Postponed by Vero officials due to preparations for Hurricane Dorian, a mediation session in the utility dispute between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach is now scheduled for Oct. 25.
Indian River Shores claims Vero breached its 2012 water-sewer utility franchise agreement with the town when Vero refused to reduce Shores’ residents’ reuse irrigation water rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents in January after Indian River County reduced utility customers’ reuse rates to 21 cents.
The franchise agreement ties Shores’ rates to county rates, but Vero officials say the type of reuse water delivery the Shores receives is different from any service the county offers, and therefore the rate restriction does not apply.
The Shores Town Council also takes issue with the manner in which Vero has maintained, or failed to maintain, aging water lines within the oldest parts of the town and especially in John’s Island.
Vero’s attorney John Turner, when asked to clarify whether the session would be a mediation, or what is being termed a settlement meeting, said, “It’s a mediation under the terms of the franchise agreement. Whether it settles or not is anyone’s guess, and any settlement would have to approved by City Council at a public meeting.”
Trial attorney Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle is representing Indian River Shores, and the mediation is being held at the Vero offices of H. Randal Brennan, who represented Vero nearly a decade ago in a federal lawsuit filed by then-councilman Brian Heady while Heady was in office.
Turner said previously that he’s not positive whether Vero will decide to bring in outside legal help to work on the dispute, or whether he will represent the city. “I don’t have a final list of participants for the City but for now it will be (City Manager) Monte Falls, (water-sewer director) Rob Bolton and me,” Turner said.
Vero Beach Mayor Val Zudans is on record staunchly supporting the city’s position that it had the right under the existing franchise agreement to adjust rates for the “pressurized reuse” irrigation water it provides to Shores customers.
Shores Mayor Tom Slater said of the mediation, “Indian River Shores is proceeding with working out a settlement with Vero Beach. This is our primary goal at this time.”
After conferring with Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem, Shores Town Clerk Laura Aldrich said, “Chester and I agree, there will be no shade meeting since there is no pending litigation.”
The Shores has not filed a breach of contract suit against Vero yet – only put Vero on notice about its claims of breach, which started a 90-day cure period, which expired over the summer. The Shores’ franchise agreement with Vero binds the town to Vero Utilities until 2027.