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32963 real estate has record summer
week of September 17, 2020

The summer of 2020 has been the busiest ever for 32963 barrier island real estate – a record-breaking spree of home buying and selling fueled, ironically, by the pandemic itself, which has motivated buyers to flee densely populated big cities and relocate to small, “safer” locales like the Vero Beach. Between May 1 and Labor Day, island home sales were up 57 percent compared to the busy summer of 2019, according to data provided by Mike and Kim Thorpe, broker-associates with ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. New contracts, a leading indicator of market volume, jumped almost off the charts, with inked deals up by more than 125 percent compared to the same period last year. The number of homes priced at $1 million or more listed as sold in the MLS between Memorial Day and Labor Day surged from 39 to 54, with the dollar volume of those sales more than doubling, from $62 million to $130 million. “In what is normally our quietest time, we have had record levels of sales,” said John’s Island Real Estate Broker Bob Gibb. “We came out of the COVID shutdown expecting the worst, but it has turned out to be the best summer ever.” READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River hospital struggles to fill patient beds
week of September 17, 2020

As Sebastian River Medical Center braced for the financial strains of a pandemic and tried to finish a much-delayed $65-million addition, the hospital was also fighting for an infusion of its own financial life-blood – patients in the door. Figures just released by the state to Vero Beach 32963 show Sebastian River Medical Center continued to see a drop in patient volume through the end of 2019. That is despite assurances last fall from then-CEO Kyle Sanders who predicted an “astonishing turnaround” was underway with an anticipated 9 percent increase in patients by year’s end. Instead the 2019 figures show a 4 percent decline in inpatients; a 9 percent drop in emergency department visits; and a 24 percent drop in ambulatory outpatient services. While figures for 2020 will not be available for several months, this past Sunday, Sebastian River showed only 69 of its patient beds filled; only 10 more were staffed and available beyond that. That accounts for just over half the hospital’s licensed beds. The downward trend, which began in 2017, the year Steward Health Care acquired the hospital, has brought patient utilization to its lowest point since 2012. READ FULL STORY


Cut in state funding reduces services to special needs adults
week of September 17, 2020

The Arc of Indian River County, a nonprofit that provides job training, group homes and other services to special needs adults, has been forced to cut services due to pandemic conditions and reduced state funding. A day program operated by Arc that provided job and life skills to 110 clients before the pandemic has been cut by half, and the group’s transportation services have been eliminated. In addition, up until last week, five group homes here were on lockdown for months, with residents isolated from friends, family and residents in other group homes. Now, limited visitation is allowed but with no physical contact. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Florida ranked dead last nationwide in terms of reimbursements to the organizations that support special needs adults, and the situation has only gotten worse during the pandemic. “It’s hard enough to provide services normally, before something like covid comes along,” said Heather Dales, CEO of the Arc IRC, which supports more than 220 clients in total. “We have to go to the community to meet normal operating expenses or to do capital improvements [because of sparse state funding].” READ FULL STORY


Beachside salons, spas hoping for a surge in October
week of September 17, 2020

When salons and spas were finally allowed to reopen after stay-at-home mandates were lifted for the industry, clients flocked to their stylists, barbers, nail techs and estheticians to have their roots done, hair trimmed, eyebrows plucked, and nails painted. But after the initial flurry died down, things settled into the typical summer slowdown for some beachside salons and spas. The overwhelming consensus among spa owners is that October – the start of the preholiday mini-season – can’t come too soon. Salon Salon owner Heather Berlin says she was closed for nearly three months. A cancer survivor, she closed before mandated spring shutdowns occurred, erring on the side of caution. “It’s been difficult because I lost my entire season. Within those two months (March and April), you make enough to live on. I’ve been in my salon for 30 years, so I’m well aware that I have to put away for the summer,” says Berlin. She took safety protocols seriously when she reopened, going so far as having a client leave when she mentioned that she had just flown into town from New York. “Everybody’s head in the entire salon turned,” recalls Berlin. “We asked her to leave and sanitized everything.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases on island drop to summer low
week of September 17, 2020

Vero’s barrier island communities have had the lowest number of new coronavirus cases for a three-week stretch since the beginning of June. The 32963 ZIP code has added only 10 new positive COVID-19 cases since the last week of August, and the island’s total at press time since the start of the pandemic is 108 cases. By comparison, the mainland area of Vero Beach just across the causeways – ZIP code 32960 – surpassed the 800-case mark this past week. Hospitalizations have generally remained in the single digits locally, with Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing that hospitalizations are down 73 percent statewide as compared to the July peak. The percentage of emergency room visits nationwide for COVID-like illness has decreased for eight consecutive weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New COVID-19 cases in Indian River County nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are even starting to ebb, as limited visitation started up in facilities that had no new cases for the preceding 14 days. READ FULL STORY


Vero police suspended enforcing beachside parking limits
week of September 17, 2020

Vero Beach police have stopped enforcing time limits on parking spaces in the beachside business district and downtown, ostensibly in an attempt to help struggling merchants during the pandemic. But the lack of enforcement of time limits has actually made the beachside parking problem worse, some merchants said. If you’ve been to the Central Beach or downtown Vero business districts the past few months, you might’ve noticed unticketed vehicles parked for longer than the allowed two or three hours. That’s because the Vero Beach Police Department hasn’t been enforcing parking time limits during the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted a state-mandated shutdown of businesses deemed unessential and the restricted operations of those permitted to remain open. “We’re in an extraordinary situation because of COVID and the shutdown, and the impact it’s had on local businesses,” Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said. “We’ve been talking to merchants, who’ve told us they haven’t been getting many customers, and some businesses have been struggling to stay open. READ FULL STORY


Domestic violence has spiked in county since start of pandemic
week of September 17, 2020

Domestic violence has spiked in Indian River County since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as a result of stress caused by job losses, financial instability, eviction threats and people stuck at home together, according to SafeSpace, a nonprofit that serves victims of domestic violence. Aimee Markford, the county Sheriff’s Office’s CFO and a SafeSpace board member, said the sheriff’s Victim Advocates Unit reports showed a slow rise in domestic violence cases in March and April 2020 that accelerated dramatically in May and has remained high since. SafeSpace CEO Teresa Albizu said reported cases are “just the tip of the iceberg. What happens is a lot of these instances go unreported. So, when you’re hearing these large increases, you can only imagine what’s going on behind closed doors [that is not reported].” Albizu said that while most calls to law enforcement are from the victims, other victims are held hostage at home, with access to the Internet or telephone forbidden, making it difficult for them to seek help. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach City Council decides to focus on riverfront development costs
week of September 17, 2020

Vero Beach officials have decided to nail down many of the costs of the city’s planned riverfront development project sooner instead of later, and to get a more concrete idea about the commercial viability of the plan. Up till now, the council and the project steering committee have moved far down the line with planning a major waterfront development without tabulating or analyzing the costs of the various components or the overall project. Front-loading analysis of the finances and the development market as newly proposed might drag the process out a few months, but it would likely result in a more realistic and feasible plan in the end. Now, the council is expected to start talking about project infrastructure costs and recurring maintenance costs – and how to fund those costs – at a council meeting or workshop in October that will be devoted to financial concerns. Councilman Rey Neville asked for a workshop. He said the process followed by the council up till now of coming up with a plan, floating a referendum and then, after it passes, performing the due diligence required to make the plan work is “totally backwards.” READ FULL STORY


Natural gas won’t be coming soon to Vero’s barrier island
week of September 17, 2020

Residents in Indian River Shores recently found questionnaires in their mailboxes asking if they would sign up for natural gas service if it was available, raising hopes a gas pipeline might be coming to the island soon. But while Town Manager Joe Griffin said he had “heard there was a great response in the affirmative” to the survey, which was mailed to all residents of the barrier island, Florida City Gas said it currently has no firm plans or timeline for running gas lines down A1A. The official statement said “Florida City Gas is actively exploring the potential for extending natural gas service to the barrier island. To gauge potential interest from the community, FCG mailed information and a survey to all island residents.” Spokesperson Bianca Soriano said FCG received a “strong initial response” from island residents. “That is a good indicator in helping us decide what is in the best interest of local communities and our company. “If we decide to pursue the necessary approvals for this project, gas lines would likely be installed along the A1A corridor from Windsor south, serving the residential communities and the Central Beach business district, and then southward to at least the 17th Street causeway area,” Soriano said. READ FULL STORY


U.S. Supreme Court asked by county to hear last-ditch Brightline appeal
week of September 17, 2020

Indian River County’s legal challenge against the Brightline passenger rail extension is an “excellent vehicle” for the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve legal issues concerning when federal courts can rubber-stamp government decisions, the county’s appellate counsel argued last week. “It concerns one of the most important issues before the federal courts – when judicial deference to informal agency interpretations of statutes is appropriate,” wrote Jeffrey Lamken, in a legal brief filed last Tuesday. Indian River County is challenging U.S. Department of Transportation authorization of $2.1 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help finance the extension of the Brightline passenger railroad from West Palm Beach to Orlando. The county argues DOT improperly allocated highway project bonds to the passenger rail project. “The critical fact is that DOT allocated bonds to a project that did not receive – and was not eligible to receive – federal assistance under Title 23 (Highways),” Lamken wrote. Indian River County’s appeal is among the cases the Supreme Court justices are scheduled to discuss at their Sept. 29 conference, records show. READ FULL STORY


Best time of the year for surf anglers has arrived with the ‘mullet run’
week of September 17, 2020

From now through mid-October is the best time of the year if you are a nearshore or surf angler fishing a along the coast of our island. We are currently in the exciting throes of what fishermen call the “mullet run”: the annual southward migration of millions of forage fish – mullet, pilchards, bay anchovies and glass minnows – spurred by cooling water temperatures along the South Atlantic coast. These bait fish are being chased by legions of hungry predators – sharks, king and Spanish mackerel, tarpon, jacks, snook and ladyfish – that just about everyone likes to catch. And those larger fish generally swim within casting range of the beach or just outside the surf break. “There’s no way to get bored out there,” said Vero Beach angler and fly-fishing expert Bill Grady. For those who have never witnessed the mullet run, it looks like somebody set off a depth charge right off the beach, with thousands of small brown and silver torpedoes exploding into the air and larger torpedoes flying and splashing hot on their tails. READ FULL STORY


State confirms major problems at Sea Breeze
week of September 10, 2020

A state inspector who checked out the Sea Breeze Rehabilitation and Nursing Center after the daughter of a COVID-positive patient called in a complaint issued a lengthy report last week, largely backing up the accounts of families who have told Vero Beach 32963 of outrageous problems at the facility where nearly 60 coronavirus cases left seven patients dead in June and July. The state report told of a broken hot water heater that “intermittently” left the building without hot water in the middle of a pandemic. One former staff member as well as family of residents at the facility told Vero Beach 32963 the faulty hot water heater had been on the blink for as long as three months. It also cited inadequate nursing staff that, among other problems, caused residents to go without showers and baths for weeks, residents said. The inspector spoke with multiple residents who said they had gone three weeks without a shower. The lack of hot water also affected laundry procedures at the facility, according to the former staff member. She said that staff members were forced to pile dirty laundry in the nursing home’s van and drive it to a laundromat. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 deaths slow in past week locally
week of September 10, 2020

Finally this week, the number of new COVID-19 deaths locally slowed somewhat, with six additional deaths and 67 more positive cases in the county reported through Sunday. The downward trend in deaths and new cases is encouraging as Florida works to catch up on reporting backlogs and death certifications. Hopefully, that statistic will dwindle to zero new deaths sometime soon if residents remain vigilant in social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing practices to slow the spread of the virus. As of Sunday the county’s rate of people who had died with the virus since the start of the pandemic stood at 3.6 percent of positive cases, with 54 deaths – or 52 percent – being residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. That is considerably above the national average. About 40 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have been among the staff and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. A dozen new patients suffering with the virus had to be admitted to a hospital over the past week. That’s down from an average of 22 new hospitalizations per week in August. READ FULL STORY


A ’better-than-expected’ summer
week of September 10, 2020

The summer of 2020 turned out much better for island hotels and shops than almost anyone expected coming out of the coronavirus lockdown. Some businesses report a decline in sales compared to prior summers, but the big hotels and many shops say they have been busy, with some having their best summer ever. Snowbirds staying in Vero longer than usual, instead of returning to the Northeast where the pandemic was intense during the spring, and flocks of visitors from South Florida, which has seen many more coronavirus cases than the Treasure Coast, are two main factors that drove the successful summer season. A strong real estate market, which brings new residents and potential buyers to town, also helped. South Florida visitors, along with guests from Orlando and other large Florida cities, see Vero as a relatively safe place to take a vacation or weekend getaway and they have filled the larger hotels on weekends. That activity, in turn, has helped other Central Beach businesses as visitors ventured out from their hotels to shop and dine. READ FULL STORY


Quarantined students set to return to their classrooms this week
week of September 10, 2020

Five students in four Indian River County public schools have tested positive for COVID-19 since schools reopened two weeks ago, leading to the quarantining of an additional 81 students and one staff member. More than 30 of the quarantined students were expected to return to school this week on Tuesday, according to School Superintendent David Moore. Fellsmere Elementary, Sebastian River High School and Vero Beach High School each had a single student test positive for the virus, Moore said, while Osceola Magnet had two students. No staff members have tested positive, he added. The students testing positive should serve as a warning to the community about the danger of the virus and the need for safety precautions, a parent said Friday. “Hopefully, this will encourage everyone to take this seriously,” said Mark Manera, whose son is a fourth-grader at Osceola Magnet. “There are so many people who are doubters and they don’t know what to believe on the news. They think it’s a hoax, some people. READ FULL STORY


Five candidates join race for Vero Council
week of September 10, 2020

Five people have qualified to run for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council in November, and this Wednesday’s scheduled budget hearing is a prime example of why voters need to choose three fiscal conservatives. When the budget process began, the city staff anticipated the revenue situation would be dismal thanks to the pandemic economy’s effect on sales tax and gas tax receipts. Based upon that, the city council opted to keep the property tax rate the same to bring an extra quarter-million dollars into the general fund instead of going to the “rolled-back” rate that would have brought in the same tax dollars as the current year. That quarter million dollars in extra property taxes would help fund an additional eight employees and a $565,000 increase in payroll at a time when the local businesses paying those taxes are laying people off, implementing furloughs or taking out loans to keep their doors open. READ FULL STORY


No election needed: Shores to usher in 3 new council members
week of September 10, 2020

Indian River Shores residents will not vote for new town council members this fall since only three candidates filed for the three open seats. Christian Hendricks, John McCord and Mary Alice Smith were automatically elected to four-year terms and will step up to the dais in November as Mayor Tom Slater, Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter and Councilwoman Debbi Peniston pass the torch to the new members. Peniston said of her choice not to seek re-election, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to work on the town council for four years, but four years is a long time.” She expressed her admiration of and gratitude for the staff who keep the town running, especially Town Manager Joe Griffin, Town Clerk Laura Aldrich and Town Treasurer Heather Christmas, and said she’s “very supportive” of the new council members. “I’m sure they’ll do a fine job.” READ FULL STORY


16th Street ballfields property may not be sold to a developer after all
week of September 10, 2020

Just last week, Vero Beach 32963 reported that Vero Beach City Councilman Joe Graves was, by his account, close to a deal with Indian River County that would have allowed him to sell the 16th Street ballfields property he owns to an Orlando developer who planned to build homes there. That has abruptly changed. This week, Graves said his dream of converting the property into a recreation and youth-activities complex to honor his son has been resurrected with the help of former St. Edward’s School football coach Bill Motta. Graves said Friday he canceled a $1.1 million contract to sell the 11.6-acre parcel he purchased from the county 3 ½ years ago to the Orlando firm. The developer planned to build affordable, multi-family housing on the property. Instead, Graves said he will keep the land, where Motta – hired in February to maintain and operate the complex – has been running youth, athletic and recreational programs for the past six months. “Bill’s presence has changed things,” Graves said, explaining that Motta has used his coaching, administrative and maintenance skills to create programs that have sparked a renewed interest in the complex. READ FULL STORY


Professional tennis tourney to return to Vero in October
week of September 10, 2020

Vero Beach’s annual men’s professional tennis tournament, postponed this year because of the pandemic, has been rescheduled for Oct. 19-25, but organizers said last weekend they were unsure if this year’s event would be sanctioned, as usual, by the United States Tennis Association and International Tennis Foundation. If not, organizers said the tournament still would be played at The Boulevard Tennis Club under the banner of the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships, but as a Universal Tennis Rating “open” event with no qualifying rounds and as many as 64 men competing for $10,000 in prize money. The Universal Tennis Rating is a global rating system – separate from the men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour world rankings – that began sanctioning small, pro events in May, when the major tours were shut down by the pandemic. “I expect to get a strong field, regardless of whether it’s a USTA Pro Circuit event or a UTR event,” Tournament Director Randy Walker said. READ FULL STORY


Faces of pandemic: Couple dies three days apart
week of September 3, 2020

On a bicycle festooned with blue Christmas lights, Isidoro De La Paz pedaled through Fellsmere every day, his white hair and beard flagging his approach from at least a block away. People remember him waving as he passed, sometimes stopping for a laugh with old friends. At 78, De La Paz could walk four miles, his son said, which spoke as much to his fitness as his urge to get out and about. His wife Maria, 73, kept their house full of life, raising with enormous pride six children plus three grandchildren, and fawning over her “babies” – 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She kept a packed calendar of celebrations, cooking for dozens as a matter of course. Like her husband, Maria De La Paz was “a fixture in the Fellsmere community,” her obit read, with “a huge smile, hug and kiss for those that crossed her path.” How else but hugs to explain how the beloved couple were exposed to COVID-19 in mid-July, as the coronavirus seemed to be chasing down Fellsmere’s Mexican-American community like a swarm of yellow jackets, stinging at random with its lethal spikes. READ FULL STORY


COVID death toll doubles during August
week of September 3, 2020

As August came to a close, the daily number of new positive cases of COVID-19 here had dwindled to single digits and new hospitalizations were trending downward, but the death toll more than doubled in the month. Indian River County saw a record 18 reported deaths during the last week of August alone. Some of the 50 deaths reported in August were likely due to a backlog in paperwork, but when will this rising number slow down? More deaths were reported in August than in the prior five months combined. Many of the 98 deaths came from local nursing homes. In the past week, 11 more residents were reported to have died with COVID-19 in Vero’s two largest nursing homes. The combined death toll in Consulate of Vero and Palm Garden now stands at 25, and still, executives from both facilities are offering no explanation and no plan to ramp up infection control or testing. Neither Consulate Health Care, a chain of 145 nursing homes based in Maitland, near Orlando, nor Palm Garden, based in Sarasota, returned emails or phone calls. Calls to directors of the local facilities were not returned. READ FULL STORY


Positive tests at one elementary school worry parents:‘We are all afraid’
week of September 3, 2020

Some Beachland Elementary School parents are concerned about COVID-19 spreading and school being closed after two students tested positive for the virus at Osceola Magnet School. “That is concerning,” said Tashae Golfe, who has a son in third grade and a daughter in fourth grade at Beachland Elementary. “We’re all really taking a risk. We are all afraid of it happening.” Anabella Fiorini, who has a son in second grade at Beachland Elementary, said she was surprised the virus turned up at Osceola Magnet because the younger students are better about following the health and safety guidelines than teenagers. “I’m going to just wait to see what’s going to happen next, see if any other schools are going to have the same issues as Osceola or if that’s going to be the only one,” Fiorini said. “If that keeps happening with other elementary schools, then we’ll take him out, probably,” Fiorini said. “But as of right now, we’re just going to let him stay in school.” READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores poised for a most unusual election
week of September 3, 2020

Not since 1977 has the Town of Indian River Shores had the opportunity to usher in three new council members with no incumbents seeking re-election, but it could happen this November. The only other time it happened prior to 1977 was when the town was newly incorporated in 1953. But all three council members with terms expiring this year – Mayor Tom Slater, Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter and Councilwoman Debbi Peniston – have told both the town and Vero Beach 32963 that they do not intend to run in this year’s municipal race. Qualifying ends noon Friday, so unless one of the incumbents reconsiders or a new candidate files to run, Christian Hendricks, John McCord and Mary Alice Smith will win seats on the Shores Town Council by default. “Mary Alice is one of those people who is a doer,” Slater said. “She really knows how to get things done. Chris has been great on planning and zoning and John was very involved in the Vero electric issue.” READ FULL STORY


Graves says he is close to a deal with county on sale of 16th Street ballfields
week of September 3, 2020

Vero Beach City Councilman Joe Graves said last week he’s not seeking reimbursement for “thousands of dollars” he spent to maintain the 16th Street ballfields property he purchased from the county in 2017, but he does expect to recoup the $250,000 he paid for the parcel and another $250,000 he invested in improving it. “I’ll cover the maintenance costs,” he said, “but as far as the improvements we made to the property, they’re all documented.” According to Graves, the improvements included removing antiquated lighting, old and unsafe fencing, a rotting shed and two unusable field houses; repairing the irrigation system and replacing pumps; remodeling the Bud O’Reilly Field House; installing 5 acres of athletic turf; and resurfacing the parking lots. “We tried to repurpose as much as we could,” Graves said, “but most of the stuff, we couldn’t even give it away.” Graves purchased the 11.6-acre property in March 2017 through the Jimmy Graves Foundation, named after his son who died in a boating accident the previous year. He got a sweetheart deal from the county, paying much less than the appraised value of the land, and planned to build a youth-activities complex that would include a regulation-size track that could be used by Vero Beach High School athletes. READ FULL STORY


Just two weeks left for property owners to approve beach project
week of September 3, 2020

Indian River County officials are calling on oceanfront property owners on south beach to quickly sign agreements allowing access to their properties for a dune renourishment project this fall. If they don’t, the county risks losing millions in state and federal funds. So far, the county has managed to secure only about 60 percent of the permissions it needs from property owners along a 2-mile stretch from Treasure Cove to Floralton Beach – an area known as Sector 7 – to shore up dunes and replace some 295,000 cubic yards of sand lost to recent storms. The sign-up success rate is much better at the northern end of the island, Sector 3 – which spans 6.6 miles from Treasure Shores to Turtle Trail beach park. Nearly 80 percent of property owners there have signed permissions. County commissioners have set a deadline of Sept. 15 to decide whether to continue the project in both sectors or postpone it for a year, with the decision based on obtaining easement agreements from 90 percent of property owners. READ FULL STORY


Senior facilities may soon be open again to visitors
week of August 27, 2020

As schools reopened with trepidation Monday, nursing homes and assisted living facilities edged closer to reopening to visitors for the first time since March. A state task force met for the second time last week and planned to meet once more this week before sending recommendations to the governor on how to host visitors safely. Among the recommendations is the notion of creating outdoor spaces at facilities where COVID-19 transmission would theoretically be less likely. So confident was the task force in the reduction of risk outdoors that they appeared willing to cut in half the amount of time required of a facility to have no new cases of COVID-19, from 28 days to 14. The CDC recommends visitation not be allowed until there are no new cases for 28 days. The task force approach means even a facility that has had a major outbreak could have visitors if all the cases go away and no new infections occur for two weeks. But the initiative is voluntary; facilities won’t be required to open, and if they don’t, they won’t incur the considerable costs the task force anticipates for things like PPE, cleaning supplies, setting up a space, and extra staff, including a monitor for the visits themselves. READ FULL STORY


Riverside Theatre goes dark for 2020-2021 season
week of August 27, 2020

Riverside Theatre has decided the show can’t go on this winter – the biggest indication yet that life here during the island’s coming high-season, though still months away, will be substantially changed by the novella coronavirus pandemic. A letter sent this week to subscribers and patrons informed them that the theater productions scheduled for this winter would be performed instead as Riverside’s 2021-22 Season. “Nobody feels safe now going into a crowd,” said Allen Cornell, Riverside Theatre’s producing artistic director/CEO, explaining the decision. “We’re live theater; you have to have an audience. We can’t be like Major League Baseball, for example, playing in an empty stadium with cardboard cutouts in the seats.” Riverside Theatre seats an audience of 630 people and most of those seats need to be filled for a production to be financially viable, he said. “The last thing any of us want is have somebody become infected, whether they’re onstage, backstage or in the audience. A real driving factor is that a huge part of our audience are among the most susceptible. And I know, from speaking to a number of people, they would be very uncomfortable coming to the theater, even wearing a mask,” Cornell said. READ FULL STORY


Symphonic Association cancels coming season – another casualty of pandemic
week of August 27, 2020

The Indian River Symphonic Association has announced the cancellation of its 2021 concert season – another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s impressive Festival of Orchestras lineup had included the Moscow State Symphony; the Kuanas Symphony Orchestra of Lithuania; and the Philadelphia Orchestra, considered one of the “Big Five” American philharmonics. The series also was to bring Vero the always popular JoAnn Falleta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. And, as in prior years, the Brevard Symphony Orchestra had been scheduled to perform three concerts. “We didn’t make the decision; it was sort of made for us, because the touring orchestras canceled their tours,” said Susan Smith, IRSA board president. “There was no way we were going to cancel because of the contracts [we had signed]. Our fiduciary responsibility is to the organization, so we waited until they canceled.” The first to bow out, at the end of July, was the Moscow symphony, followed by Lithuanian orchestra. Philadelphia waited until Aug. 18 to cancel and Buffalo followed closely behind. “We already had quite a few ticket sales. Because our patrons were concerned, we extended our season ticket purchases to Sept. 12,” said Smith. “Anybody who bought a ticket will get a full refund.” READ FULL STORY


Teachers union, school superintendent working more closely than ever
week of August 27, 2020

As COVID-19 haunts the start of school this week, there is healing going on behind the scenes. Following years of contentious relations between the school district and its teachers union, the new school superintendent and a new union president are finding common ground at a critical time. “The relationship has come a long way in just a few months,” said Jennifer Freeland, newly elected president of the Indian River County Education Association. Dr. David Moore was installed as superintendent of schools just three months before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Indian River County. As a former assistant superintendent of Miami-Dade County schools, Moore specialized in turning around failing schools. He now faces the challenge of letting students in while keeping COVID out – and panic at bay. And he needs the cooperation of teachers to accomplish those tricky goals. With no silver bullet in their arsenal, Freeland and Moore at least see the hint of a silver lining. READ FULL STORY


Parents nervous, kids excited as Beachland welcomes pupils
week of August 27, 2020

Beachland Elementary School welcomed 340 pupils Monday for the first new school year in the COVID-19 era, but another 85 students were kept home to pursue virtual studies via computer. Pupil drop-off went smoothly Monday morning at the island’s only public school as district administrators and an extra contingent of Vero Beach police officers helped keep traffic flowing. Several parents said they are concerned about sending their children back to school because of the possibility they could catch the virus, but said they believe attending school with live teachers and other students is better than home schooling on a computer program. “I feel like we’re all taking a chance at this point, but we’ve all got to at least try to get back to as normal as possible,” said Tashae Golfe, who has a son in third grade and daughter in fourth grade at Beachland. “So, we’re going to give it a chance at least for the first few weeks and see how everything goes.” READ FULL STORY


St. Ed’s graduates facing strange freshman college year
week of August 27, 2020

Students who graduated from St. Edward’s School this year are facing a freshman college year unlike any before. Frustration, uncertainty, disappointment – and resilience – are reoccurring themes as colleges and universities continually change their fall schedules, trying to adapt to pandemic conditions, leaving students with a set of questions different than their older siblings and parents had at this stage of their lives. Instead of wondering, Will I make new friends? Will my classes be too hard? Will the cafeteria food be good? students are asking themselves, Am I going away to college at all? Will I be learning online and not in a classroom? How will I meet new people? Will it be safe? Where will I live? Vero Beach 32963 talked with six St. Ed’s graduates – a mix of college freshmen and sophomores – about their COVID college experience so far, and discovered that no two of them were venturing into the realm of higher learning in the same way this fall. READ FULL STORY


St. Ed’s delays start of practice for football and volleyball
week of August 27, 2020

St. Edward’s School administrators have delayed the start of football practice until at least Sept. 8 – two weeks after classes began – because of the coronavirus pandemic, abiding by the recommendation of a state medical advisory panel. The Pirates are now scheduled to kick off their football season Sept. 25 at home against Eagle’s View Academy of Jacksonville. “I’m praying hard that we can play, but football is a tough one because it’s such a close-contact sport,” St. Edward’s Athletic Director Jeff Lamscha said. “You see colleges and college conferences cancelling seasons, so it’s not an easy decision. “We’ve got the kids back in school and we’ll how it goes with the pandemic,” he added. “I really want to get things going, but we won’t play until we believe it’s safe.” Two weeks ago, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors – ignoring warnings from its own Sports Medicine Advisory Committee – voted 11-5 to allow schools to begin fall sports practice on Aug. 24. READ FULL STORY


Riverfront planner tells Vero Council: There is no Santa
week of August 27, 2020

City of Vero Beach officials spent eight months tweaking five different potential plans for the redevelopment of the riverfront utility plant sites without ever taking a hard look at what the venture would cost. Nobody gave architect and planner extraordinaire Andres Duany a project budget until the very end of the process. Then two weeks ago, City Manager Monte Falls saw Duany’s $7 million to $12 million cost estimate and experienced sticker shock. Falls told Duany his budget was zero dollars, that the whole venture needed to be “revenue neutral,” to which Duany responded to the city last week: “You can’t have a Santa Claus.” Now the whole plan, including the referendum that was scheduled to go on the November ballot, has skidded to a screeching halt – something that probably would not have happened had budget expectations been clear from the get-go. “I do think I have been treated unprofessionally in one regard only. When I began this process, I actually requested the city comptroller come in and she told me and you, in your presence, that you had $21 million that could be assigned,” Duany said. READ FULL STORY


Speed limit being temporarily reduced to 35 mph on A1A in Indian River Shores
week of August 27, 2020

Effective Friday, the Florida Department of Transportation is temporarily reducing the speed limit to 35 mph on State Road A1A through Indian River Shores to increase safety during the $6.7 million widening and resurfacing of the coastal highway. FDOT spokeswoman Kathleen Dempsey said the change – the speed limit has been 45 mph – was made at the urging of Rich Rosell, the town’s police chief and public safety director. Informed that FDOT granted his request, Rosell said he was “ecstatic” and believed the reduced speed limit will help avoid potentially fatal accidents. “We had grave concerns about the safety of the workers,” Rosell said. “That’s a narrow road to begin with, so the workers are operating close to passing traffic. There’s a significant difference in braking distance when you go from 45 mph to 35 mph. This was the right decision.” Rosell said the slower speeds won’t negatively impact traffic flow through the often-congested construction zone, where motorists can encounter mile-long backups spawned by lane closures, sudden stops to allow left turns and frustrated drivers veering onto grassy berms to avoid further delays. READ FULL STORY


Ryder’s gourmet market opening on Cardinal Drive
week of August 27, 2020

The island will get a new delicatessen and dining spot next week as Ryder’s debuts in a renovated building on Cardinal Drive. Owner Tom Ryder says the gourmet market, which will offer take-out meals and onsite, outdoor dining, will have a soft opening prior to Labor Day. The property, formerly the home of the Super Stop convenience store, has undergone a complete transformation both inside and out in recent months, with the addition of a 1,500-square-foot kitchen and the creation of a “secret garden” on the north side of the building where people can eat outside and enjoy themselves in a space one passerby said is reminiscent of McKee Garden. “We wanted to make a place that looked like it fit in on Cardinal Drive and did honor to our neighbors,” said Ryder, who is opening the new business with his son Rob Ryder, owner of the Cookhouse, a restaurant in New Milford, Conn. The southern wall of the building is blooming with color from a giant bougainvillea trellis fronted by a row of sabal palm trees. Inside is the big kitchen and plenty of retail space for curated cheeses, pastas, sauces, jellies, sausages, olives, fine chocolates and wines. READ FULL STORY


One week left to qualify for Vero council election
week of August 27, 2020

With three council positions on the November ballot, including an open seat made possible by Vice Mayor Laura Moss’ move up to the Indian River Board of County Commissioners, there’s a chance to bring strong leadership and fiscal discipline back to the city’s government. Anyone interested in doing that has one more week to qualify. The current makeup of the council simply does not work effectively to guide city policy. As a body, the council often is reactionary and short-sighted. There’s no clear leadership to be found on the dais. As the council has drifted and become weaker, the city staff has begun to take a greater role. Issues drag on through long-winded meetings and are studied to death by consultants. Action is started, then stopped, postponed or even abandoned. The culture of maintaining the status quo has returned to City Hall. Vero is sitting on a pot of $21 million in proceeds from the sale of the electric utility and, if that money is not managed properly, city residents will have zero to show for it a few years down the road. Millions will be shaved off here and there as the windfall is whittled away to pay for pet projects and recurring operating expenses. READ FULL STORY


Oldest house in Vero becomes a landmark once more
week of August 27, 2020

Mayssa Shalhoub plans to study sustainability in college this fall, and that interest, along with her mother’s desire to preserve Vero’s heritage, has brought bright new life to the Gifford House, extending the 132-year-long story of the city’s oldest residence. The large, two-story frame house at 9th Avenue and 20th Street has received a complete exterior renovation in recent months and now stands out as a notable Vero Beach landmark and striking example of early Florida architecture. Behind it sits another smaller frame house that has been renovated inside and out. In 1888 Henry and Sarah Gifford built the main house as their family home on a 160-acre homestead that ran from the Indian River to where the Florida East Coast Railway tracks are today. Several years later they erected the smaller, saltbox-style structure, which the Shalhoubs call the Mango house. It once housed the local post office and a mercantile, where settlers could pick up supplies, mail a letter or buy a train ticket, according to County Historian Ruth Stanbridge. READ FULL STORY


Vero tries to collect $440,000 in fines for illegal vacation rental
week of August 27 2020

After a multiyear court battle over the use of a $2.4 million home in Old Riomar as a vacation rental from 2017 to 2019, the City of Vero Beach is now trying to collect a $440,000 judgment for fines and interest awarded in the case on June 30. Dr. Tony Abbassi, a Miami physician who owned the home while it was used as a vacation rental, appealed $411,000 in city code enforcement fines to the circuit court, claiming that he was duped by shady property managers, never received any of the city’s notices by mail, and thus never knew it was illegal to operate a short-term rental in a residential zone in Vero. City code enforcement staff had given evidence that Abbassi was present with his property manager when code enforcement visited the house and was notified in person that vacation rentals were not permitted in the city. Abbassi lost the court appeal, but then turned to the city council in hopes of getting his costs reduced by more than one half. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases way down here, but county death rate continues to rise
week of August 20, 2020

New positive COVID-19 test results and testing numbers were way down at the start of the week, but while Indian River County seemed to be recovering from its big summer wave of cases, a growing number of patients are not recovering at all. The county’s death toll climbed nearly 20 percent between Aug. 10 to Aug. 17, with 11 new deaths for a total of 67 local people killed by the virus as we went to press Monday, meaning that 2.5 percent of Indian River County people who tested positive have died. The vast majority of the people reported dead from COVID-19 in August were in their 80s and 90s, with a few in their 70s or younger. But the long lives these people enjoyed prior to succumbing to the pandemic does not make the loss any less tragic or heartbreaking. The fact that COVID-19 is still quite active among our most vulnerable in nursing homes and assisted living communities cannot be brushed aside as a problem happening in some far-flung place, walled off from our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. READ FULL STORY


Visits to loved ones may be permitted at senior care facilities
week of August 20, 2020

Visitors may soon be returning to nursing homes and assisted living facilities as a task force appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis moves forward with a plan to lift a five-month lockdown. A Zoom meeting scheduled for Tuesday was expected to finalize a list of recommendations on how to safely allow face-to-face visits – or at least, mask-to-mask – in a matter of weeks. That strategy should soon be on the governor’s desk, task force leaders said Friday at their first meeting. That online roundtable session was led by Mary Mayhew, head of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, and included Dr. Scott Rivkee, Florida’s surgeon general and leader of the state Department of Health, as well as representatives from long-term care trade associations. The most compelling voice was that of Mary Daniel, the wife of a 66-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease. Daniel, who runs a business helping people sort through problematic medical bills, took a job as a dishwasher in her husband’s memory care center just so she could visit him. READ FULL STORY


Prospering despite the pandemic
week of August 20, 2020

“In the eight years that I’ve been in business, this is the best summer I’ve ever had.” That’s the amazing report of island restaurateur Zandra Simm, whose Vinz Wine & Dine is not just surviving the coronavirus pandemic – but has come up with a two-pronged strategy for prospering during a challenging Vero Beach summer. The first part of the strategy involved shifting the emphasis – despite the summer heat – from the cozy, air-conditioned confines of her attractively decorated wine bar, and taking advantage of the outdoor space at Pelican Plaza. “When people did start to come back out, they really wanted to be outdoors. I’ve got all this outdoor space [in the atrium at the Pelican Plaza]. The businesses are all closed after 5 p.m., and that’s when I open. I can really spread them out and do the proper spacing.” Last year, Simm said she couldn’t pay people to sit outside during the summer. This year, however, is a different story. “I rarely sit anybody inside anymore. Now, they’re just fine with whatever breeze there is. They just sit and enjoy the music.” READ FULL STORY


Students returning to school in person to be trained on computer
week of August 20, 2020

Students returning to public schools in person on Monday will be trained to do their class work virtually via computer in case they must quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “We want to do everything we can possibly do to completely stop the spread of the COVID virus,” Schools Superintendent David Moore said Monday during a Facebook Live presentation this week. That includes eliminating all incentives for perfect attendance during the 2020-2021 academic year so students who are feeling ill stay home until they get better, Moore said. Parents should check their children for COVID-19 symptoms every day before sending them to school, Moore said. Likewise, district employees should monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus. “I want to reinforce to our teachers and our families, when you have these symptoms – please stay home,” Moore said. “We will be doing everything we can to [ensure people] stay home when symptoms are being displayed.” Key symptoms include a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, new cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, muscle pain, fatigue, headache, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, new rash and loss of taste or smell. READ FULL STORY


Vero High football coach: ‘’Excited to have a season’
week of August 20, 2020

As the pandemic continues, Vero Beach High School football will kick off Monday with the first official practice after the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted 11-5 last week to begin fall sports Aug. 24. Regular season games are slated to start on the Treasure Coast Sept. 10-11. “We’re excited to have a season,” says Vero Beach High School athletic director and varsity football coach Lenny Jankowski, who oversees dozens of varsity and junior varsity teams at VBHS, including football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, girls volleyball, swimming, golf and wrestling. “There is a lot at stake, a lot of work to be done,” Jankowski adds. “We’re on board. The kids are on board. The fans are on board. We want the opportunity to put a product on the field we can all be proud of. If it doesn’t work out, at least we gave it a shot.” While awaiting the state association’s decision, football teams across the state did their usual “summer conditioning – no helmets, no pads,” says Jankowski. READ FULL STORY


Village Beach Market closing until October for renovation
week of August 20, 2020

The Village Beach Market closed earlier this week to embark on the second phase of a $2.5 million remodeling project that store owner Jason Keen hopes will be completed by early October. In the meantime, Keen said the market will operate an on-site food truck that offers a “limited menu of signature items from our deli” for breakfast and lunch, adding, “We’re hoping to be able to do dinner entrees, too.” The market, located on State Road A1A on the northern tier of Vero Beach, also is planning to offer its customers curbside pickup service for pre-ordered groceries that will be stored in an off-site facility during the renovation. “This will allow us to continue to serve our customers and community while the store is closed for the remodel,” Keen said. “It also provides an opportunity for our employees to continue working.” Keen is undertaking the renovations after a busy summer, during which his business thrived despite the pandemic. The project is the second major renovation of the market, which has operated in its current location for 40 years and underwent its first remodel in 1998. READ FULL STORY


New senior living facility opens in midst of pandemic
week of August 20, 2020

Just as the state debates how to reopen long-term care facilities to visitors shut out during the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior living community threw open its doors to new residents this month, with its first eight residents coming out of quarantine and moving into their own apartments this week. The Promenade in Sebastian is the second largest assisted living facility in the county and the first new construction in more than a decade. And while the timing could not be more challenging, staff is committed to welcoming new residents and easing them through a lifestyle change that even before COVID-19 was emotional at best. For the seniors moving into The Promenade – and for new residents moving into any of the county’s 24 long-term care facilities – the transition to congregate living is starkly different with COVID-19. The first eight residents at The Promenade were initially isolated in temporary digs – a designated wing of furnished apartments used only to quarantine newcomers. Their 14-day sojourn required a negative COVID-19 test to begin with, and included a second test eight days in. That precaution complicates the emotional aspects of leaving their own homes and still having to wait to make a new home with the comforts of their own furniture and possessions in place. READ FULL STORY


Thieves steal Vero Beach Museum of Art’s donor info
week of August 13, 2020

The donor list of the Vero Beach Museum of Art – containing detailed personal information on many of the island’s wealthiest and most noted philanthropists – was stolen by cyberthieves as part of what may have been the largest global hack of the data of nonprofits in history. The thieves got the information as part of an attack for ransom on Blackbaud, a Charleston, S.C.-based technology provider which provides hosting services to dozens of universities, museums, schools, churches, charities and Britain’s National Trust. Blackbaud ultimately paid an undisclosed amount of ransom and claims that the thieves destroyed the stolen data when the Bitcoin ransom was paid. But it is unable to provide any proof of that, some clients complain. Vero Beach Museum of Art Executive Director Brady Roberts sent out an email to members and donors last Thursday informing them of the breach. He assured members that the cyberthief “did not access your credit card information or bank account information as we do not retain this data after a transaction is processed.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 death rate here above state average
week of August 13, 2020

As the United States surpassed the 5 million COVID-19 case mark this week, Indian River County saw the number of new cases easing a bit with 203 new people testing positive – maybe due to testing centers being closed for Hurricane Isaias, or maybe not. But the steeply increasing death rate here from COVID-19 complications is the big, tragic story this week. Eight more local residents died over the past week, six of those residents of long-term care facilities, bringing the countywide death toll to 56 people, or 2.28 percent of positive cases as of Monday’s report. That places Indian River County 46 percent higher than the statewide death rate of 1.56 percent. As state officials discussed plans to begin allowing visitation again at long-term-care facilities across Florida, the county’s nursing homes continue to battle major outbreaks of COVID-19, with Consulate Health Care of Vero Beach having 40 positive cases, including nine staffers, according to Florida Department of Health reports updated Sunday afternoon. The state report also lists 36 cases including six staffers at Palm Garden of Vero Beach, where five residents had died as of the last long-term-care facility death report on Aug. 7. READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary pupils to face new kind of school day on return
week of August 13, 2020

Students will face a new kind of school day when they return to Beachland Elementary on Aug. 24, according to school principal Rachel Finnegan. “These are uncharted waters for everyone,” Finnegan told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “We’re all riding these waves together for the first time.” When students arrive at 9 a.m. or earlier, they will be greeted at the front of the school each day by a staffer who will escort them to their class to reinforce social distancing and other safety rules, Finnegan said. Temperature checks will not be required for the students upon entering Beachland, as previously planned, Superintendent David Moore said during a Facebook Live presentation, but students will be examined daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Face coverings will be mandated in most situations. “If we can’t provide a 6-foot distance for social distancing to follow the guidelines, all students and staff and faculty will be required to wear a mask or provided a face shield,” Finnegan said. Parents will no longer be allowed to bring their children to class, as was allowed in past years, but parents and students will have the opportunity to preview Beachland’s new health and safety measures before the first day of school. READ FULL STORY


As classrooms reopen, top Vero doc agrees: ‘The much greater risk will be for teachers’
week of August 13, 2020

As a lawsuit filed by Florida’s largest teachers union makes its way to Tallahassee following a hearing last week in Miami, counties large and small are rethinking their decision to reopen school campuses. “These are life-and-death, no-do-over decisions,” the lawyer for Florida’s largest teachers union argued in court last week. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the emergency order to reopen school campuses, saying a guarantee of “safe” and “secure” schools is written into the state’s constitution. But Indian River County is forging ahead with its plans to reopen Aug. 24. Despite a 14-fold increase in COVID-19 cases in the county since June, when Gov. Ron DeSantis started the conversation about reopening, and a more than 10-fold increase in pediatric cases, the school district has not flinched. Instead, its determination seems to have increased. Last week, the school district canceled planned temperature checks on some 10,000 kids as they arrive at their schools each day. Temperature checks will still take place at Indian River Charter High, which has placed touchless thermometers in every classroom. READ FULL STORY


Vero Councilman Neville says he still plans to push for mandatory mask ordinance
week of August 13, 2020

City Councilman Rey Neville, who survived a bout with COVID-19, still believes Vero Beach should require that masks be worn in indoor public places to slow the spread of the pandemic – and he hasn’t given up on such a mandate. In fact, Neville said last week he planned to meet with City Attorney John Turner to discuss the possibility of proposing a mandatory mask ordinance that would require only a majority vote by the council to pass, rather than the super-majority needed for emergency ordinances. It’s the same protracted process the council is required to follow to adopt any non-emergency ordinance, Turner said, explaining that published public notice of the proposal must be given and two public hearings must be held before any vote on the new city law. So, if Neville follows through, the soonest City Council members could vote on such an ordinance would be Sept. 1. He had until noon Wednesday to put his proposal on the agenda for the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning. READ FULL STORY


No shortage of COVID-19 testing supplies here at moment
week of August 13, 2020

Shortages in COVID-19 testing supplies have made the national news steadily over the past month, with a capacity crunch persisting in California, New York, Boston and across the Midwest. But for now, at least, local test centers say they can fully meet the Vero Beach area demand. At peak, Treasure Coast Community Health was testing 300 people per day at its Indian River County Fairgrounds drive-up testing center. Open for just 90 minutes three mornings per week, the site quickly became popular with locals because there was no appointment required and anyone can get a test, regardless of age or symptoms. In mid-July, LabCorp notified TCCH that it was having supply issues and would need to limit the collection kits it sent twice a week to the community health centers. Results were also taking about a week to come back. “At one point they (LabCorp) told us they had the capacity to process 15,000 tests a night, but they were receiving 50,000 tests a night,” said Treasure Coast Community Health CEO Vicki Soule. “Quest was equally overwhelmed, hence their resulting delays, but no specifics were offered by Quest.” READ FULL STORY


Health Dept. has funds for new positions, but no employees yet
week of August 13, 2020

Given the time it takes to sift through resumes and fill even one or two open positions, it’s little surprise that the Indian River County Health Department has not instantaneously filled the 28 positions recently funded by CARES Act dollars. But the $927,000 needed to put two epidemiologists,10 nurses, nine data clerks, two call center employees, one health educator and four other employees on the payroll is now available, according to Indian River County Health Department spokesperson Stacy Brock. The new employees will bolster the Health Department’s contract tracing ability and perform other COVID-19-related duties. The money was part of a chunk of federal funds sent to Tallahassee where Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff divvied up the funding to Florida’s 67 counties according to size, need and the resources requested by public health officials. “We are currently interviewing for the positions you are referencing,” Brock said. “Potential candidates have been from many areas across the state. During this transition of hiring new staff, we are currently utilizing contractual staff and DOH-Indian River staff to continue our efforts in case investigation and contact tracing.” READ FULL STORY


Mosquito Control District brings in new bug-killing drone
week of August 13, 2020

County bug-fighters have a new weapon in their fight against mosquitoes – a drone that can precisely target breeding areas and dispense mosquito pesticide in hard-to-reach areas of the county. Heading into the thick of mosquito season in Indian River County, things are quiet right now with low numbers of insects found in test traps, according to officials with the Indian River Mosquito Control District. But district director Doug Carlson says his agency is ready for battle in the air, on land and in the water if the situation changes. The new drone will be an additional tool, augmenting the district’s bright-yellow crop-duster type airplane frequently seen in county skies. “We, like most programs, employ an integrated pest management approach,” Carlson said. “We need to come at it from several different directions.” Controlling populations of mosquitoes in and around Vero that carry West Nile virus, equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis, which can sicken humans and animals, includes aerial and on-the-ground spraying; monitoring sentinel chickens; managing salt marsh water levels; and educating residents to eliminate breeding grounds on private property. READ FULL STORY


Brightline scraps Virgin Trains USA deal, and will resume using old name
week of August 13, 2020

The Brightline passenger train partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin travel conglomerate is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brightline’s parent company terminated its branding agreement with Virgin Enterprises Ltd., as affiliate Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., sought protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. Brightline Trains LLC will replace Virgin Trains USA LLC as the company’s official name, according to the July revenue and ridership report filed Friday with the Florida Development Finance Corp. “Virgin has no remaining affiliation with us, our parent, or its affiliates, whether through equity ownership, or otherwise,” the report says. The demise of the deal dashed Branson’s vision of European tourists flying Virgin jets to Orlando and Miami airports and taking Virgin Trains to theme parks, other major cities – including Tampa, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale – and Virgin cruise ships in Port Miami. But it will have no impact on Indian River County’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Federal Railroad Administration’s environmental and financial approvals for the project, said county spokesman Brian Sullivan. READ FULL STORY


Here’s what Indian River County voters will find on the Aug. 18 primary ballot
week of August 13, 2020

Indian River County’s 120,873 registered voters have until 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 18 to cast their ballots in the non-partisan School Board elections and open Republican primaries for County Commission. But only the county’s 56,484 registered Republicans can vote in the closed Republican primary for sheriff to replace retiring Sheriff Deryl Loar because a no-party candidate entered the Nov. 3 general election. Early voting at three locations, including the county Main Library, ends Saturday. Voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. As of Monday, 18,555 vote-by-mail ballots had been received by the Supervisor of Elections office, records show. Another 1,205 citizens had voted early. The Republican candidates for Sheriff are: Sheriff’s Major Eric Flowers, former Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Kirby, Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell and Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry. The winner will face Deborah Cooney, the no-party candidate who closed the primary, in the Nov. 3 general election. All other winners on Aug. 18 will assume office. READ FULL STORY


County introducing cuttings from rare plant to save it from extinction
week of August 13, 2020

Indian River County officials and a noted Bok Tower Gardens botanist are conducting the first-ever introduction of one of the rarest plants in the world to a county conservation area near Roseland, hoping to protect it from extinction. Lakela’s mint – a fragrant plant with beautiful lavender-rose-colored flowers – grows only along a narrow, 3-mile-long strip of the Atlantic coastal ridge from Fort Pierce to Vero Beach and nowhere else, according to Cheryl Peterson, the botanist in charge of Bok’s rare plant conservation program. Named for botanist Olga Lakela, who discovered it in 1962, the small shrub has been nearly wiped out by development of the sandy scrub habitat near the railroad tracks and U.S. 1 where it once thrived. Now Peterson is working with Beth Powell, Indian River County’s assistant director of parks and conservation, and a small cadre of volunteers to plant about 500 seeds and cuttings raised at Bok in a quadrangle in the middle of the North County Conservation Area, which is miles away from where the plant is known to grow. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections, deaths here nearly double in 2 weeks
week of August 6, 2020

As Florida’s statewide tally of COVID-19 cases topped the half-million mark, Indian River County added 700 cases in the past two weeks for a 41 percent increase during that time. Local deaths have nearly doubled, rising from 25 to 48 over the past 14 days, with the virus still spreading among the most vulnerable in the county’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Hospitalizations spiked back up to 37 on Friday, stretching staff, but Cleveland Clinic officials say the hospital still has capacity to handle the current caseload. Barrier island cases have risen steadily, but not as rapidly as the rest of the county, up 18 percent from 76 cases two weeks ago to 90 cases as we started the week. Five months into Florida’s COVID crisis, our local government officials still exhibit no sense of urgency. Neither the Board of County Commissioners nor the Vero Beach City Council has the gumption to vote through anything approaching a facemask mandate. READ FULL STORY


When the nursing home finally called: ‘Whatever happened with your dad?’
week of August 6, 2020

For weeks, Jonathan MacGown got regular updates via robocalls from Vero’s Sea Breeze Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where his 98-year-old father was a patient: We have no COVID-19 cases. “They were calling regularly from a Chicago number,” MacGown said. “It was like, look how great we’re doing.” Then came an actual voice call saying Sea Breeze had its first case. A staff member had tested positive. That call was on June 22. Less than three weeks later, on July 11, Sea Breeze sent three residents to the hospital. One was MacGown’s father, Philip. But no one from the facility bothered to call Jonathan MacGown to tell him his father had tested positive and was being sent to the hospital. MacGown got word of his father’s condition and hospitalization from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. “A doctor called and said: ‘Your dad’s here, he’s got COVID-19 and he’s on a ventilator. He’s probably not going to make it,’” MacGown recalled. “I got no calls from Sea Breeze.” READ FULL STORY


Do summer camp experiences provide model for school?
week of August 6, 2020

No masks and no social distancing. That was the mantra at Life for Youth Camp this summer. Despite that, not one of the estimated 450 weekly campers or 40 counselors at the Christian sleepover and day camp came down with COVID-19, according to camp leaders. Likewise, at Leisure Square, where masks were required by mandate as a city-owned building, there were no COVID-19 cases during a month of day camps, leaders said. But at least two other summer camps that required masks and adhered to social distancing rules did see cases, though leaders said the outbreaks were quickly contained by the camps’ own contact tracing and isolation. The success of local camps could be seen a positive model for school re-openings but camps in other places call that into question. Just as camps in Indian River County were wrapping up for the summer, proud of having kept coronavirus out – or at least under control – a CDC report released Friday revealed a summer camp in Georgia saw 260 cases in nine days of operation. READ FULL STORY


Hurricane shelters for pandemic era get a light test
week of August 6, 2020

Even during a typical hurricane season, a county-operated emergency shelter is generally an absolute last resort. But now with COVID-19 in the mix, everyone who can hunker down elsewhere obviously should. Hurricane Isaias caught some people off guard, so special medical needs, economic hardship or lack of transportation left some families with few options. Three shelters opened for the weekend in Indian River County, with safeguards upon entry, and people given plenty of space to spread out in each facility. Nineteen residents and two caregivers utilized the special needs shelter. Zero residents went to the pet friendly shelter. Sixteen residents turned up at the general population shelter. The county’s $44,000 automated no-touch thermometer system had not been delivered yet, so school district personnel staffing the shelters took everyone’s temperature with hand-held no-touch thermometers. “I am not aware of any issues related to checking temperatures of those people who arrived at the shelters. I am sure the small number of people who actually utilized the shelters this weekend helped on that front,” said county spokesman Brian Sullivan. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic Indian River moves up in rank among Florida hospitals
week of August 6, 2020

It was a tie for 19th place, but Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital will happily take its latest ranking from U.S. News Best Hospitals in Florida list. The Vero hospital was ranked 27th in the state last year so it has moved up significantly. “The entire team at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has been working diligently to provide high-quality care to the community we serve,” said Dr Greg Rosencrance, the hospital’s president, who called the ranking “an honor.” “It is truly a confirmation of all the effort and focus by our caregivers to provide ‘patients first’ care.” Cleveland Clinic’s flagship hospital in Cleveland ranked second best in the nation, up from fourth best last year. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. took the top spot for the fifth year with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore remaining in third place. The Florida rankings, from information that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, put Indian River alongside Boca Raton Regional Hospital, a well-regarded, formerly independent hospital taken over by Baptist Health a year ago. READ FULL STORY


$25 million sale breaks record for island residences
week of August 6, 2020

The largest house on the barrier island was sold to a California buyer for $25 million last week, the highest price ever paid for a piece of residential real estate in Indian River County. The 40,800-square-foot compound at 1940 S. A1A in the Estate Section had been on the market for two and a half years, listed at $29.9 million. It went under contract on June 27 and closed on July 30. Island broker Jim DiMarzo, who represented the buyer in the transaction, says this is the third family from California he has helped relocate to Vero in the past year. Though DiMarzo declined to identify the buyer, he says the purchaser has a very large family and “will use definitely the whole house.” The seller is listed in property records as Sunrise Design LLC., and Cindy O’ Dare and Richard Boga of Premier Estate Properties were the listing agents. O’Dare says the record-breaking sale is part of a trend, with buyers “fleeing the big city” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. READ FULL STORY


A1A road project a traffic nightmare – so wait until season
week of August 6, 2020

Traffic congestion on A1A caused by the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6.7 million widening and resurfacing project in Indian River Shores has been more of a nightmare than expected for barrier island motorists – and will likely get worse when seasonal residents return. There have been mile-long backups spawned by lane closures, sudden stops to allow left turns across oncoming traffic, and frustrated motorists opting to drive illegally on grassy shoulders to avoid further delays. Worse, some drivers have become so confused by temporary road markings that they found themselves going the wrong way in a one-way lane. “Have we gotten complaints? Absolutely,” Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell said Friday. “At first, it was mayhem out there. The work crews were holding up traffic until there was a mile-long backup, then they’d let a mile of traffic go through, which created mile-long backups in the other direction. “They’ve now changed their flag people, and the traffic flow has gotten a little bit better,” he added. “They’ve also made it easier to identify the lanes, so we don’t have as many wrong-way drivers. But it was dicey for a while. READ FULL STORY


Scaled-down riverfront plan capitalizes on Vero’s natural assets
week of August 6, 2020

More green space and outdoor dining, plus low-density cabin rentals, proved to be crowd pleasers as Vero’s steering committee approved a re-engineered plan for the Centennial Place riverfront that takes new, post-COVID realities into account. The committee, which includes the City Council, voted almost unanimously to approve the alternate plan, which Vice Mayor Laura Moss informally dubbed the “Old Florida Plan” due to its scaled-down nature, casual recreational opportunities and wide-open vistas. The plan presented by architect Andres Duany of DPZ CoDesign leaves the Big Blue power plant building in place in hopes of someday attracting a major hotel and conference center, but in the meantime plots out rental cabins in an oval around a large swimming pool that would be accessible to the public as well as to guests. “It’s a very conservative plan,” Duany told the committee, saying that the site is a natural winner in an age when sunshine and sea breezes are major assets that make people more comfortable going out in public as the coronavirus continues to circulate. The venue, as configured, would be unique to Vero. READ FULL STORY


EEOC closes probe of allegations of racial discrimination in County Tax Collector’s Office
week of August 6, 2020

Unable to uncover enough evidence to take action, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has closed its investigation into allegations of racial discrimination against County Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan. At the same time, the EEOC issued Ketonya Curtis – a former Sebastian branch office supervisor who resigned from the Tax Collector’s Office in April 2019 – a requested “Notice of Right to Sue,” which gives her 90 days to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Jordan’s agency in federal court. Curtis said last week she was “looking forward to taking legal action,” but she needed to raise enough money to pay her Altamonte Springs-based attorney, Iyada Jackson, who represented her when she filed her complaint with the EEOC in July 2019. Jordan, who is seeking re-election in the Republican primary later this month, responded to the EEOC’s action in a statement issued through Vero Beach attorney Robert Nall, legal counsel for the Tax Collector’s Office: “The EEOC concluded their investigation and announced a ‘termination of process.’ This means that EEOC has investigated and found it was not worthy of moving forward on the complainant’s behalf. The former employee reserves the right to sue in a court of law, but it will be of her own accord and expense.” READ FULL STORY


57 cases of COVID-19 – and 5 deaths – at Sea Breeze
week of July 30, 2020

The wave of coronavirus infections swamping Indian River County senior care facilities appeared to have crested this past week. Three nursing homes that consistently rank at the bottom of Medicare’s Star ratings – Sea Breeze Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Consulate Health Care and Palm Garden – as of Monday reported a combined total of 60 patients and 32 staff members currently infected with COVID-19. The largest publicly reported outbreak in the county was at Sea Breeze, which peaked on Friday with 39 active cases among residents and 18 infected staff members. Five of those infected at Sea Breeze died. “We have opened up a COVID unit so we can take care of our patients here, and we are setting up something with Cleveland Clinic when people are getting sick enough that we can’t manage them,” said Sea Breeze’s director of nursing, Steven Pendleton. “It’s going to be the new normal around here,” said Pendleton, an RN for the past 37 years who joined the staff of Sea Breeze only recently. “None of us have ever dealt with this before. We’re doing the best we can to take care of our patients.” READ FULL STORY


County buys 20 thermometers for $2,200 each
week of July 30, 2020

For the past couple of months, as COVID-19 infections here have climbed week after week to an average of 55 new cases a day – with 10 more local residents aged 38 to 95 dying last week from complications of the virus – the Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River County Commission have done next to nothing. We thought that was as bad as it could get. Now we almost want to beg them to just go back to doing nothing. Indian River County got a few million dollars in CARES Act money and they needed to figure out what to spend it on. Lo and behold, they found some $2,200 thermometers to buy to protect themselves from sick people potentially coming into county buildings to take care of business or attend a meeting. More than $44,000 spent on no-touch thermometers!! Many businesses or families have probably purchased these gadgets in recent months. How much did you pay for yours? READ FULL STORY


Community group advocates for mask-wearing during pandemic
week of July 30, 2020

Vero resident Tess Whelan seems to have a better sense than local governments what side of the mask debate most county residents come down on. The group she founded, Mask Wearing Establishments Indian River County, saw a surge in new members after County Commissioners Bob Solari, Joe Flescher and Tim Zorc last week formed a 3-2 majority to vote down an ordinance making masks mandatory after a handful of anti-maskers showed up at commission chambers. “The day the county commissioners voted down the mask mandate, we grew by 600, which is exciting because it’s a bipartisan group,” said Whelan, noting her embarrassment that Indian River County had garnered national attention as the first county to vote down a mask mandate. The Vero Beach City Council last week declined even to vote on the issue. The lack of local government action came a week after U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that if all Americans wore a mask, the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought under control in weeks. READ FULL STORY


Retired Vero fighter pilot aims to bring down Congressman Posey
week of July 30, 2020

Even though he is a political newcomer, Vero Beach’s Scott Caine brings impressive credentials to his run for Congress as he tries to knock off longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in the upcoming Republican primary. He’s a staunch conservative who supports a balanced budget and term limits, and proudly identifies himself as pro-gun and pro-life. He’s also a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot whose 30 years of military service included multiple combat missions and several command-level assignments. As the Orlando Sentinel wrote in endorsing the Vero Beach High School graduate in his party’s August primary for the 8th Congressional District seat: “Caine checks a lot of boxes …” And Caine’s campaign has deposited a lot of checks: He has raised more than $160,000 since he announced his candidacy in April – during a worsening coronavirus pandemic – with 90 percent of that money coming from individual donors. So, you can’t blame him for being optimistic about his chances, even against an entrenched incumbent with lots of cash. READ FULL STORY


Conceptual plan for less ambitious version of Centennial Place to be unveiled Friday
week of July 30, 2020

Vero Beach residents who want to know the final details of the riverfront redevelopment plan they will be voting up or down in November should tune in at 10:30 a.m. Friday as the latest plan is discussed. The discussion will be aired on Municipal Channel 13 and will be live streamed at www.covb.org. Those who cannot attend in person can submit comments and questions to the City Council before and during the meeting by going to the website www.covb.org and searching for “public comment.” A fill-in form is available on the Forms page. The City Council voted last week to move forward with a Nov. 3 referendum on the conceptual plan, which if approved would give Vero officials the authority to lease portions of the power plant site protected under the city charter. After more than a year of planning, a carefully crafted, 75-word ballot item will pose a simple and descriptive choice to voters, who will then vote yes or no, to approve or derail the proposal. What’s built must be substantially similar to the plan approved by council. READ FULL STORY


New owner plans to take Fairlane Harbor mobile home community to ‘the next level’
week of July 30, 2020

Regardless of what Vero Beach officials decide to do with the city’s sewage treatment plant, Fairlane Harbor will remain a mobile home community for the foreseeable future, the new owners of the lagoon-front property said last week. In fact, a representative of the Virginia-based real-estate investment firm that purchased Fairlane Harbor from Vero Beach’s Stawara family for $36 million earlier this month said his group is preparing to embark on a series of upgrades, additions and other improvements to the 31-acre, 232-lot community, which adjoins the sewer plant property. “When Frank Stawara bought this property 50 years ago, his original vision was to develop and build an affordable, 55-and-over, coastal-living, mobile-home community for Vero Beach,” said Bob Miller, chief executive officer of MHM Communities, which partnered with Capital Square Realty Advisors to purchase and operate Fairlane Harbor. “We’re going to take it to the next level,” he added. “Our plan is to make everything nicer and better and, in some cases, newer. And when we’re finished, we’ll be proud to have anyone in Vero Beach drive through, knowing they’ll be impressed.” READ FULL STORY


Community needs assessment finds many families struggling
week of July 30, 2020

A year-long assessment of human need in Indian River County has found a huge gap between family income and the cost of living for many families, and concluded that the cost of daycare during the pandemic is a time bomb that could tip some families into homelessness. The assessment also found that many older residents, especially women, are living in or near poverty, often in squalid, substandard housing. It was in June last year that several Indian River County funding organizations, along with government and community leaders, began compiling a comprehensive Indian River County Community Needs Assessment – the first of its kind since 2008. The purpose was to identify unmet needs and community strengths in five focus areas: services for children, economic opportunity and employment, health, housing and seniors. The report was completed in June 2020 and, while the data collected was primarily pre-pandemic, it highlights problem areas likely to worsen due to the pandemic. “COVID has accelerated the need and increased the volume of people that are in need right now,” says Jeff Pickering, Indian River Community Foundation president/CEO, who envisions updates to the report as needed. READ FULL STORY


Confederate flag ban signals new era for county schools
week of July 30, 2020

The school district last week banned display of the confederate flag on campus and held its first Equity in Action conference as part of the new superintendent’s crusade to boost the performance of African-American students. In addition to banning the confederate flag at school events and instituting more inclusive policies, Superintendent David Moore said the district will update disciplinary procedures to minimize out-of-school suspensions and coach unruly students to behave. “I promise you I will make the difficult decisions to stand in a righteous place with equity,” Moore said during the conference at Storm Grove Middle School. At the Friday conference, two African-American high school students and a recent graduate told an audience of more than 100 attendees they felt excluded from academic programs and extracurricular activities. The students also described feeling fear and confusion when white Vero Beach High School students displayed the confederate flag on their attire on campus or on their vehicles with impunity. The school district has been under a federal desegregation order since 1967 and was instructed by a federal judge in January to intensify efforts to integrate and bring greater equity to the schools. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases soar, but fewer are hospitalized
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County had one major positive development this week – our current COVID-19 hospitalizations are way down, from 35 to a more manageable 21 patients. The real-time, daily count of how many patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 is a hugely important number because just one week ago that number was stretching the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital very thin. Caring for pandemic patients is not so much a matter of bed space or equipment; the COVID unit requires significantly more staffing for the same number of patients. “We have increased nurse staffing by 30 percent in our COVID units, which allows us to reduce the number of patients assigned to each nurse in both the ICU and non-ICU settings,” said hospital spokesperson Scott Samples. “We have also increased nursing supervision in the COVID units to ensure any needs that arise can be addressed in a timely manner. We have seen an increase in support staffing as well. READ FULL STORY


With COVID-19 surging, any return to classrooms postponed by two weeks
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County’s 17,000 public school students will now have another two weeks off before returning to class, whether they choose to attend in person or at home via computer. Rising COVID-19 infection rates prompted Schools Superintendent David Moore to push back the reopening date to Aug. 24 to allow more time for planning and preparations. “We cannot rush an opening of schools,” Moore said Monday during a Facebook Live presentation. “We cannot use children as an experiment. “Their instruction is too valuable, it is too important. We need to get this right on Day One.” There has been a steady upward trend in new COVID-19 cases in Indian River County during the past 45 days, records show. An additional 390 people test tested positive for COVID-19 in the county in the past week, a 31 percent increase, bringing the total to 1,649 cases. The virus has killed 25 people in Indian River County and hospitalized 113 others. READ FULL STORY


Getting a swab stuck up my nose at the Indian River County fairgrounds
week of July 23, 2020

I’ve attended all sorts of events at the Indian River County Fairgrounds over the years, but a week ago I headed to one of my favorite venues not to enjoy a soccer game, antique show, canine agility trial, or the iconic Firefighters Fair – but to have a cotton swab stuck up my nose. When I pulled up to the check-in line at about 8:15 a.m., there were 100 or so cars and pick-ups ahead of me queueing for drive-through coronavirus testing, administered by Treasure Coast Community Health. A friendly attendant was handing everyone a paper explaining how to get online test results after the test, along with a colorful brochure featuring a duck wearing sunglasses. Pointing to the back of the line, a few hundred yards across the field, the man said cheerfully, “Just follow that car. Sorry about the wait.” READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach postal employee tests positive for COVID-19
week of July 23, 2020

Getting stuck in a long line at the post office used to just be a pain in the neck, but in the age of COVID-19, it could be a bit risky as the virus has made its way to the main Vero postal hub in the 1500 block of U.S. 1. “The U.S. Postal Service has learned that an employee at the Vero Beach Main Post Office tested positive for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” said spokesman David Walton on Friday. “We are in the process of reaching out to the local public health office and will follow the guidance they provide. “We believe the risk is low for employees who work at the Vero Beach Main Post Office, but we will keep our employees apprised as new information and guidance becomes available.” The postal service did not release this information proactively, but confirmed it after a reader tipped off Vero Beach 32963 reporters. Walton would not elaborate beyond the confirmation, so it’s unknown if the employee worked in close contact with customers at the counter, sorting in the back or delivering mail. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach restaurants struggling to survive the pandemic
week of July 23, 2020

Four months into the coronavirus pandemic, local restaurateurs are experiencing a slowdown that greatly exceeds Vero’s customary summer dining doldrums. With an uptick in guests over the 4th of July weekend, many thought things were on their way back to a normal Vero summer. But a recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases has put a damper on dining out even more than the deluge of summer thunderstorms. Things were going well when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced restaurants could open with 50 percent capacity in Phase II of the state’s reopening plan, says Dario Bordoli, proprietor of Trattoria Dario. Over Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the 4th of July weekend, Bordoli says he and his staff were so busy they had to stop taking to-go orders to keep up. “Business was good for summertime. Now, in the last 10 days, business has slowed down. So far, we have been lucky. We haven’t gotten sick. We’re trying to stay healthy and take care of the people who come in,” says Bordoli. READ FULL STORY


Fairlane Harbor mobile home park sold for $36 million
week of July 23, 2020

A half century after Frank Stawara Sr. purchased the riverfront land that became the Fairlane Harbor mobile home community for a price believed to be less than $100,000, he and his family have sold the property to a Virginia-based real estate investment firm for $36 million. Speculation about the future of Fairlane Harbor and its 232 home sites has been rampant since the Vero Beach City Council voted earlier this year to move the neighboring sewage-treatment plant off the Indian River Lagoon and utilize the property as part of a new waterfront dining and entertainment complex. The Stawaras, who acquired the 31-acre parcel in 1969, sold it earlier this month to Capital Square Realty Advisors, a firm that specializes in tax-advantaged real estate investments, according to the Indian River County Property Appraiser’s Office. Frank Stawara could not be reached for comment, but his son, Joey, who has been managing Fairlane Harbor’s operations, called selling the property a “bittersweet experience” in an email relayed to Vero Beach 32963 through an attorney. READ FULL STORY


County faces loss of $17 million for repairing beaches
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County has only about half the property owner agreements it needs by Oct. 1 to move forward with repairs to 9 miles of hurricane-eroded beaches on the barrier island. If that deadline isn’t met, the county could lose as much as $17 million in state and federal grants, and be set back years in its beach replenishment program. County officials say they are on track to get the needed signatures, but the North Beach Civic Association is worried. Fearful of seeing two major beach repair projects stymied, the group is waging a publicity blitz aimed at securing easements from private property owners needed to complete beach renourishment. Civic Association President Tuck Ferrell says he and his members have sent an email blast to 630 beach property owners, and plan to go door to door if necessary, to secure easement agreements. “We’re really interested in getting the project done,” Ferrell said. “It protects the shoreline and it protects people's homes. If a storm washes inland, it could really do some damage if we don't have the barrier island dune. Without good dune protection, insurance rates will go up. The turtles won’t have a place to nest. Having a dune is critical.” READ FULL STORY


Marina expansion moves ahead despite objections by Moss
week of July 23, 2020

Vice Mayor Laura Moss thinks Vero Beach should throttle back on its ambitious, $30 million marina redevelopment plan because it was envisioned in a pre-COVID-19 economy, and portions of the plan were discussed and approved while city residents were under a stay-at-home order. If fully implemented, the expansion would expand the marina from its current capacity of 173 vessels to 236 vessels, plus provide dry storage space for another 29 vessels, along with improved parking and amenities for marina customers. The marina improvements came up last Thursday as part of the City Council’s workshop on its 2020-21 operating budget. When Marina Director Sean Collins got up to talk about the municipal marina’s budget, Moss questioned why the city should spend more money designing and permitting the multi-phase revamp and expansion in the current state of economic uncertainty. Moss was the sole vote against moving forward with the Marina Master Plan on March 17, saying she wanted to bring the matter back when the public would have the opportunity to comment. READ FULL STORY


County moves on mandatory masks but Vero resists
week of July 16, 2020

Five more deaths, plus the doubling of confirmed COVID-19 infections over the past two weeks to a total of nearly 1,300 cases in Indian River County, may be what it finally took to force the County Commissioners Tuesday to take up a sensible proposal for mandatory face masks. If the surging case counts and deaths weren’t enough to persuade county and city leaders that it was time to show some leadership, a brand-new state report Monday on real-time COVID-19 hospitalizations showed that at press time, 34 people were hospitalized here with the virus. Never before in the coronavirus pandemic have we seen this many people so seriously ill from COVID-19 in our community. But despite all this, the County Commission rejected the mandatory mask ordinance on a 3 to 2 vote. READ FULL STORY


Long-term care’s lonely lockdown extended to Sept. 5
week of July 16, 2020

As Florida’s governor focuses on reopening schools, he has also quietly extended the ban on visitors to long-term care centers until Sept. 5. The lockdown means visits from friends and family continue to be banned, and residents are not allowed to take field trips outside of the facility. “The new ruling is disappointing, but after what we’ve been through, we support that decision,” said Don Wright, chairman of the board of the Senior Resource Association and owner of Rosewood Manor, a 50-bed assisted living facility that exploded with more than 20 cases of COVID-19 after results of mass testing never made it back to the care home. “There is no doubt: These people are vulnerable,” Wright said. The move to extend the long-term care lockdown came with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order last Tuesday continuing the state of emergency in Florida for another 60 days. While all the talk lately has been of young people getting COVID-19, case numbers have been rapidly rising statewide in senior care facilities, up 70 percent in just two weeks. READ FULL STORY


Kids and COVID-19: Pediatricians not sure what lies ahead if schools reopen
week of July 16, 2020

Children have been mostly out of circulation since March – no school, no play dates, no birthday parties, no visiting grandparents – and only 1 percent of Indian River County’s youngest residents have been tested for the novel coronavirus, so pediatricians like Dr. Karen Westberry aren’t quite sure what to expect when schools reopen in less than a month. Normally, Westberry said, the separate sick-kid treatment areas at Nemours Children’s Primary Care in Vero Beach begin to fill up about two weeks after school resumes in August. That’s when all the garden-variety maladies are swapped and spread as kids come together after being apart all summer. Whether the novel coronavirus will spread like this in the initial weeks of school and wreak havoc in the greater community is the big question. Government officials say the risk of COVID-19 to kids is “extremely low” because so far, the statistics show very few children wind up hospitalized or dead from the virus. To date, only four Florida children have died from complications of COVID-19. Based upon that – and the need for parents to get back to work – schools have been mandated to open in August. READ FULL STORY


Schools say most kids here will return to their classrooms in August
week of July 16, 2020

Nearly 90 percent of Indian River County’s 17,000 students are expected to return to their classrooms on Aug. 10 despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, while the other 10 percent opt for virtual schooling, according to school officials. Free cloth face coverings and disposable face masks will be provided to all students, Schools Superintendent David Moore said Friday while presenting the latest plans for reopening schools. “Face coverings should be worn when social distancing is not possible,” Moore said during a July 10 Facebook live presentation. Teachers will be equipped with plastic face shields so they can communicate safely and effectively with students, Moore said. The first eight days of the school year will be used to teach students the new health and safety procedures, monitor how the new system is working and make adjustments as problems arise, Moore said. A team of local pediatricians was scheduled to meet with school district officials Wednesday to critique the procedures for handling students who present COVID-19 symptoms, Moore said. READ FULL STORY


Island hotels having surprisingly good summer despite pandemic
week of July 16, 2020

From South Beach to Ocean Drive, island hotels and timeshare resorts are having a surprisingly good summer, all things considered, with busy weekends and overall business close to the benchmark set in 2019 at most establishments. Business was way off in March and April but rebounded in May and June, hoteliers say, a trend that is continuing in July, with Florida residents filling rooms despite an increase in coronavirus cases here in recent weeks. Chad Olson, Costa d’Este general manager, notes an interesting dynamic about activity at his hotel this summer. While overall bookings are on pace with last year, food and beverage spending is up substantially, which he credits to people wanting to get out of the house. “They’re dining, they’re eating. They’re feeling comfortable. If they’re going to travel right now, people want to be outdoors. They want to be at the beach,” he adds. Olson says Costa’s summertime guests typically are Florida residents and even more so this year when many people are hesitant about air travel. Many guests are booking at the last minute, which helps the hotel. READ FULL STORY


New Sebastian hospital wing nears completion at critical time
week of July 16, 2020

Two years past its original announced completion date, Sebastian River Medical Center is close to finishing up a significant expansion project. Initiated by its former owner in August 2016, the 90,000-square-foot expansion will add hospital beds to the county’s total tally at a potentially critical time – even if it opens up patient rooms in phases, as officials have said is the plan. “It is our responsibility to grow with the community,” said Daniel Knell, president of Steward Health Care’s Florida market. In a statement, Steward called the project “completed,” though it has only a temporary certificate of occupancy and has not cleared final inspection with the state agency that oversees hospital construction projects. Neither the hospital nor Steward would clarify the status of the project or offer an opening date. Building officials say the hospital is claiming the pandemic is behind the push to open, even though Sebastian River as a rule has not been admitting COVID-19 patients. READ FULL STORY


Vero will rely on reserves to meet city’s budget needs
week of July 16, 2020

Every municipal budget in the Florida is in flux as the local-share numbers for sales tax and gas tax receipts diminished by COVID-19 are due out by Friday, but it looks like the City of Vero Beach will be able to afford all the essentials, plus salary increases and eight additional employees in October without a tax rate hike – if the City Council balances the $25.2 million budget using its rainy-day fund. State revenue sharing plus the local-option gas and sales taxes amount to about $3.6 million, or 14 percent of the city’s general fund budget, according to City Manager Monte Falls and Finance Director Cindy Lawson. Those receipts for March to date are expected to take a hit, but how much was not known when the first draft of the budget was finalized in preparation for two days of budget workshops this Wednesday and Thursday. READ FULL STORY


County projects $5.5 million hit to revenue but no cut in services
week of July 16, 2020

The economic damage suffered locally from the coronavirus pandemic has put a noticeable dent in the county’s coffers. Even though official budget numbers aren’t out yet, county officials project a loss of at least $5.5 million in receipts – from local taxes, state revenue sharing and various fees, including impact fees for new construction – for the current fiscal year because of the COVID-19 crisis, which prompted a six-week shutdown of non-essential businesses in March and April. However, County Administrator Jason Brown said last week no reduction in services is planned. “It’s a significant loss, but we’ve been tightening our belts and cutting costs where we can, and we also have reserve funds in hand to cover the rest, so we’ll be able to absorb it,” Brown said, adding that he has imposed a limited hiring freeze and staff travel ban to reduce spending. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach High holds unique graduation for class of 2020
week of July 16, 2020

Vero Beach High School seniors who persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic were rewarded with unique dual graduation ceremonies last Friday at Billy Livings Field. Several hundred members of the Fighting Indians class of 2020 spread out in the stands for a “seniors only” graduation ceremony Friday morning featuring the traditional speeches and diploma procession with women wearing white caps and gowns and men wearing red ones. Friday evening, after a brief rain delay, hundreds of graduates participated in a drive-through ceremony, rolling up to the stage in the middle of the football field for another diploma walk while friends and family in vehicles cheered and took photos. Several seniors told Vero Beach 32963 said they were glad to have a chance to see their classmates one last time in the morning and celebrate with family and friends in the evening. READ FULL STORY