ON DECEMBER 24/25, CHRISTMAS EVE, THE NIGHT BEFORE A NATIONAL HOLIDAY the St. John’s River Water Management District (SJRWMD) released a notice that All Aboard Florida/Brightline (AAF/B) had submitted a permit application for the CONSTRUCTION AND RENOVATION WORK THEY INTEND TO DO ON BRIDGES AND OTHER STRUCTURES IN EXPANDING THE RAILROAD SYSTEM WITHIN THE CANALS, RIVERS, TRIBUTARIES AND OTHER SURFACE WATERS from State Rt. 528 in Brevard County south to the Indian River/St. Lucie County Line.
The notice, sent to ‘interested parties’ (who are they?) stated that they, the interested parties, had 14 days from the date of posting to respond with questions, objections, comments or information regarding the proposed activity. Responses were to be have been received by last Friday, January 8.
Imagine, only having 14 days to respond to plans for an expansion of the railroad system within canals, rivers, tributaries and surface water between Brevard and St. Lucie counties. That’s hardly enough time to do a little research, make a few phone calls and write a knowledgeable letter.
According to their website, “The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) is responsible for managing groundwater and surface water resources in all or part of 18 counties in northeast and east‑central Florida.”
This District, an unelected bureaucracy, has control over a major potion of our lives by having responsibility for potentially massive impacts to our water resource ecology and the animal and plant life living in them. It supersedes our local elected officials and the interests of the local residents who vote for them.
Fortunately, in an email on January 8, 2016 from Kealey West of SJRWMD, responding to correspondence of concern from Mrs. Susan Mehiel, publisher of “Train Wreck Times,” Ms. West advised that “District staff determined that the applicant needed to provide additional technical information and sent a Request for Additional Information (RAI) letter.
Once the District receives the additional information and the determines the application is compete, District staff will review all information to determine if the applicant has provided reasonable assurance that the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project meets the relevant conditions for issuance found in 62-330.301 and 62-330.302 of the Florida Administrative Code.”
Nevertheless, here are some points that should be asked and discussed with SJWMD staff regarding the AAF/B permit application, as compiled by Ms. Mehiel.
- How often over the past two years has SJRWMD staff met or communicated with AAF/B staff regarding surface water impacts? In other words, did the staff already know the implications of the construction and renovation work?
- How many of the SJRWMD current staff worked for AAF/B related corporations or AAF/B contracted consulting firms over the last four years (Jan, 2012 – Dec, 2015)?
- As protectors of our waterways and funded through our tax dollars, did the SJRWMD staff review and respond to the AAF Environmental Impact Study released by the Federal Railway Agency as it relates to our water resources?
- Based on the highly technical knowledge/experience required, determining the potential damage to surface water bodies and the aquatic life therein caused by the rail expansion, how extensively will SJRWMD technical experts review the affected areas?
- In an effort to conserve taxpayer dollars, will the SJRWMD work cooperatively with the local governments’ technical staffs to determine impacts and necessary mitigation requirements?
- Is the SJRWMD familiar with specific negative areas of impact as they relate to the expansion/construction? For instance, does SJRMD know the extent of damage to the Old Vero Ice Age Sites (or Old Vero Man excavation) that will take place with the proposed reconstruction of the canal there?
- Has the SJRWMD staff done an analysis of the impact of hazardous materials being carried (or to be carried) by the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) in the event of a spill caused by a derailment or other accident on or near surface water? These materials include Ethanol, Liquid Asphalt, Chlorine Gas, Propane Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas and raw sewage (not necessarily a specified hazardous material, but still a contaminant.)
- Based on the expansive area covered by this filing and the number of surface water bodies and communities impacted by this filing, will SJRWMD be holding a public hearing before the make their determination?
- Approximately how log will SJRWMD take to collect the necessary information and data to make a determination on the requested permit bodies local government experts, like the Indian River County engineers, to know the implications for our county’s bodies of water?
- Is the SJWMD familiar with the mitigation required to solve the negative impacts of the construction and renovation work and who will fund the mitigation to do so?