Indian River County sees new opening in All Aboard Florida fight

Posted on January 19, 2016

By Lisa Broadt and Colleen Wixon

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — When a federal agency earlier this month balked at approving permits for All Aboard Florida, it may have opened the door for opponents to launch a new challenge to the controversial railroad.

The potential opening for All Aboard Florida foes stems from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reluctance to approve permits for the northern section of the Miami-to-Orlando passenger railroad before a federal environmental review is complete.

The Corps of Engineers, in a Jan. 7 letter to All Aboard Florida, said it needs more information about potential damage to federal waters, including wetlands, before it allows All Aboard Florida to begin work in Indian River and Brevard counties.

“You are cautioned that commencement of the proposed work in waters of the United States subject to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction, prior to authorization, would constitute a violation of federal laws and subject you to possible enforcement action,” the Corps said in the letter.

The Corps will reconsider All Aboard Florida’s application once the environmental review has been completed and approved by  the Federal Railroad Administration and the Corps. Neither agency has said when it would finish its review.

Indian River County — which, along with Martin County, last year filed legal action against All Aboard Florida — said it hopes other agencies will follow the Army Corps’ example.

All Aboard Florida officials declined to comment on the Corps of Engineers action and its letter.

The county last week urged the St. Johns River  Water Management District to follow the Army Corp’s lead. County commissioners Tuesday voted to hire special legal help, possibly to fight the All Aboard Florida battle on a new front.

Commissioners want outside counsel to review the St. Johns permits, which would allow bridge work along a 67-mile stretch between State Road 528 in eastern Brevard County and the Indian River/St. Lucie county line.

“I need to understand what our options are,” County Attorney Dylan Reingold said.

Reingold was unsure Tuesday how much an outside law firm might cost the county. Indian River County already approved spending up to $1.1 million this year in its all Aboard Florida fight.

“The board still is taking a strong stance on All Aboard Florida,” he said.

The county wants a firm experienced in the permitting process to review All Aboard’s application to see what can be challenged, whether there are areas to challenge, Reingold said.

“There may be litigation if applicable,” he said. Or, on the other hand, the firm could advise against taking the issue to court, he said.

The county previously solicited legal advice during the draft environmental impact process, Reingold said.

Construction of the passenger railroad already has begun between Miami and West Palm Beach, and Brightline passenger service there is to begin in early 2017, with full service beginning in late 2017.

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