VERO BEACH — At least two Vero Beach City Council members say it’s time to once again address the possibility of farming out city water and sewer services to the county, a move that would pave the way to clear the sewage treatment plant from the southeast corner of the Indian River and the 17th Street intersection.
If the two sides can come to an agreement over price and conditions, and the Vero Beach electric plant is sold and finally torn down, the city could turn the bridge area into spectacular public space with potentially some private attractions and enterprises.
“The goal is to beautify the Alma Lee Loy (17th Street Bridge) and have a fitting tribute to that marvelous lady,” said City Councilwoman Pilar Turner.
Turner listed the possible sale of the water/sewage plant as an option to explore on her list of goals for an upcoming workshop Feb. 12.
While Mayor Craig Fletcher didn’t mention the sewage plant on his list of goals for the upcoming year, he did tell a group of Democratic women he spoke to at a luncheon at Pointe West recently that the plant at the foot of the bridge needs to go.
“After this (the power sale), next we are going to get rid of that horrible sewer plant,” Fletcher said.
Should there be enough support on City Council to explore the plan – which City Manager Jim O’Connor said was one of his charges when he was hired – there will still be the issue of working out a deal both the city and county can live with.
A couple of years ago, the county suggested it was willing to put $24 million on the table to take over the Vero Beach water and sewer utility and tear down the sewage facility.
At the time, former Mayor Jay Kramer suggested that doing so was like giving away the bank. A consultant report subsequently put the value of the utility much higher.
As talks began to fall apart, both the city and county have eyed South Beach and what may happen with the end in 2017 of a 30-year franchise agreement where the city provides water and sewer service to that unincorporated area.
Both sides want the South Beach customers, and some have suggested the battle is likely to end in a courtroom showdown.
The county, which has capacity to take on thousands of more customers after overbuilding its system in anticipation of a building boom that didn’t materialize, would like to add more customers.
The city of Vero Beach, which invested in the infrastructure needed to service customers outside of the city limits, claims it needs a far better offer.
“It’s been a long arduous process,” said Turner. “But I think rational minds will prevail.”
O’Connor said he was willing to continue talks with the county, but pulled back in December when state Rep. Debbie Mayfield – at the county’s urging – announced plans to introduce legislation that would bar cities from extending utility lines outside of their borders without prior approval of counties. Her bill also would likely address previously laid infrastructure.
“We are going to have to wait and see,” O’Connor said.
One way to tell what the county residents using the city’s municipal water and sewer service think should come in March, when the results of a survey sent to thousands of South Beach residents are released.
The survey is pretty straightforward. It asks customers if they would chose to stay with the city or go with the county after the city contract expires in 2017.
County commissioners met with several dozen members of the South Beach Property Owners Association recently and encouraged them to keep an eye out for the survey which is being sent by mail.