Our Citizens Against the Train Call to Action sent out Nov. 18 to attend a special meeting of the Indian River County, FL Commissioners on Nov. 20th, 2018 turned out to be critical.
By Susan Mehiel / http://www.citizensagainstthetrain.com
At 7:45 pm the night before the meeting, we received notice that the meeting would focus on a deal negotiated between Martin and Indian River Counties and Citizens against Rail Expansion (CARE) with the representatives of All Aboard Florida/Brightline/Virgin USA (AAF/B/V). The attorneys for the respective counties circulated the deal to their commissioners.
It became obvious why the unusual timing of the meeting, Thanksgiving week, AAF/B/Virgin needed to move fast! The cards we hold:
1) We still have lawsuits pending in US District Court in DC against the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) challenging their approval of the Private Activity Bond allocations and the inaccurate Environmental Impact Statement for All Aboard Florida/Brightline/Virgin USA. Oral arguments were presented by all parties last Tuesday, see below for more information.
2) We have a new Governor-Elect, Ron DeSantis, who has already indicated he is against the trains when he filed testimony in the congressional hearings held this year.
3) We have the study by CPCS of passenger rail in Florida paid for by the State which concludes that Florida lacks regulations governing trains going 80 – 125 mph and they should be developed. (The study was attached to the last Call to Action sent on Nov. 19)
4) Our elected state officials are moving forward with legislation in both the FL House and Senate to direct FL DOT to develop regulations governing rail systems like AAF/B/V.
In the deal presented, the counties would GIVE UP all means to stop AAF/B/V from using taxpayer money to fund their ‘private’ project including the Private Activity Bonds (PAB) by withdrawing the lawsuits and could not lobby for or encourage the much needed legislation and safety regulations. In exchange, the counties would get a number of safety features and equipment (which should be required by law!), a temporary cap on the annual crossing maintenance fees and the promise of a stop in one of the three counties on the Treasure Coast.
As Rhett Palmer recently said on his radio show – “We should be getting a promise we WON’T get a stop – we don’t want a stop!”
As you can see, our attorneys didn’t read The Art of the Deal – because they were giving away the farm for a few pieces of gold! When we consider the proposed route for AAF/B/V from Miami north to Jacksonville and west to Tampa, covering access to all the deep water ports for freight, – it’s not just the Treasure Coast who will be in grave danger, but also everyone along the Florida East Coast Railway route. We cannot let them put profits over lives!
In spite of the fact that Martin County decided to do just that and accept the settlement the evening before, on November 20 the IRC Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to refuse the Settlement Agreement and in a second vote, voted 4 to 1 in favor or allotting $1 million more to continue the legal fight. I watched the meeting on the county video site.
I strongly encourage you to do the same:
After the meeting, I received a number of calls and emails from our troops who were at the meeting or watching on the live stream and they were all extremely proud of the courage and compassion shown by our Commissioners. I also received a number of communications from people in Martin County who said they will join us in the fight!
They were devastated that CARE FL, the premier citizen action group fighting the trains, would cave to the corporations and also take the settlement. As one Martin County resident said, “we haven’t been showing the dangers of AAF/B/V for nearly 5 years and spending $4 million in taxpayer dollars for a few crumbs and the silencing of our commissioners!”
As Commissioner Bob Solari put it, “…this is a moral obligation, we took an oath to fight for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of IRC and that is what this issue is! If we don’t take this deal and lose…don’t get the $10 million, I’ll take the criticism…but we have to do what is right!”
The Oral Arguments in US District Court:
We received a number of reports from people who were on site Tuesday for the Oral Arguments in US District Court on the law suits. Our two main arguments are:
1) The US DOT didn’t follow the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) through the process of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because there is inaccurate information in the EIS pertaining to the Noise impact and Safety.
2) The Title 23 monies FECR received PRIOR to AAF being announced, which qualify AAF/B/V for the PABs, were NOT meant for AAF/B/Virgin and therefore they do not qualify for the bonds. AAF/Virgin is arguing that because the Title 23 monies were used for crossings at the roadways – the monies funded road construction and not a railroad – also qualifying it for the Bonds.
Everyone reported the attorney representing IRC was excellent and made very good, annotated arguments for our side. They felt the judge agreed with our concerns about the EIS and might remand it back to the FRA for improvement. Some of the Title 23 arguments hinge on terminology and it may be harder to separate the use of the money from AAF. That said – no one can tell how the judge will decide.
We do know that he will render his decision by December 31st.