business meetings to 6 p.m. to increase public participation, but they are going to have to revisit the matter this coming Tuesday because they took action without notifying the public. Councilman Val Zudans called for the change so more young people and those with full-time jobs can fully participate in city business. Retirees, he said, are free to attend meetings anytime. Vice Mayor Lange Sykes wholeheartedly agreed about making meetings more accessible to residents who work during the day. The council for some years has been alternating between day meetings and night meetings. The rationale for holding all meetings in the evening may be a very good one that results in more robust attendance by young professionals, business owners and students. But the goal should have been accomplished differently. READ FULL STORY


Island retailer Jay McLaughlin launching mainland pizza spot
week of November 30, 2017

Like their J. McLaughlin resort wear line that reinterpreted traditional clothing’s heraldic patches and school-tie nostalgia, husband and wife Joan and Jay McLaughlin are opening a restaurant that reinterprets humble food favorites with the aim of taking them to new culinary heights. The restaurant, the couple’s third eatery and the second in this area, is called Station 49. It slated to open this week in a neighborhood that also is reinterpreting itself. Located in a remodeled gas station on Old Dixie Highway, it is near trendy antique and design stores and not far from the recently opened American Icon Brewery. The abandoned gas station was originally leased and turned into a pizza place known as The Garage in 2014. Earlier this year, a real estate agent who knew the McLaughlins were looking for a spot tipped them that the restaurateur was interested in moving on. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Medical Center’s four suitors
week of November 23, 2017

The dance card of potential partners for Indian River Medical Center was narrowed to four suitors last week, and to the governing boards of the stand-alone, cash-strapped hospital, they were a good-looking lot. The contenders are the Cleveland Clinic, ranked second in the country by U.S. News and World Report; faith-based Adventist Health System, which owns Orlando’s Florida Hospital among its 44 hospitals nationally; Orlando Health, a nine-hospital Florida chain that includes Orlando Regional Medical Center; and HCA, largest hospital chain in the U.S and owner of Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. All will have a chance to visit and be visited by IRMC officials in the coming weeks with an eye toward taking over the hospital. Whether that takeover is in the form of a purchase, a lease or some hybrid of the two, the goal is to put the hospital’s future into the hands of a much larger operation, one healthy enough to fund a $270 million renovation while withstanding ongoing turmoil in healthcare industry. READ FULL STORY


Raw sewage pours into lagoon from major pipe break
week of November 23, 2017

At least 100,000 gallons of raw sewage poured into the Indian River Lagoon at Bethel Creek last week after a pressurized sewer main ruptured near Jaycee Park. And the volume may have been much higher than that. The 12-inch pipe, which carries waste water from Indian River Shores and Vero neighborhoods to the city sewage treatment plant, broke where it intersects a major stormwater drain that empties into the lagoon. The spill came to light on Thursday when readers contacted Vero Beach 32963 to complain of a foul odor along Bethel Creek, an inlet that connects to the lagoon near the city marina north of the Merrill Barber Bridge. After a reporter called the city to check on the cause of the smell, Water and Sewer Department chief Rob Bolton investigated and discovered the broken line. “We are grateful for the call,” Bolton said on Friday. “We found a heck of force-main break that we were unaware of.” He said he did not know how much sewage had been released but estimated it was more than 100,000 gallons. READ FULL STORY


Sticker shock on mainland from new home prices
week of November 23, 2017

Island buyers are used to homes priced at half a million dollars or more, but mainland buyers are now seeing those kinds of prices too. If you're wondering how high new-home prices have gone around town, take a drive to the western – particularly the southwestern – sector of the Vero Beach area. And be prepared for sticker shock. You'll find new homes selling from $400,000 to $600,000 in gated communities under construction west of 43rd Avenue. "I know people would like to see lower-cost housing, but it's getting harder to do that," said Bill Handler, president of GHO Homes, the county's most prolific builder. "We're trying to provide homes for people in a variety of price ranges, but it's difficult to find the $200,000s. "The $300,000s has become the norm," he added. "The $400,000s is the next tier up." And the $500,000s? Those homes are available, too, as are a few priced at $600,000 and up – all of them loaded with options and upgrades, most of them built on oversized and/or waterfront lots. READ FULL STORY


Vietnam vets reach out to homeless vets rousted from camps by sheriff’s deputies
week of November 23, 2017

Tim Nightingale and Vic Diaz, co-founders of Vietnam Veterans of Indian River County, went into the woods last week looking for homeless vets to get them signed up for services and into housing. They did not find any. The homeless “point-in-time” count last January identified 29 homeless veterans in the county, but sheriff’s deputies recently rousted the vets and other homeless people out of their camps, making them more difficult to locate. “They’re cracking down more because real estate is at a premium again,” said Diaz. Two weeks ago, Diaz and Nightingale had better luck, locating and bringing in fellow Vietnam veteran Danny Wagoner, signing him up for medical services and a pension, and giving him a bed in one of the three houses they have built for homeless vets with the help of Every Dream Has a Price. He had been living in wooded areas around Vero for 30 years. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower still on track, but soil needs to be stabilized
week of November 23, 2017

Just as work was about to get underway digging the hole for the foundation of the Shores’ eagerly-awaited cell tower, engineers discovered the soil behind Town Hall will have to be reinforced with a special clay compound – one more hitch in the long-drawn-out effort to get a decent phone signal for residents of the island community. But there is good news, too. While the problem will cost the town an additional $40,000, it turns out that stabilizing soil at the site that was saturated by this summer’s historic rainfall should not significantly delay completion of the project. With Verizon contracted to use the tower and negotiations moving forward with AT&T, barrier island residents should see much-improved cell service in and around the Shores by this coming spring. Crews are still expected to begin clearing the site this week, with construction scheduled to begin Dec. 11. Even better news is that the chances of getting a second major carrier on the tower are “highly likely,” according to Curt Jones, president of Datapath Tower, the firm in charge of the tower project. READ FULL STORY


Judge says drug and mental health courts are highly effective
week of November 23, 2017

Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox says problem-solving courts here are some of the best in the state, providing an important part of the solution to many of society’s most pressing problems. Statistics back her up: Recidivism rates in problem-solving courts range from 7 percent to 11 percent as compared to 70 percent in a traditional court setting, said Cox, who handles almost all of the felony cases in Indian River County. “For every dollar you spend on a problem – substance abuse and mental health – you get $7.14 cents back.” “People come from all over the state to observe our mental health court,” Cox said. There are 16 specialty court programs in the 19th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. Services include drug court, veterans court and mental health court. Unlike traditional court proceedings, problem-solving courts focus on rehabilitation, Cox told a crowd of nearly 100 last Friday at United Against Poverty’s Symposium on Poverty and Justice Reform. “It’s totally different from the regular court where you are punishing someone – you are encouraging them to do well, providing them with incentives and or sanctions,” Cox said. “It’s an opportunity to help make the person independent.” READ FULL STORY


Major setback in deal for troubled INEOS bio plant
week of November 16, 2017

The green energy firm that has been working for nearly two years to purchase the defunct INEOS bio plant west of Vero has rescinded its last offer and is in the process of renegotiating a price, based upon costly discoveries made during on-site inspections of the property. The good news, said Alliance BioEnergy CEO Daniel de Liege, is that he hasn’t found any major environmental contamination that would require cleanup before the plant is converted to Alliance’s cellulosic ethanol production process. “It doesn’t appear [that there is a problem] . . . there was a Phase 1 environmental done in May,” de Liege said. “But the piles of feedstock sitting there are deteriorating badly; it’s just sitting there rotting away.” De Liege hoped to have the conversion well underway if not completed by the end of 2017 so he could begin turning those piles of yard waste into ethanol. But with the delays, he says the material being stockpiled on the site will be of no value to him by the time he takes ownership. “At this point all timelines are off the table,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Harbor Branch Foundation fights for its endowment
week of November 16, 2017

Just weeks before a mediator seeks to resolve a high-stakes financial dispute with Florida Atlantic University, the leaders of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation maintain they are the best stewards of a $72 million endowment that was intended to fund marine research – not pay for new computers or software on a distant FAU campus. The university disagrees about who should manage the money. The Foundation came to be in 2007 when the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution’s laboratories and research realm were acquired by FAU. John Seward Johnson Sr., the son of Robert Wood Johnson, one of three founders of the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, had launched the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in 1971 with the help of inventor Edwin Link. READ FULL STORY


Federal judge orders School Board to mediation before hearing deseg lawsuit
week of November 16, 2017

The School Board jumped the gun when it filed a petition in U.S. District Court this summer, claiming it had met some of the requirements of a desegregation order first imposed on Indian River County schools in the 1960s and seeking partial relief from federal oversight. Last Thursday, Nov. 9, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ordered the School Board’s petition for “partial unitary status” held in abeyance, agreeing with the NAACP that mediation is required before the two parties argue their case in court. Williams also rejected the School Board’s bid to hand-pick a mediator and granted the NAACP’s request that she appoint a federal judge to fill that role. Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Graham was assigned to “enter a separate order regarding the time, place and procedures governing mediation.” READ FULL STORY


Work underway on luxury Conn Beach oceanfront condos
week of November 16, 2017

Developer Yane Zana isn’t wasting any time getting work underway at his luxury condominium project known as 4091 Ocean. The day after he got his permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a bulldozer was moving dirt at the site on Ocean Drive, across from Conn Beach Boardwalk, and a few days later 40-foot-deep foundation piling holes were being augured out and filled with concrete and steel. Zana, a St. Ed’s graduate who has lived on the island for more than 30 years and developed a number of large projects here, needed three permits to build the condo: a stamped site plan from the City of Vero Beach, a building permit from the county and the FDEP permit, required because the building is classified as oceanfront. With those in place and two units sold, the developer hopes to complete the condominium – which will have either five or six units – in about 14 months. READ FULL STORY


Martin County schools cost less, and results are better
week of November 16, 2017

Indian River County School District taxpayers are not getting great value for their money, according to budgets submitted to the state for the current school year. According to the budgets, the slightly larger Martin County School District will spend about $18 million less than Indian River County School District while achieving dramatically better academic results. Martin County, which has 18,915 students, will spend $269 million this fiscal year, while Indian River, with 17,541 students, will go through nearly $287 million during the same period. Despite spending less per student, Martin County was No. 8 out of 67 districts in Florida in the state Department of Education rankings in the 2016-17 school year, while Indian River County was mired in a tie for 32nd place. The teacher-student ratio was 1-to-15 at both counties, according to 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports submitted to the state, so Indian River’s higher spending is not the result of hiring more teachers than Martin. Instead, the difference is mainly related to how much the two counties spend on debt service, purchased services and instruction-related technology. READ FULL STORY