Don’t Play Russian Roulette with Our Lagoon!

John’s Island Water Management, Inc. is asking the County for permission to bring reuse water to John’s Island by drilling under the lagoon, then installing a pipeline from the County’s mainland reuse water storage facility to John’s Island.  This memo is meant to make you aware of the project and the reasons as to why all of us should oppose the project.

John’s Island presently gets reuse water (properly known as wastewater effluent) from the City of Vero Beach, and the City cannot provide all that JI needs.  John’s Island has offered to pay for and build the pipeline, turn the ownership over to the County, and carry any liability for the first year, as long as it has first access to the wastewater, at 50% of the price others pay, and may negotiate for the resale of water beyond what it needs in the future.

While this sounds reasonable, after examination, it is decidedly not.

The First and Most Important Issue:  Drilling under the lagoon.

This project, according to County-hired consultants, would be among the 10 most complex horizontal drilling construction projects undertaken in the entire US.  Accidents may occur during the drilling process, or leaks may occur after the pipeline is completed, which would not only be difficult (or impossible) to identify, fix, and clean up, but the cost and damage would be extreme.  At the construction phase and the operating stage, the lagoon would be at risk for and escape of the drilling fluid or the wastewater effluent, and both would be harmful to marine life.  This is an unacceptable risk.

The Second Reason: There is an existing pipeline crossing the lagoon on the Wabasso Bridge

There is an existing pipeline that could be used to carry the reuse water from the County’s mainland water supply tanks to John’s Island that exists and provides no risk to the lagoon. The pipeline presently goes south along A1A after it crosses the bridge but would need to be extended to JI. This is far less expensive, has no easement problems, could be extended to JI for far less money, and could provide many other communities with reuse water.

The Third Reason: The right-of-way ownership of the land on the route of JI’s pipeline is disputed.

The pipeline from the County’s reuse water storage tanks to JI goes under the lagoon, and crosses under Hole in the Wall Island, the ownership of which is the Indian River Mosquito Control District. They have refused to grant an easement, and there are conflicting legal opinions as to whether or not the County can “overrule” this rejection and grant an easement itself.  Further, part of the project is on historically protected property that requires a separate set of approvals not yet received.

The Fourth Reason: The cost of the JI project is nearly twice that of extending the pipe down A1A

While no final plans exist, making any exact costs unknown, it has been estimated that the costs of building the JI project would be ~$6-7 million and extending the Wabasso Bridge route would be ~$3-4 million. The contract with the County has JI paying for the project, turning it over to the County after it is complete, and paying 50% of the going rate for the reuse water, which is assumed to repay JI for the construction of the pipeline.  The County ends up paying for the pipeline either directly, or by a reduction in future revenues, so cost of the project is a significant factor.  Further, after the first year, all liabilities are turned over to the County, which would mean any damage to the pipeline that created pollution in the lagoon would be paid by County taxpayers and could amount to a huge liability.

The Fifth Reason: Providing Reuse Water to communities is the duty of cities of counties

Allowing JI to construct a pipeline that supplies itself with reuse water is a dangerous precedent to set.  The construction, engineering, feasibility, route and communities served should be the sole responsibility of the City or County, not one community.

In summary:

The County should not allow JI to build a pipeline under the lagoon to bring reuse water to its community, as the pipeline could significantly injure the lagoon, there is another route which is cheaper, available, and would allow many other communities to have access to reuse water. The distribution of reuse water, and other services to the communities in our County should be determined and provided by the City or County, not each community by itself.  This project prefers JI and is a hazard to our lagoon and should not be approved. There are legal disputes about the right-of-way ownership of the route it takes and whether it would also harm historical assets of the county. There is no reason to approve this project.

Attached is a map of the two routes of the proposed project. One goes North across the Wabasso Bridge and down A1A to JI. The other goes south and across the lagoon at around 69th St.

What can you do? There will be Board of County Commissioners at 9:00 AM on March 12. Hopefukly you can attend and ask the commissioners vote NO on granting an easement to John’s Island Water Management, Inc. This would effectively kill the project.

The county commissioners and the public need to hear from you.  Write letters.  It is as simple as re-stating the information in this memo that this project should NOT go under our lagoon.

1- The County Commissioners are:
       Susan Adams, (772) 226-1442; sadams@ircgov.com
       Joseph E. Flescher, (772) 226-1919; jflescher@ircgov.com
       Peter D. O’Bryan, (772) 226-1440; pobryan@ircgov.com
       Tim Zorc, (772) 226-1919; tzorc@ircgov.com
       Bob Solari,  (772) 226-1438; bsolari@ircgov.com

2 – Send your opinion in a short letter to the editor of the Press Journal.
Email it to tcnletters@tcpalm.com or fill out the online form at www.tcpalm.com/submit