Martin County has been notified that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has issued an Environmental Resource Permit for the All Aboard Florida (AAF aka Brightline) high-speed passenger rail project. Martin County is disappointed with this decision, and strongly believes the district should not issue the permit.
County Attorney Michael Durham said, “We will look carefully at this permit. However, our assessment is that the AAF application remained incomplete and does not contain all the information required by Florida Statues. It fails to provide reasonable assurances that harmful and negative environmental impacts would not occur.”
The County will assess the permit to determine whether and how the SFWMD took into account the incomplete nature of AAF’s application, and whether the statutory rule requirements for issuance of the permit have been met.
The SFWMD Environmental Resource Permit is required for development or construction activities to prevent flooding, protect water quality from stormwater pollution, and protect wetlands and other surface waters. It also must address impacts on listed species, cultural resources, and the overall public interest of the project. SFWMD regulates residential and commercial developments, roadway construction and agriculture. AAF applied for the permit in September 2015. Over the last several months, on multiple occasions, Martin County and its experts have identified discrepancies and brought several critical issues to SFWMD related to this permit. These issues include: negative impacts to native wildlife and habitat; water quality and stormwater runoff into environmentally-sensitive areas such as wetlands; and proposed swales in areas with poor drainage that could lead to severe flooding. Additionally, Martin County believes AAF’s application did not provide reasonable assurances that archeological and historical resources (such as the Lyric Theatre) will not be harmed by the vibrations and noise created by the project.
The County is also concerned with all environmental issues related to this project. At the federal level, a highly-flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was issued over a year ago, but the corresponding Record of Decision was never issued, preventing the County and other concerned parties from challenging the FEIS conclusions. Instead, AAF has pursued a strategy of piecemeal review by several agencies of important environmental issues, thereby avoiding an assessment of the cumulative impacts of the project, as required by law.
Affected parties have 21 days within which to challenge the permit and request an administrative hearing on the issuance of the SFWMD permit. When this happens, the assessment to issue or deny the permit will be made by an independent administrative law judge.
Martin County and Indian River County won a major victory this week against AAF when a federal judge ruled that Martin County has legal standing to proceed with its April 2015 lawsuit against AAF and the U.S. Department of Transportation to stop violations of our nation’s environmental laws and the improper authorization of $1.75 billion in taxpayer subsidized bonds. Martin County was able to demonstrate that without the bond allocation, the Phase II portion of the AAF rail project that would run through the Treasure Coast is significantly less likely to be viable.