The TC Palm: Countries may fund lawsuit against All Aboard Florida

Posted on February 12, 2015

Lisa Broadt


Treasure Coast factions could unite in legal action against All Aboard Florida.


The high-speed passenger railroad threatens to clog traffic and waterways, endanger public safety and pollute the environment — an overall affront to the local quality of life — and the Treasure Coast needs to fight back, according to Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari and Martin County Commissioner John Haddox, leaders of the governmental charge.


“This is an existential issue,” said Solari, who wants Indian River to spend $2.6 million on legal action this year. “This has the potential to absolutely devastate us.”


All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains daily along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor.


The private company’s $2.25 billion project would begin service from Miami to West Palm Beach by the end of next year and through the Treasure Coast to Orlando International Airport in early 2017.


Possible use of public money to fund its private investment, lack of attention to the dangers surrounding Martin County’s nearly 100-year-old train drawbridge and an incomplete account of the Treasure Coast in its federally-required environmental-impact study are among potential legal issues, opponents say.


Martin and Indian River are to discuss funding at their county commission meetings Tuesday, and Treasure Coast organizations are interested in partnering on a lawsuit in the future, Solari said.


“If we could join together to form a lawsuit and get language close enough to meet all needs, I’d be open to it,” he said.


With encouragement from the opposition group Citizens Against the Train, more than 200 people in the last week emailed the Martin County Commission urging “proactive” measures.


“It would be fine for you to use my taxpayer dollars for ANY action by the county that resulted in stopping or significantly delaying the progress of (All Aboard Florida),” read the form letter many petitioners used. “The economic damage that would be caused to Martin County by high-speed trains is beyond calculation.”


Indian River County’s proposed legal action has received “not a negative word yet,” according to Solari.


CARE FL — the opposition group Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida — has been coordinating with Indian River and Martin counties, according to Bill Ward, steering committee chairman.


“There are some legal issues of concern. We’re analyzing some strategies, but we’re not prepared at this time to go public,” Ward said, “though I think you’ll have some things forthcoming.”


CARE FL, an organization primarily of gated communities in Martin and Palm Beach counties, has hired Stephen Ryan, a Washington attorney who has successfully fought railroad expansion. Ryan helped the Rochester Coalition — a group made up of the Mayo Clinic and local governments — fight a plan to run 34 coal trains a day through the middle of Rochester, Minnesota, where the clinic is based.


Not all community leaders are on board for a lawsuit, however.


Stuart/Martin Chamber of Commerce Director Joe Catrambone says suing All Aboard Florida would be a “frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars.”


The money would be better spent on needed new construction or easing Martin County’s $258 million of deferred infrastructure maintenance, according to Catrambone.


“I don’t care if we lay on the tracks, we’re not going to stop All Aboard Florida,” Catrambone said. “This sounds like an upcoming campaign tactic.”


Solari said the Indian River commission on Tuesday will discuss “appropriate” funding for potential legal action. His proposed $2.6 million allocation — roughly 1 percent of the county budget — would likely come from reserves. He said he did not know how subsequent legal action would be funded, but that “it will probably come down to (property tax) at the end of the day.”


Martin County’s discussion Tuesday will address funding “research and future litigation,” according to Haddox. Its financial proposal could look similar to Indian River county’s — the respective staffs have been meeting, according to Haddox — but Martin County has made no decisions.


The Treasure Coast counties last year sought preliminary legal advice, though St. Lucie County has no plans to fund further legal action, according to spokesman Erick Gill.

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