By Lisa Zahner
VERO BEACH — A delegation of top county administrators and utilities managers met with Vero Beach City Manager Jim Gabbard and other city officials to discuss a proposal for the county to take over treating and disposing of the City’s wastewater Monday.
The meeting was the result of a study undertaken by the county at the request of the Utility Advisory Committee to assess the feasibility and cost of consolidating the systems and to see whether such a consolidation could save customers money on sewer bills, as the treatment of wastewater in bulk at the county plants is cheaper per gallon with more volume passing through the plants. The City of Vero Beach is currently looking at a 29.5 percent increase in wastewater rates beginning in October to offset the increased costs and reduced usage of its system due to conservation efforts combined with flat growth in the City.
“We believe we can save some money in the long run, and we can clearly work with the City to see if we can put some options together,” said Erik Olson, director of Indian River County Utilities Administration. “If there is a concerted effort where the parties say ‘Hey, let’s see what we can do’ it’s better than a single party.”
Olson said the time to undertake this type of project is now while costs for line projects are “50 cents on the dollar” from where they were a few years ago.
He also said there would most likely be grant money available to help fund the costs, as regional water management agencies look favorably on consolidation of wastewater treatment as it injects standardization and ease of regulation into the system. He said there is a “far more enhanced proabability of getting grants” if the City and County work together.
“The window of time for this type of thing will disappear over the next few years,” Olson said. “We will see if the City has any interest in going in this direction.”
The County currently has the capacity to treat 12 millions of gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater and is receiving 4.34 MGD from current customers. The City has a 4.5 MGD capactiy and is treating 3.2 MGD, according to figures provided by Michael Hotchkiss, the County’s capital projects manager at the August 6 Utilities Advisory Committee meeting.
Cost estimates, depending on whether the wastewater would be piped to the Central plant, the Western plant or a combination of both, ranged from $38 to $54 million. Olson said he thinks the actual costs would be lower.
“We have not had the opportunity to sit down with the City and say, ‘Let’s value engineer this,'” Olson said.
One of the things that prompted the County to look at the issue was a study commissioned by the City of Vero Beach in 2007 referred to as the Baskerville-Donovan Report. That report estimated it would cost $112 million to combine efforts with the County for wastewater treatment, nearly twice the County figure.
“When we put together a capital plan, we have a sound sense of what it takes to do a project,” Olson said. “This is our vision, our version of let’s throw something on the table. We took a conservative approach, looked at the worst case scenario.”
Olson said expanding the reach of the County system would not impact the current customers in rates.
“We’re not going to shed off any of these costs to the rate payers of Indian River County,” he said.
The meeting was not open to the public. This article will be updated as details from the meeting are released.