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Marina expansion moves ahead despite objections by Moss

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (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.

Responding to Moss last Tuesday, Councilman Joe Graves said that the city has already sunk more than $100,000 into the marina assessment and conceptual plans.

City Manager Monte Falls pointed out that the city and its consultants have written a grant application for money from the Florida Inland Navigation District, and have petitioned for the rights to more submerged lands under the Indian River Lagoon to add nearly 30 more mooring field spots for boaters to lease from the marina.

Collins said the rights to expand the mooring field would help the city ensure that boats moored in the lagoon get pumped out, instead of dumping sewage in the water, because those boaters would be tenants of the marina.

The project would also involve, if permitted, the dredging of 19,000 cubic yards of muck and riverbed to deepen the marina dock areas more than 2 feet to accommodate deeper-draft boats. 

As Moss continued to voice her concerns over the timing of the venture, Falls said it would be disheartening for the city and its Marine Commission to work so hard on plans to turn the marina into the world-class facility the City Council wanted, and then to have to shelve those plans.

The city budget was approved with the marina design and permitting included as there was no consensus on the council to stall implementation of the Marina Master Plan, but Moss will have a chance to protest the project every step of the way – at least until her current term ends in November.

Though the full-scale marina plan was developed last year, and vetted by the Marine Commission with public comment in early March before the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic took shape, all the work orders to make each phase of the project happen will need to come back before the council to be approved so dollars can be spent.

According to the plan, the potential for grant funding to cover a portion of the marina expansion costs is out there, but the grant money would come from state agencies, which could find themselves cash strapped in the coming fiscal year due to decreased tax revenue at the state level, and shifting budget priorities.

Cost to the city beyond grants was estimated at $5 million to $21 million.

The full, 119-page Marina Master Plan presentation can be found in the backup documents for the March 17 Vero Beach City Council meeting at under Government, Agendas and Minutes, City Council.