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Council members reaffirm desire to move sewer plant off lagoon


Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle have only a couple of months left on the City Council before their terms end, but both said they will take action to lay groundwork for the City of Vero Beach to get its aging sewer plant off the Indian River Lagoon.

Two weeks ago, Vero Beach 32963 reported that city staff and hired consultants were still spending significant time, effort and money studying ways to refurbish and keep the sewer plant on the river, which contradicts long-standing direction given by previous city councils going back to 2011 and 2012 that the plant needs to be moved.

Zudans said he felt it was prudent to price out all the options for comparison, but he wants to make it clear that he has always envisioned Vero’s riverfront with the sewer plant gone as soon as possible, and said he resents any accusation he’s hedging on getting the sewage processing plant off the river.

“I expect to be getting a report on the minimal cost differences between building a new plant up to the improved environmental standards versus trying to rehabilitate the current plant. I will then be making a motion to instruct the city attorney to draft a formal resolution to make it official policy of the city of Vero Beach that we are proceeding with a new sewer site off the lagoon,” Zudans said last week in an email. 

“That policy will be voted on before the end of my term,” he said, adding that the action is necessary in light of the city hiring a planning firm to come up with ideas for how to develop the entire 38 acres of Centennial Place, a riverside tract that includes the sewer plant site.

Howle said on Monday that a big dose of leadership is now called for on this issue, similar to when all city resources were directed toward selling Vero electric.

He said the environmental hazard of having a vulnerable sewage treatment plant on the lagoon should be enough reason to move the project along, but the aesthetic concerns and planning options for the riverfront are also important factors.

“I think the City Council needs to say to the city manager and to [Water Sewer Director] Rob Bolton to take keeping the sewer plant on the river off the table and don’t put it back on but because it’s not an option,” Howle said.

“That’s where I’ve stood from the word ‘go’ – that we need to get this thing off the water.”

An Aug. 1 consultant’s report on preliminary study findings was on this Tuesday’s agenda for discussion. That report, now more than six weeks old, was first presented to the Utilities Commission, sparking criticism and concerns that city staff was veering from the mission of getting the sewer plant off the river.

Both Howle and Zudans said Vero also needs to engage Indian River County in frank discussions about the viability of consolidating the city and county utility systems.

Howle is more hopeful than Zudans that this could happen, though he expressed concerns that, in light of a recent state inspection report showing Vero’s water supply to be in “pitiful condition,” the county might not want to buy the city’s water and sewer utility.

Zudans cautioned that Vero would need to be fairly compensated, and that right now he does not see many obvious benefits or efficiencies for city residents.

As currently run, the water and sewer utilities are highly profitable for the city, pumping millions annually back into the Vero general fund to offset property taxes.