The TC Palm: Martin County Taxpayers Association: County needs forward thinking on rail, lagoon issues

Posted on November 16, 2015

By Richard Geisinger Jr.

All Aboard Florida continues to move forward. The Martin County Taxpayers Association has opposed the passenger rail since its inception, not only from a practical standpoint but also from a quality-of-life standpoint.

Nearly every county north of Palm Beach has raised concerns about the short- and long-term effects of the project, as well as the expected increase in freight traffic.

It’s impossible to predict the outcome of those efforts to stop the trains. However, the taxpayers association believes both the city and county should be planning for additional rail traffic.

Martin County has 28 at-grade railroad crossings. Seven of those crossings are in the city of Stuart. Currently, even without the increased trains that are predicted, there are challenges with automobile traffic going east and west. Freight trains can stall traffic for long periods due to their length and speed.

We have been told that the Martin Metropolitan Planning Organization is looking into some alternatives and possible solutions for the increased rail traffic. This could be overpasses, underpasses or any other alternatives that could alleviate some of the negative effects of rail traffic. These are not inexpensive solutions, however.

Martin County and the city of Stuart should be discussing solutions and required funding now. Procrastinating on this could cause years of unbearable train traffic without solutions and no funds to pay for the capital improvements.

It is fairly common knowledge that alternative crossings are needed without increased rail traffic. Getting critically ill patients to the hospital in a timely manner and enabling emergency vehicles to head east and west — unimpeded — should be the highest priority.

Another quality-of-life issue is the continued degradation of our estuary system. According to recent studies, there appears to be numerous indicators of septic tank contamination in our rivers. This isn’t a surprise.

Many septic systems are older and not built to the current standards that are in place today. Specific geographic areas have been identified that are so-called “hot spots.” This simply means that these areas have shown more contaminants in the adjacent river than other communities. To get a perspective on this, it has be estimated that 2 million pounds of nitrogen goes into our lagoon each year from human waste.

Once again, recognizing this and planning for solutions requires forward thinking. Funding for septic-to-sewer conversions could be partially available from outside the county. However, these funds take time to obtain and should be investigated now.

In the interim, inspecting existing septic tanks could also be beneficial. This process must begin as quickly as possible. Apparently, the science is there and the conversion from septic to sewer can only benefit our estuaries.

This, along with the construction of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects could go a long way to begin the healing of our rivers.

Additionally, tracking Amendment 1 dollars becomes critical. Completing the water projects that are either planned or underway will be helpful. However, it also has been pointed out that these projects will not handle all of the discharges coming from the lake.

Once again, we need forward thinking to finally get the quality of water under control.

Both of these issues can negatively affect the quality of life in our area. This translates into reduced property values, which in turn generates less property tax revenue.

Both the city of Stuart and Martin County have tough decisions in front of them. Please stay engaged with the process and let your elected officials know how you think these issues should be addressed.

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