Exiting Indian River Shores officials give last thoughts on utilities

INDIAN RIVER SHORES — Due to term limits, Indian River Shores Mayor Bill Kenyon and Vice Mayor William Ahrens must leave the council with much work left undone and a deadline looming with regard to the future of the Town’s water, sewer and reuse water utilities.

The Town held a workshop Thursday to focus on this area, and then decided in the Town Council meeting immediately following to hold another workshop at 8 a.m. March 17 so the new council could pick up the mantel.

Utilities have been a topic of discussion with the Town Council for about two years leading up to November when the Town must notify the City of Vero Beach whether or not it wants to terminate, renegotiate or renew a 30-year franchise agreement to provide the Shores with water and wastewater services.

On March 9, two new members, Richard “Dick” Haverland and former Mayor Tom Cadden, will take seats on the dais. Both were in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.

Haverland and Cadden won the seats by default back in January after a third qualified candidate, Charles “Chuck” Wurmstedt, backed out of the race. The default election eliminated the need for Indian River Shores residents to go to the polls on March 8.

Also present were Vero Beach Mayor Jay Kramer, County Commissioner Joe Flescher, Indian River County Utiltiies Director Erik Olson and Indian River County Attorney Alan Polackwich.

The concept of a regionalized utility system was discussed at length and Kramer, Flescher and Olson were called upon to help find a solution to what has become a deadlocked process of exploring a cooperative effort to provide residents throughout the county with utilities.

Mayor Kenyon said the Town does not want to get “caught in the middle” between Vero Beach and the County on the issue.

“This is a little county, it’s not a big county,” Kenyon said. “It’s a little county with two water systems.”

“I wish they would talk and get it solved so we know what we can do,” said Shores Councilman Gerard Wieck. “I wish the two would get together and solve this for us.”

During the March 17 workshop, Town Manager Richard Jefferson said the Town will examine “line by line” a proposal hammered out with the City of Vero Beach for a new franchise agreement and the purchase of utility assets in the Town. It was agreed that representatives from John’s Island should be brought in on the discussion, as the community of 1,500 homes is the largest consumer of utilities in the Town.

The proposal from Vero Beach is the only one the Town has to look at presently, as Indian River County has not been able to submit a formal proposal due to what officials have described as “discrepancies” in financial data and assessments of infrastructure, as produced by GAI Consultants, which had been working for both Indian River Shores and Vero Beach.

The County responded to the Shores twice — on Dec. 10 and on Feb. 3 — asking for these discrepancies to be cleared up, but no further data has been forthcoming from the Shores, according to Indian River County Utilities Director Erik Olson.

Without that data, he said, the County is at a loss to submit a formal proposal, which would include an offer to purchase or use utility assets — some owned by the Town and some owned by Vero.

Councilwoman Fran Atchison said the thing she’s most concerned with is having “clean, pure water” when she turns on the faucet at her kitchen sink.

“I see only one provider for that,” she said, explaining that she meant the City of Vero Beach.

County Utilities Director Olson did not counter Atchison’s statement by citing water quality and safety data for the County system, as he was not formally on the agenda to do so and was not called upon regarding that issue.

The Shores has another pressing matter to consider in the future of reuse water for the Town. Currently, the County provides 750,000 gallons of reuse water per day to part of John’s Island. The City of Vero Beach provides millions of gallons of reuse water per month to other parts of the Town.

Unless an extension is requested, the Town has until Nov. 6 to notify Vero Beach of its intentions.

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