Indian River Shores, County frustrations on water deal boils over

INDIAN RIVER SHORES – Growing frustration between Indian River Shores and the county on a water and sewer deal has officially boiled over.

Shores Mayor Bill Kenyon did not mince words last week in answering a citizen’s question about what’s happening with utilities in the Town and he blasted County officials in the process.

But apparently, the Shores and the City of Vero Beach’s own infrastructure inventories may be the hold up.

Ocean Colony resident Phillip O’Reilly came to the Town Council meeting along with the home owners association treasurer representing about 30 families, and said he just wanted to know where things stood.

As the treasurer put it, they wanted to “register their dissatisfaction with Vero Beach Utilities.”

In response, Kenyon put into words something officials and ratepayers in Vero, the Shores and the South Beach have been wondering lately – what is the County doing to capitalize on the opportunity to take over service to the Shores and possibly consolidate its utilities with the Vero city system?

Not much, according to Kenyon.

He said water and especially reuse water are big-ticket concerns to the Shores, since communities like Bermuda Bay use 5 million gallons of reuse water per month and John’s Island alone uses 1 million gallons per day of the non-potable water for irrigation.

“We have done everything you can imagine to get some kind of status report from the County,” said Kenyon. “The staff people are saying that the documents have been created but haven’t been approved by the County Commissioners.”

“Do you want to make a deal or don’t you?” Kenyon asked of the County, though no one from the County was present.

Kenyon focused the blame on the Board of County Commissioners – claiming money from Shores residents elected three of them – and was even more critical of Chairman Bob Solari, who represents the south barrier island and Vero Beach. “A chap by the name of Bob Solari, obviously he is not our friend,” Kenyon said. “He’s sat right there and said he is our friend, but obviously he is not our friend.”

Solari dismissed Kenyon’s outburst saying he’s doing all he can for barrier island residents including the Shores, which is just outside his district.

Although the County has yet to make a formal pitch to the Shores, Utility Director Erik Olson did respond to the Shores in a letter dated Dec. 10.

That letter pointed out discrepancies in the data sent to the County that had been generated by GAI Consultants.

Olson said his review indicated a disparity between what the city thinks it owns in the way of utility infrastructure in the Shores, and what the Shores believes it owns.

“This difference would need to be reconciled,” Olson said.

Olson, it turns out, hasn’t received a response from the Shores to his concerns in nearly two months.

“I did speak with (Shores Town Manager) Richard Jefferson after he received the letter and he seemed to acknowledge that there may be some discrepancies,” Olson said.

Amid controversy over a conflict of interest with GAI Consultants working for both the Shores and Vero, the Shores ceased using GAI. GAI is still working for Vero on its water and sewer franchise issues.

To service the Shores with water, sewer and potentially reuse water, the County would have to negotiate to either purchase or get rights to use City of Vero Beach utility assets located within the Town.

There are many legal questions about whether any or all of those city-owned assets revert to the Town at the close of the 30-year franchise in 2016.

The County needs to know what assets must be purchased if the Shores terminates its contract with the city, who owns them, and who will own them in the future.

Despite this latest dust-up, Solari said he’s confident that, when all the data is finally laid out on the table, the Shores will see that the County is a better long-term bet as its water and sewer utility provider.

He said he had productive talks with Kenyon himself last year, before Jefferson took over the helm as Town Manager.

Utility activist Dr. Stephen Faherty, who served on the now defunct County Utility Advisory Committee, said he’s done some checking of his own to determine the cause of the hold up.

“One of the reasons the county hasn’t moved on this is that the numbers they got from the City of Vero are so bad,” Faherty said. “There are all sorts of questions about the numbers. They can’t base a proposal on it. So the county has to do its own analysis similar to what was done with GAI.”

City of Vero Beach Vice Mayor Pilar Turner has been struggling for nearly three months to get a 10-year projection of rates from Water and Sewer Utility Director Rob Bolton.

Bolton told her 10 years was impossible and gave Turner some figures for five years.

Turner sent the data back to Bolton for further clarification as the numbers didn’t seem to reconcile with information put forth by Public Resources Management Group.

The firm that did the city’s rate study in 2009 and recommended increases of $13 million over the next five years to meet operational and capital needs of the aging system.

The County is still pursuing options that would see it consolidate its water and sewer systems with Vero and is preparing to present its case on Feb. 15 to the Vero Beach City Council.

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