Florida Today - 200 learn more about All Aboard Florida Proposal
Posted on November 13, 2014
By Dave Berman
About 200 people streamed into the Cocoa Civic Center on Wednesday to get the details of how the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project might affect them and their communities.
Many opponents and supporters of the project also submitted comments about the project to the Federal Railroad Administration, which organized the 3½-hour public informational workshop, one of eight being held statewide.
The All Aboard Florida project would provide passenger rail service with 16 trips a day in each direction between Orlando International Airport and Miami. There would be interim stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Current plans call for the trains to pass through Central Brevard and South Brevard, but not stop here.
In addition to a lack of stops along the Space Coast and Treasure Coast, opponents have a litany of concerns — among them safety, traffic congestion at the rail crossings, the cost to cities and counties of maintaining the crossings, noise, vibrations, impact on property values, environmental harm to wetlands and wildlife, and disruption to boat traffic.
The Federal Railroad Administration — which is a unit of the U.S. Department of Transportation — held the Cocoa meeting as part of a process to seek public comment on the preliminary environmental impact statement for the rail project.
It has received more than 5,000 comments so far, including ones submitted at these forums, as well as by email and by postal mail, according to Michael Cole, a public affairs specialist with the agency.
But the reality is, that while the comments are designed to generate ideas for mitigating potential environmental impact of the rail project, “we do not have the statutory authority to stop this project,” Cole said.
Myles Tobin, general counsel for All Aboard Florida, said his company plans to begin rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach by the end of 2016, and extend the service to Orlando in early 2017. He said he could not commit to having a stop in Brevard in the future, but added that, if All Aboard Florida service does not begin, “there wouldn’t be any chance for additional stations.”
Among the All Aboard Florida supporters at the forum was Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish III, who said he expects the rail line to add a stop in his city.
“I know we will get a stop,” potentially in two to four years, Parrish said. “We’re excited” about the plan, and its potential economic boost to the Cocoa area.
But opponents insisted that the negatives outweigh the positives.
“It’s going to be absolutely horrendous,” said Ilene Goldfinger of Melbourne, who lives about two blocks from the tracks All Aboard Florida trains would use.
Bill Matheson of Palm Bay, another opponent, said he didn’t like the way the public comments were being gathered during this process — through written comment cards filled out by participants and dropped in a box or by attendees providing them orally to a court reporter for transcription.
Matheson said he would have preferred a traditional public hearing.
Lining the walls of the civic center room were 31 posters detailing various elements of the project and their potential impacts. There also were videos, projection displays and maps for the public to examine.
Officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and All Aboard Florida, as well as expert consultants, staffed the displays to answer questions from the public and provide more details.
K.C. Traylor of Palm City, founder of the Florida Not All Aboard organization that is fighting the project, has attended several of these workshops. She describes the scene as “like a show-and-tell” for the rail line.
Steve Raines of Cocoa, however, said he appreciated that the Federal Railroad Administration was providing a forum.
“They’re listening to our concerns and comments,” Raines said.
Cole said 180 people signed in when they arrived at the forum in Cocoa, and there were others who declined to do so. Previous forums attracted between 200 and 800 people, he said, with the final forum scheduled Thursday in Orlando.
After that, comments will be cataloged by topic, and will become part of the public record.
HOW TO SUBMIT COMMENTS
The 75-day period to submit comments to the Federal Railroad Administration for the All Aboard Florida project’s draft environmental impact statement ends on Dec. 3. Comments can be sent to FRA either by email to the attention of John Winkle at this address: AAF_comments@vhb.com, or by mail to: John Winkle, Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E., Room W38-311, Washington, DC 20590.