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Vero looking for new contractor to clean beaches

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY (Week of Decber 19, 2013)

A Daytona contractor who won a low-ball bid from Vero for beach clean-up has thrown in the towel after numerous complaints from lifeguards and residents and the city is now begging the old contractors who wanted to charge more to come back and take over the job again.

The whole beach saga seems like another lesson in “you get what you pay for.”

To the people at South Beach Park, the efforts of the Daytona Beach cleaning crew looked like something right out of a Keystone Cops comedy, but residents were fuming more than they were laughing.

Beachgoers shook their heads when they saw beach-raking vehicles more suited to the hard-packed Daytona Beach sand get bogged down in the soft white sand of South Beach.

Tangles of seaweed stretched along the shoreline as far as the eye could see last week as it became apparent the cleanup crew had given up on trying to rid the beach of the seaweed and debris that had washed ashore. There were also numerous craters where sand had been washed away along South Beach.

Further north at Jaycee Beach, beer bottles and large chunks of plastic littered the sand.

In its latest monthly report to the city, the Vero Beach Life Guard Association had voiced concern about the state of the beaches.

“With turtle nesting season over as of Nov. 1, beaches are to be raked and cleaned. However, the new contractor is having problems with equipment and knowledge resulting in less than adequate results,” the report said.

Several residents had also complained about the city’s decision last September to award the beach clean-up contract to the lowest bidder, Joe Faith of Volusia County, for $31,000 per season. That was substantially less than the $49,500 bid by the previous contractor, Treasure Coast Construction Management, which had the business since 2011 at $42,000 per season, but had asked for an increase at the end of its two-year contract.

Treasure Coast, apparently feeling it was out of the game, failed to provide a bid bond as an assurance that the company would enter into a contract should it get the bid.

One day after Vero Beach 32963 put in a public records request for emails regarding beach cleaning and clearing services, Faith Construction formally asked to be let out of its contract. In a three-sentence email dated Dec. 10, Faith said his crew would work only until the city finds a suitable alternate solution.

Monte Falls, the director of the city’s public works department, said two local companies that had provided the beach raking, smoothing and cleaning services for the last two decades have been asked to reapply for the job. Falls said the bids would be opened Thursday, Dec. 19, and he hopes a new crew can start in the New Year.

Falls said early on it was apparent that Faith’s group was having problems, but he and others in the city had hoped the problems would smooth out once the crew got a clear understanding of the island’s sand as well as the need for pristine beaches at all times, not just a day or two a week. 

The city agrees Faith was not living up to the contract’s expectations specifying that the beaches had to be cleaned at least two days a week, but ideally more. Faith also failed to provide weekly reports, as required in the contract.

“It is just a damn shame,” said Dave Myers a part-time resident of Seacove near South Beach Park.

Myers says he understand the competitive bid process and the city’s need to try to curb costs, but he says the city may have done more harm than good when it chose the out-of-town contractor. “The thing that bothers me the most is this beach – South Beach – is the biggest asset that Vero Beach has. This, in my opinion, is the best beach that Vero Beach has and it isn’t being cared for. “

Myers has had an oceanfront view of the beach for 10 years. He got used to watching the former crews diligently clean the beach well before arrival of beachgoers. What he saw for the past month or so was akin to a comedy.

He watched a worker attempt to hold a pitchfork full of seaweed straight out while trying to balance the raised trash buckets which are on swings. Putting the seaweed into the swinging trash bucket wasn’t working, but it was also an ill-conceived plan. The clean-up crew was supposed to empty the trash buckets, not fill them with seaweed.

“It was like I was watching a cartoon,” he said. But instead of laughing, Myers decided to take action and said he repeatedly called City Hall. “This has been dragging on and on and it shouldn’t be,” Myers said. “So far (Faith) has failed to come close to cleaning the beach.”

Myers and others said the former clean-up crews were working almost daily.