The TC Palm: When it comes to environmental statement, All Aboard Florida process seems to be sham
Posted on September 26, 2014
Rich Campbell: When it comes to environmental statement, All Aboard Florida process seems to be sham
The TC Palm
Thursday, September 25, 2014 at 3:58 p.m.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Treasure Coast residents need to know what we’re up against with respect to All Aboard Florida.
The outlook is … not good.
And it grows more bleak when you peek behind the curtain and glimpse the process federal officials used in creating the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed project.
All Aboard Florida plans to begin running high-speed passenger trains — 16 round trips daily — between Miami and Orlando, with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, in 2017.
Because the rail company has applied for a $1.6 billion federal loan, the Federal Railroad Administration is required to conduct a study on the feasibility of the project, as well as potential impacts — both beneficial and detrimental — to communities along the rail line.
The result is the draft report, released Sept. 19.
Treasure Coast officials and residents from Sebastian to Hobe Sound have been scrutinizing the 522-page document — with an eye to issues and statements relevant to their communities.
Members of the Shaping Our Future team are doing the same and will continue to provide readers with critical analyses of the issues that matter most to you.
I’d like to hone in on one paragraph (Chapter 1, page 7) in the draft report — a paragraph that lays bare the process and illustrates why we may be fighting a losing battle.
Here’s what we discover:
The Federal Railroad Administration “does not have appropriated funds to support the development” of environmental impact statements. Hence, the agency “requires the applicant (All Aboard Florida) to engage the services of a qualified consultant approved by the Federal Railroad Administration to assist (the agency) in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement.”
Did you note who selected the consultant?
All Aboard Florida.
Who pays the consultant for these services?
“ … the third-party contractor is paid for by All Aboard Florida but reports to and takes direction from the Federal Railroad Administration.”
And what about the material contained in the draft report?
The third-party contractor “reviewed all materials provided by All Aboard Florida …”
This explains why a lot of the information is little more than a regurgitation of materials released previously by All Aboard Florida. Example? Ridership projections (Chapter 3, page 45).
Allow me to summarize: All Aboard Florida selected the consultant, paid the consultant and was one of the main sources of the information included in the Environmental Impact Statement.
Does this sound like an objective, independent process?
The question is laughable.
I believe we err if we assume the Federal Railroad Administration is a dispassionate, objective, independent third party that will weigh all the facts and render a fair, objective decision on the feasibility of the project.
Consider the agency’s stated mission: “The Federal Railroad Administration’s mission is to enable the safe, reliable and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future,” according to the agency’s website (fra.dot.gov).
The key word here is “enable.”
The Federal Railroad Administration appears to be an “enabler.”
And the process appears to be a sham.
Some of you may read this column, throw up your hands and quit speaking out against the high-speed passenger rail service. Others will double down and speak out even louder.
Count me among the latter.
The Treasure Coast is being railroaded into a project that will provide us with no direct benefits beyond the short-term, economic impact from construction, while experiencing the greatest number of negative impacts along the 235-mile rail line.
I was mad before.
Now I’m outraged.