Update from Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE)

CARE FL is a coalition of South Fl/Treasure Coast leaders/residents, concerned about safety and opposed to All Aboard Florida’s risky, high-speed passenger rail project.

In 2016, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE) plans to continue doing everything possible to stop All Aboard Florida (AAF)—an ill-conceived rail project that threatens the public safety and current way of life in communities along the Treasure Coast.

To do so successfully, CARE needs the continued public and financial support of everyone who wants to stop AAF from tearing our communities apart. 

CARE does not believe that AAF is eligible for tax exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs) and does not believe the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Florida Development Finance Corporation (FDFC) should ever have given AAF the right to sell such bonds. Despite the large subsidy inherent in tax exempt financing, the financial press reports AAF has been unable to sell the bonds, and on January 7, was forced to secure a one year extension of its right to do so from DOT. The unwillingness of investors to buy the bonds reported in the financial press is an indication of the financial community’s skepticism about the financial viability of the project.

While the apparent verdict of the financial markets is encouraging, we must continue to pursue every possible approach to preventing implementation of AAF’s plan.  

If completed as planned, AAF will create heavy road congestion by blocking grade crossings more often and for longer times, create grade crossing safety threats for pedestrians and vehicles, jeopardize the ability of ambulances to reach hospitals promptly, delay public safety professionals seeking to respond to accidents or carry out other lifesaving tasks, threaten the safety of our towns by carrying LNG and other dangerous substances on faster and longer trains, severely limit the ability of recreational and commercial mariners to use local waterways, create potential safety challenges with respect to nearby nuclear facilities, diminish property values throughout our communities and adversely impact our quality of life.

Legal Challenges
First, CARE applauds the federal suit brought by Martin and Indian River Counties challenging AAF’s eligibility for the PAB authorization issued by DOT. That case also tests the DOT’s decision to provide AAF with the ability to begin construction without permitting a legal challenge to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  On February 16, the Counties and two CARE Steering Committee members from Palm Beach County filed briefs and documents in response AAF’s and DOT’s motions to dismiss the case, which included compelling new expert analysis regarding the financials of the project.  Many of the Counties’ salient points will be redacted in the public versions of these documents, due to a protective order that AAF sought and received.  This is just one example of AAF wanting to have things both ways—insisting publicly that its plan is financially sound, while continuing to cloak its financials from public view.  Nonetheless, all concerned community members should review these documents in order to gain insight into the Counties’ arguments.

Second, in separate actions, the Counties have also challenged the propriety of the FDFC’s bond approval.  The challenge is based on FDFC’s many ex parte communications with the railroad, the FDFC’s failure to abide by Florida administrative law and the FDFC’s obvious prejudgment of the issues raised at the bond hearing.

Third, CARE is continuing to closely monitor AAF’s efforts to secure permits and rulings from various agencies, as this process is another place the FEIS comes into play. CARE is working to ensure that every permitting action necessary to build this ill-conceived railroad is appropriately and thoroughly reviewed and—if deemed appropriate—challenged.  Upcoming work in this area includes actions of the State of Florida Water Districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard rulemakings with respect to the movable rail bridges, and other federal, state and local entity actions.

Fourth, assuming that the FEIS is not revised as a consequence of the agency review processes, CARE plans—when possible—to mount a legal challenge to the FEIS, focused on three principal inadequacies: (a) the failure to properly consider alternate routes, (b) the failure to itemize and fully review the safety implications of the proposed project and (c) the vague, internally inconsistent and truncated discussion of mitigation measures.

That said, if the PABs are never sold, we believe AAF will subsequently argue that the actions they are required to take by the FEIS do not apply to them.  As you can see, AAF wants to have it both ways here as well—cloaking itself in a defective FEIS on some days, and claiming they do not have to obey it on other days.

CARE believes that one of these challenges will result in major revisions to the AAF project and spare our communities the worst of the outcomes we foresee if AAF is implemented as planned.

Political Outreach
Over the last 18 months we have been fortunate to have had the support of many Treasure Coast legislators, elected leaders, first responders, sheriffs, school board members and other neighbors in our fight against AAF.  CARE applauds and thanks U.S. Congressmen Patrick Murphy and Bill Posey, State Representatives Debbie Mayfield, MaryLynn Magar and Gayle Harrell, and the Commissioners of Martin and Indian River Counties for their unwavering support.

CARE supporters are often asked why other state leaders, such as Governor Rick Scott and Florida Secretary of Transportation Jim Boxold, are not doing more to help.  CARE was extremely disappointed that Secretary Boxold refused to accept a recent invitation from members of the Treasure Coast Legislative Delegation to meet with local citizens to discuss the role that FDOT can and must play in ensuring that our communities are safe. We will continue to ask the Governor and FDOT to make community concerns and public safety their top priority, despite the fact that they have been unresponsive and hostile to these requests to date.

In the coming weeks and months, CARE FL will also continue its communications with federal and state lawmakers, in an effort to enhance collaboration with our supporters, and to persuade those who have decided that this railroad is a good idea to instead stand up for the safety and wellbeing of Floridians.

Conclusion
CARE’s unwavering opposition to AAF will continue in 2016 through legal, political and public communication channels. Community concerns have grown exponentially over the past 18 months. Because of the committed efforts of every single member of CARE, our supporters, neighbors and friends, the organization is now recognized as a reliable authority on the AAF proposal and the negative impacts it will have on public safety, our waterways, property values and quality of life.

Winning this fight is up to us. The residents of the Treasure Coast communities who have the most to lose from this ill-conceived project must stand and fight—and CARE is prepared to lead the way.
Please stay in touch on our website, www.saveourfl.com, and like ourFacebook page for updates on CARE’s progress.

And please send as large a contribution as you can afford to:

CARE FL, LLC
7407 SE Hill Terrace
Hobe Sound, FL 33455

 

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