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Shores seeks help from consultant in exploring its water-sewer options

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of March 18, 2021)

In two and a half years, Indian River Shores must decide whether its breach of contract dispute with the City of Vero Beach Utilities over water rates is reason to move on to a different utility partner.

To help inform that decision, the Shores was preparing to hire a consulting firm to explore the town’s options.

The Shores’ 15-year water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero is up for renewal in October 2027, and it requires a four-year termination notice if the Shores opts to join Indian River County Utilities instead.

County officials bid for the Shores’ business in 2011 but with growth countywide, and Vero’s water infrastructure in the town a decade older, it’s unclear if the county still has the desire or the ability to serve Indian River Shores in 2027 and beyond.

Shores Councilman John McCord gave Vero an ultimatum last month, urging Vero to consolidate services with Indian River County or threatening that the Shores would exit Vero’s system in 2027.

But the likelihood of the two rival utilities cooperating is slim because Vero would lose a lucrative and much-needed source of revenue, and county officials stated years ago that they’re not enticed by the idea of taking on Vero’s aging utility infrastructure.

So now the Shores must determine if it can follow through on McCord’s words.

“The town needs to know if it can connect to the Indian River County system and if so, at what cost,” Interim Town Manager Heather Christmas wrote in a council memo for Tuesday’s meeting.

Town staff asked the Tampa-based ARCADIS consulting firm, which it used to analyze the state of the town’s current utility services, what it would cost to do the research and come back with options, a task ARCADIS said it can do for $121,320.

“The study would look at current and future flows for the town, available capacity at county facilities, including treatment plants and pipelines, possible pipeline routes, and an estimated cost for connections,” Christmas said.

ARCADIS proposes to spend the next few months on the project, coming up with a list of permits that would be needed for the change in September and a cost estimate in October.

If the council approved funds for the study, ARCADIS said it could finish the work and deliver a final report by mid-January, giving town officials more than a year to decide what to tell Vero Beach in October 2023.

Indian River County spokesperson Kathleen Keenan said “the county is aware that the Town Council of Indian River Shores has proposed a feasibility study on the Town’s water service. If the Town Council approves the study, the item would then go before the County Commission for consideration.”