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FIT researchers apparently do not plan to proceed with Bethel Creek flushing study

STORY BY SUE COCKING (Week of November 19, 2020)

Florida Institute of Technology researchers apparently do not plan to proceed with a Phase 2 study of whether Vero’s polluted Bethel Creek would benefit from a one-way pump station flushing the creek with ocean water, according to outgoing County Commissioner Tim Zorc.

On his final day in office, Zorc – who championed flushing the creek for much of his eight-year term – said there were no indications FIT researchers would proceed with installing a pump and conducting the next phase of a study here.

Zorc released the executive summary of an $800,000 state-funded study by FIT professor Dr. Gary Zarillo and colleagues finding Bethel Creek and Brevard County’s stagnant Banana River Lagoon would benefit from a “temporary inflow pilot system” to improve water quality.

The researchers gathered baseline data and tested computer models of virtual dye to track controlled water exchanges between the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. They wanted to see to see if these simulated inflows would provide improved flushing and water quality within local lagoon compartments without negative impacts on marine creatures, sea grass and bottom sediments.

The study modeled a 5-cubic-meter-per second pump station in Bethel Creek that “flushed the creek in days with minimal impacts on salinity and temperature.”

The simulated pump station would have improved water quality in Bethel Creek, which originates on the barrier island near the Village Market and winds through residential neighborhoods connecting to the lagoon near the municipal marina. 

In 2017, a sewer main break along A1A spewed some 3 million gallons of raw sewage into the creek, dramatizing the need for better water exchange in the stagnant waterway.

But while the creek may seem an ideal site for the $912,000 Phase 2 of the FIT study – putting a temporary inflow pilot system and initiating the permitting process for a larger system – Zorc says there’s no indication it’s included. 

He said the focus appears to be on the Banana River Lagoon.

“I see them going in another direction that doesn’t include Bethel Creek,” he added.  

Zorc, who lost his re-election bid to Joe Earman earlier this month, said that he doesn’t know of anyone in local government here who will take over his cheerleading role. “I don’t know who’s behind me to pick it up,” he said.  

The Phase 1 modeling part of the FIT study was already underway in the Banana River Lagoon in 2019 when the researchers agreed to the Indian River County Commission’s request to add Bethel Creek as a test site.