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Shores delays approval of John’s Island reuse water pipeline

Photo: The county’s 3-million-gallon effluent tank at 77th Street, near Old Dixie Highway.

Indian River Shores needs more time to review its utility pact with the City of Vero Beach before signing off on a plan for John’s Island and Indian River County to bring 1 million gallons of reuse irrigation water to the barrier island daily via a new 16-inch pipeline under the Indian River Lagoon.

The matter came up at the most recent Shores Town Council meeting, with representatives from the gated community and Indian River County Utilities – but not the City of Vero Beach – present.

Town Attorney Chester Clem said he wasn’t prepared to give the legal all-clear for the deal, because he wanted to make sure the town does not run afoul of a May 2012 renewal franchise agreement it signed with Vero for water, wastewater and reuse water.

“We need to get all the parties together and make sure everybody is in agreement, that we’re all on the same page,” Clem said, adding that a lawyer could read the documents in various ways.

On its face, the 2012 franchise agreement would appear to allow the Shores to have other providers of reuse water besides Vero Beach, but the document is a bit contradictory. Right after it states Vero’s “exclusive” right to provide water, wastewater and reuse water services within the Shores, designated the “Service Area” of the agreement on page 2 of the document, the next sentence says, “Indian River Shores May grant additional non-exclusive reuse water franchises to customers not currently being served by Vero Beach, and may grant further non-exclusive reuse water franchises within the John’s Island community.”

It was the consensus that the most important thing is to get reuse water to John’s Island without creating potential future legal issues with Vero

The proposed $6 million pipeline, which John’s Island will pay for, is needed because Vero Beach simply doesn’t have the volume of treated wastewater that John’s Island needs to keep its golf courses, lawns and common areas green. That forces John’s Island to rely on well water, which is subject to saltwater intrusion.

Residents within Vero proper are also clamoring for reuse water and are on a waiting list for it, so the supply issue will only get worse as more residents hook up to the limited supply.

Indian River County, on the other hand, is flush with reuse water from its expanding sewer system as homes and businesses are converted from septic tanks to sanitary sewers. The Board of County Commissioners approved sending 1 million gallons per day of the grayish, reuse water to John’s Island – and that’s where things get tricky.

John’s Island plans to build the pipeline and sign it over to the county when it’s completed. In exchange for the new utility asset that it doesn’t have to pay for, the county says it will give John’s Island Water Management the water for half-price. So not only would the county be selling water inside the town, but John’s Island Water Management would be buying the water in bulk from the county and reselling it to residents.

On top of that, distribution will expand beyond John’s Island to other communities in a future phase of the project, and when it does, John’s Island will receive a 25 percent cut of those proceeds.

All of those details, Clem said, could potentially be problematic in light of the franchise agreement with Vero and he wants to avoid costly surprises down the road. A close review of the 2012 agreement is needed, as well as clear, explicit agreement among all parties.