Editorial: Treasure Coast opponents of All Aboard Florida disenfranchised — again
Posted on April 16, 2015
A group of Treasure Coast residents plan to make the long trek to Tallahassee for Monday’s meeting of the Florida Development Finance Corp.
The reason? To voice their concerns about All Aboard Florida’s request for $1.75 billion in private activity bonds. These are tax-exempt bonds issued by local or state governments to provide special financing benefits for qualified projects.
The rail company plans to use the bond proceeds to purchase locomotives, train cars and equipment and to fund construction on segments of the 235-mile corridor from Miami to Orlando.
Unfortunately, the trip to Tallahassee could be in vain.
It turns out the board members of the Florida Development Finance Corp. — the quasi-governmental agency that will decide the fate of All Aboard Florida’s bond request — won’t even be in attendance at the meeting.
This is preposterous.
The revelation prompted strongly worded missives from county attorneys in both Martin and Indian River, which have earmarked $4.1 million to fight All Aboard Florida.
“Martin County was dismayed to learn that FDFC board members do not plan to be in attendance to hear public comments and concerns regarding the issuance of the bonds, and that the public hearing will instead be administratively staffed,” wrote Martin County Attorney Michael Durham in an email to the agency’s executive director. “We believe this format is completely unacceptable.”
Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold, also noting the absence of FDFC board members, requested the hearing be rescheduled for a time when the decision-makers can be present.
Bill Spivey, executive director of the Florida Development Finance Corp., informed county officials the meeting will go ahead as planned.
“There will be further opportunities to provide public comment at a future FDFC board meeting in which the AAF project is on the agenda,” Spivey wrote via email.
Many Treasure Coast residents have felt disenfranchised from the beginning of this project. All Aboard Florida plans to begin running 32 daily passenger trains through our region in early 2017. We have legitimate concerns about safety, noise and vibration, delays at rail crossings and railroad bridges, and impacts to the environment and property values.
State officials, who are supposed to be looking out for our interests, missed the deadline to comment on the project’s draft environmental impact statement by three months.
And, oh yeah, our region won’t even get the benefit of a train stop.
Now comes news only FDFC staff, not the board, will be attending Monday’s meeting.
Members of Citizens Against Rail Expansion, a local group that has helped organize a letter-writing campaign and bus trip to the meeting, are displeased but undeterred, said Brent Hanlon, treasurer for the organization.
“(CARE) members are really upset the board won’t be there, but we are still prepared to make the journey to Tallahassee to speak our concerns,” he said. “Our wish and desire is that the board does its due diligence.”
How can FDFC board members conduct adequate due diligence when they don’t even bother to show up?
What: Florida Development Finance Corp. meeting
When: 9 a.m. April 20
Where: Residence Inn, 600 W. Gaines St., Tallahassee 32304
Comments: Written comments may be submitted in advance of the meeting to Florida Development Finance Corp., c/o Executive Director Bill Spivey, 800 N. Magnolia Ave., Suite 1100, Orlando FL 32803, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org