CORAL GABLES – Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) voiced its support for Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties in their challenge of environmental permits issued in connection with All Aboard Florida’s Miami-to-Orlando railway project.
“While CARE FL is not a party to the cases challenging the environmental permits issued by the South Florida Water Management District and St. Johns River Water Management District, we strongly support the legal efforts of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties and continue to monitor the situation closely,” CARE FL chairman Brent Hanlon told the Florida Record.
CARE FL is a coalition created by a group of concerned community leaders, organizations and neighbors in the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach county regions. CARE FL’s opposition to the All Aboard Florida project is not just limited to environmental issues.
“We share a common goal: Protecting the safety, welfare and way of life for the families, businesses and retirees who live in and around our communities by stopping the proposed rail expansion known as All Aboard Florida,” Hanlon said. “These permits are just one of CARE FL’s many environmental concerns related to the ill-conceived AAF proposal.”
Hanlon said CARE FL believes continued rail expansion will have a significant and negative impact on the affected communities.
“From public safety, to the environment, to maritime traffic and commerce, to decreased property values and more, the AAF project threatens to destroy our quality of life,” Hanlon said.
CARE FL is not alone in questioning the safety of the project, Hanlon said. First responders have expressed concerns about the additional trains and the obstacles they will create if and when ambulances and fire trucks need to get over the tracks that are in use, he said. The Martin County superintendent of schools raised concerns about the safety of school buses riding over the tracks during high traffic times, too.
Hanlon said All Aboard Florida is heavily dependent on government subsidies, such as private activity bonds (PABs), to fund its rail project. Martin County, Indian River County and two individuals who sit on the CARE FL steering committee “achieved a significant victory” when a U.S. district judge denied motions filed by the Florida Department of Transportation and All Aboard Florida to dismiss a federal lawsuit related to the project. Hanlon said the court “opined that the AAF project will likely not be completed without significant public funding.”
“CARE FL has always understood that AAF depends upon federal taxpayer dollars and, further, would require all residents of the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach communities to bear additional financial burdens and safety risks,” Hanlon said.
The counties in question have filed motions for summary judgment to invalidate the PABs and are currently awaiting the court’s decision, Hanlon said.
The St. Johns River Water Management District determined that All Aboard Florida has met the conditions for approval of at least one of the environmental permits required for completion of the rail project, although Indian River County has formerly challenged the issuance of the environmental resource permit through an administrative petition.
Martin County also recently appealed an environmental permit granted to All Aboard Florida by the South Florida Water Management District in connection with storm water management systems in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.