Was this a case of water management or water privilege?

COMMENTARY

Photo courtesy of Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County, Inc.

MILT THOMAS

Now that emotions have simmered, concerns have been mollified, and the issue settled, we can look back at what happened in yesterday’s somewhat contentious County Commission meeting. At issue was a permit request from John’s Island and its corporate entities to construct a pipeline for re-use water from the mainland to the John’s Island development. Construction would be paid for by John’s Island residents and then the project would be turned over to the county. For those who might not know, re-use water is non-potable, treated wastewater, acceptable for lawns but not people.

The major problem for many of those opposed to the permit was that the pipe would be installed 80 feet under the troubled Indian River Lagoon, creating the potential for an ecological disaster. Representatives from the Mosquito Control District also objected to the permit and indicated the potential for a legal dispute with the County if the permit was approved.

Was there any way for the Commission to come up with a decision that would satisfy all sides? Probably not, but that’s what democracy is all about.

First of all I should point out that a re-use water pipeline already exists from the mainland to the barrier island. You may have seen it attached to the CR510 Causeway Bridge, not under the Lagoon.

So why did the JI folks even propose this new sub-aqueous pipeline? They had determined their minimum re-use water requirement was one million gallons a day for lawns, shrubs, etc.  They contended that the existing infrastructure would not support their one million gallon benchmark because that pipeline is shared with other barrier island homes, businesses and parks. So JI residents were willing to put up the $6 million cost of this new pipeline since it was primarily for their use and turn it over to the County once completed. The deal wasn’t entirely altruistic though. The County would be obligated to give John’s Island a 50% discount on the re-use water they consumed and the potential to resell it, presumably at a profit, during the deal’s 25 year timeline. As a further “incentive,” if the County decided to go in any different direction, John’s Island residents would not contribute anything to its cost.

You can probably see where this meeting yesterday might easily descend into a conflict between the desires and expectations of a wealthy enclave versus the general community’s concerns about the health and future of their Indian River Lagoon. Both sides came prepared to fight for their points of view and Commission Chambers were full. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, the meeting went without incident and the matter was settled in a democratic way. But representatives from the various John’s Island entities did not help their case, especially when one of them stated at the podium that they “wanted to be at the head of the line” to receive the re-use water. Another opposed the CR510 route plan because increased water usage would require an unsightly water tower on the barrier island, until it was pointed out that water towers already exist on the island. In fact one of them stands in the Indian River Shores Town Center complex. And what about the Shores’ tall cell tower?

It was probably also confusing to some people in the audience why John’s Island needed three different corporate entities representing their water interests: John’s Island Property Owners Association Inc., John’s Island Water Management Inc. and John’s Island Water Systems Inc. It may have seemed to some like a corporate conglomerate versus the people of Indian River County.

Probably the turning point for a least one County Commissioner was when an audience member pointed out another pipeline already existed under the Lagoon servicing their development from their JI West Golf Club. They contended it already had a dedicated use, but by then it just appeared this entire pipeline issue was about something the folks at John’s Island wanted, but did not necessarily need.

When it came down to a final 3-2 vote, Commissioners Flescher, O’Bryan and Adams voted not to grant the permit. Chairman Solari and Commissioner Zorc voted to grant it.

Hopefully, everyone can go back home and return to being good neighbors. As Solari pointed out at one point to more vocal opponents in the audience, “Don’t use this to demonize each other; this is not a national political issue; it’s neighbor against neighbor.”

2 comments

  1. No, Commissioner Solari this was not a national political issue,but it is much closer to home, and vital to the quality of life here in Vero. Solari’s attempt to minimize his voting “yes” to allow this project is nice PR,but just worthless words in attempt to salvage some future election votes he will lose. I guess the well being of the lagoon is not high on his agenda.

  2. Hi Milt.

    I’m ok with the result of the vote re: the reuse water pipeline. JI will survive.

    My concern is that local environmentalists wasted some of our credibility by rallying around this issue.

    I have not heard anyone describe the “ecological disaster” that was at stake. Reuse water is pretty clean stuff.

    Remember we spilled millions of gallons of raw sewage into Bethel Creek two November’s ago. That was an ecological disaster.

    Thank. Nick.

Comment - Please use your first and last name. Comments of up to 350 words are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s