The TC Palm: Missing the train: State of Florida busts deadline for All Aboard Florida comments

Posted on January 15, 2015

By Lisa Broadt


The state apparently has squandered its opportunity to comment on All Aboard Florida. It missed the Dec. 3 deadline, and — six weeks later — still hasn’t submitted its comments.


The Florida Clearinghouse — responsible for crafting the state’s official response — is “reviewing” All Aboard Florida’s environmental impact statement, according to Dee Ann Miller, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the Clearinghouse.


For certain major projects, such as All Aboard Florida, the Clearinghouse compiles comments from regional and state agencies and uses them to draft the state’s response.


Comments on the All Aboard Florida environmental impact statement from the Florida departments of Transportation, Fish and Wildlife and Environmental Protection could be discarded due to the missed deadline.


The 522-page environmental impact statement examines the effects All Aboard Florida’s proposed 32 trains a day could have on issues such as traffic, safety, wildlife and noise. The private company’s $2.25 billion, Miami-to-Orlando high-speed passenger rail project would begin service from Miami to West Palm Beach by the end of 2016 and through the Treasure Coast to Orlando International Airport in early 2017.


The Clearinghouse required agencies to submit their comments by Nov. 4, according to a timeline on its website. The Clearinghouse said it would finalize its response by Dec. 8 — five days after the Federal Railroad Administration’s deadline — but as of Wednesday, its final document still was incomplete.


“DEP is still reviewing the environmental impact statement.” Miller said in an email.


The Clearinghouse received comments from eight state and regional agencies, including the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, which also sent a copy of its findings directly to the Federal Railroad Administration, according to Kim DeLaney, the council’s strategic development coordinator.


“Our comments were approved for transmittal by the council to go directly to the FRA and through the state Clearinghouse … to be compiled into one document that is the official state of Florida comments,” DeLaney said.


The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did not send its comments directly to the FRA, according to spokeswoman Carli Segelson. FDOT officials were unable to provide comment.


The Federal Railroad Administration in November rejected an extension sought by the state, according to spokesman Michael Cole.


“We already had extended the comment period from 45 to 75 days,” Cole said.


The state did not request another extension, according to Cole.


The Federal Railroad Administration did not grant requests from Gov. Rick Scott and other government officials for a 90-day public-comment period.


Nearly every Treasure Coast government responded to the environmental impact statement, and the Federal Railroad Administration has received more than 12,000 comments, according to Cole.


The FRA will take all comments into account when drafting the final environmental impact statement and suggesting any additional mitigation measures to All Aboard Florida, spokesman Kevin Thompson has said.


Officials have not set a deadline for releasing the final environmental impact statement.

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