UPDATE: Consultant clears first hurdle to study utility merger

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The recommended consultant chosen to study the possibility of a water and wastewater merger between Indian River County and the City of Vero Beach cleared the first of three hurdles today.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously supported proceeding with negotiations with GAI Consultants, of Orlando. The next step is for the City of Vero Beach and the Town of Indian River Shores to approve the recommendation as well. After the governments’ approval, the joint utility advisory committee expects to meet on March 18 to work out the scope of the study and get a more detailed cost, County Utilities Director Erik Olson told commissioners.

“Hopefully, we’ll move forward very quickly,” after that, he said, adding that they expect to have the study complete by late Spring or early Summer.

Commissioner Joe Flescher said he was impressed with the committee’s recommendation and had reviewed the committee’s selection process.

He added that he believed GAI was selected “almost overwhelmingly” over the other four bidders, including Post Buckley Shuh and Jernigan, of Tampa, which is the current employer of recently retired top county public works official Jim Davis.

Both of the county’s representatives on the joint committee, Olson and Budget Director Jason Brown, had ranked PBS&J over GAI.

GAI Consultants has had successful projects in Ocala and Royal Palm Beach and various counties including Broward, St. Lucie, Dade and Marion.

Representatives told the committee that, if hired, they would have two people stationed locally to work with the stakeholders – each of the local governments. The team would include an attorney, an appraiser, and a grant specialist.

The Vero Beach City Council is set to take up the recommendation on March 16, while the Town of Indian River Shores will consider the list at a special call meeting on March 11.

The utility committee is expected to meet on Thursday, March 18, to report back what their respective government boards had to say about the rankings.

The other applicants include Carollo Engineers, of Sarasota, and Wade Trim, of Tampa, both of which tied for third place, and Keith & Schnars of Fort Lauderdale. The committee eventually ranked Carollo Engineers higher than Wade Trim to break the tie.

Currently, the Indian River Shores and the Board of County Commissioners have 30-year franchise agreements with the City of Vero Beach for water, wastewater and irrigation water service, expiring in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Each contract has a five-year notification clause, meaning the Town of Indian River Shores must notify the city as to its intentions about renewing the franchise by October 2011. The county must make its decision by March 2012.

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