INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The county is willing to take over Vero Beach’s wastewater-treatment system.

Vero Beach just needs to pay for extending new underground lines. And for expanding the county treatment facilities. And it must allow its customers outside the city limits to become county customers.

And for Vero Beach residents to pay higher rates.

With all that agreed to, the county is happy to continue discussions, county commissioners said Tuesday.

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“This is related mostly to the wastewater plant and potential bulk wastewater service,” explained County Administrator Jason Brown. “The city would maintain their existing (wastewater) collection system and accounts, and they would be the ones billing the customers, and the county would be the wholesaler providing direct bulk wastewater service to the city.”

Vero Beach wants to move its wastewater-treatment plant off the Indian River Lagoon and is considering whether to build a new plant the Vero Beach Regional Airport or contract with the county.

County officials don’t yet have an estimate of how much it would cost to take over wastewater treatment for Vero Beach, but it likely would be less than what Vero has estimated for keeping, and moving, its existing facilities.

That price tag, city officials say, would be about $51 million to relocated its plant to  airport property. If the city chooses that route, construction could begin as early as 2022, and the plant could go online by 2024 or 2025.

The site of the current plant — on each side of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge — is earmarked for development.

But it the city takes the county deal, new transmission lines from the city’s collection system to one or more of the county wastewater-treatment facilities would have to be built. Additional lines would be needed to transport processed water back to the city system, Brown said.

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“One thing that is important in this discussion is whether it is from a bulk wastewater agreement or more consolidation on other services where we could work together, the guiding light is that we do no harm to the county’s ratepayers,” said Brown.  “If there is an opportunity where the county can provide assistance to the city and it’s a better option than them building their own wastewater plant, then I think that’s a reasonable thing for us to work towards.”

Higher rates for Vero Beach customers would be a way to assure customers of the county system aren’t harmed financially in any deal, officials said. 

While it’s good to to continue the discussion, County Commissioner Tim Zorc said, many issues would need to be worked out, particularly how the county would handle the 3.5 million gallons of wastewater generated daily by Vero Beach.

“If we did do an agreement, we, as the county, would have to look at undertaking adding capacity,” said Zorc. “We would be looking at really adding capacity in a new plant or expanding a current plant to meet these needs that the city might have.”

Commission Chairwoman Susan Adams said she is concerned about the county’s current wastewater-treatment capacity and its future needs.

 “I don’t want us to hamstring ourselves in the future,” said Adams. “We have the big issue of the Sebastian annexation hanging out there, and that may or may not impact what we have going on, and just future growth in general. I don’t want us to get 10 years down the road and wish we had gone in a different direction. I’m fine with continuing discussions.  I think that’s what we need to do, but I have my concerns.”

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