County asks Vero, Indian River Shores, Fellsmere for utility summit

By Debbie Carson, Online Editor

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Indian River County officials have asked representatives from Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and Fellsmere to participate in a utilities summit next week. Fellsmere and Indian River Shores have agreed to meet. Vero Beach’s participation could be decided Tuesday night when the council discusses it at its regular meeting.

County officials want to sit down with the three municipalities to discuss ways to make the water utilities more efficient.

The county has been trying to bring Vero Beach to the table to discuss the possibility of merging the two governments’ water systems. City officials have said that they would prefer to wait until November to get past the city’s 90th Birthday Celebration.

“I just hope they would be able to set aside a couple hours in their busy schedule,” said County Utilities Administrator Erik Olson of the Vero Beach council.

Olson said that the meeting would focus on two franchise agreements the county has with Indian River Shores and the south Barrier Island.

Part of that discussion also would focus on the possibility of merging Vero Beach’s water utility with the county’s.

City Councilman Bill Fish, who is running for re-election, has repeatedly said, with support of the city’s water and sewer manager, that the city’s and county’s systems are not compatible and could not be merged.

The Town of Indian River Shores has been asked to the meeting in part because it is a customer of Vero Beach utilities. Its agreement with Vero Beach is up in 2016 and could decide to go with the county for its utilities.

“Everything is a question of economics,” Olson said.

County officials have other plans for the City of Fellsmere. Instead of looking to merge its water system with Fellsmere’s, the county wants to work out a service agreement for the outlying areas along the Interstate 95 corridor.

Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker said that it makes sense for the city and county to partner in providing water services.

“It just makes sense to collaborate there,” Nunemaker said, noting that the city and county have not worked out the details for the possible collaboration.

Along with discussing a potential partnership, Nunemaker added that he is interested to see how Vero Beach and the county work together.

“We can learn from the process,” Nunemaker said, adding that the City of Fellsmere might have to consolidate services with the county sometime in the relatively distant future as water supply demands change.

Currently, Fellsmere does not compete with Indian River County in terms of water supply as the city draws water from the surficial aquifer while the county pulls from the deeper Floridan aquifer. That might change as more people move in and need water.

“We’re pretty far down the road on a decision,” Nunemaker said.

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