The TC Palm – More than 800 turn out for All Aboard Florida public comment meeting in Stuart

Posted on October 31, 2014

By Arnie Rosenberg

STUART — If there was any question about the center of All Aboard Florida opposition, it was answered Thursday.

More than 800 people turned out for the Federal Railroad Administration’s meeting to gather public comment on the $2.25 billion plan for a high-speed Miami-to-Orlando passenger train.

By the time the doors opened at 3:30 p.m., some 150 people already were waiting, and even more people packed into the Kane Center over the next two hours.

Not surprisingly, these folks overwhelmingly came to voice their objection to the project, which is to begin running through the Treasure Coast by early 2017.

Turnout was in marked contrast to meetings earlier this week in Miami, where 200 people attended; Fort Lauderdale, which had 250 come out; and West Palm Beach, where 272 people turned out Wednesday.

The mood of Stuart’s meeting — the fourth of eight identical sessions — was as much against the project as Miami’s and Fort Lauderdale’s were in favor.

“I’m elated at the turnout,” said K.C. Traylor, founder of the opposition group Florida Not All Aboard. “But this is more like a show-and-tell for All Aboard Florida. People are walking out thinking their voices are not being heard.”

That’s a sentiment voiced by others during the 3½-hour meeting. The eight meetings, stretching from Miami to Orlando, are required by law to gather public comment on the 522-page draft environmental impact statement, which was released Sept. 19 by the FRA.

Rather than put on community forums, a format many people clearly would have preferred, the FRA is hosting open-house meetings, where people circulate through the room and can chat with technical experts about each of the topic in the environmental impact statement.

Comments, however, can be made only by email, regular mail, in writing at the public-comment meetings or verbally to a court reporter at the meetings.

Maybe that’s why so many people were eager to share their opinions.

“We’ll absolutely be imprisoned by the railroad tracks,” said Jean Matheson of Stuart, who attended with her husband Jim. “We use the Indian Street-Dixie Highway crossing, and if it’s blocked (by a train), the intersection a mile north is blocked and the intersection a mile south is blocked. We’ll be absolutely hemmed in. The question is, what will the people do to stop this boondoggle?”

Her husband took issue with the impact the increased closings of the St. Lucie River bridge would have on commercial maritime traffic.

“It’s part of the Okeechobee Waterway, but it’ll be backed up halfway to Okeechobee” if All Aboard Florida adds 32 trains a day and freight traffic increases from the current 14 trains a day, he said.

“We asked questions, but we didn’t get one answer,” Jean Matheson said.

Politicians used Thursday’s meeting to reinforce their opposition to All Aboard Florida but also to get valuable face time six days before the election. Mingling through the crowd, shaking hands with constituents and warming to every reporter, photographer and TV crew who approached were U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy; state Sen. Joe Negron; Martin County commissioners Ed Fielding, Anne Scott, Sarah Heard and John Haddox; Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald; Sewall’s Point Mayor Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch; Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan; and Jupiter Mayor Karen Golonka.

Still, Thursday’s crowd wasn’t without supporters of All Aboard Florida.

“There’s so much misinformation out there it’s shocking,” said Mike Cieslinski, 56, of Stuart. “It’s embarrassing so much of the city is against it.

“I-95 is one of the most dangerous roads, and this gives people an option. I’d drive to West Palm Beach to take the train to Fort Lauderdale or Miami,” Cieslinski said.

“I’m here to see if we can get a stop,” said Dick Marney, 51, of Jensen Beach. “I think it’s in the long-term plan. It’s not economically feasible for them to stop in Palm Beach and bypass St. Lucie County.

“I want them to know not everyone is against it. Most people I talk to are for it,” he said. “It’s unstoppable. They own the tracks.”

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