Martin, Indian River could increase funding for All Aboard Florida legal battle

Posted on January 25, 2016

By Lisa Broadt

More tax money could be spent to fight All Aboard Florida if Martin and Indian River county commissioners approve new legal plans, though both counties are keeping mum on how much.

In a closed-door session Monday, Martin County discussed allocating money for legal expenses related to fighting Brightline, All Aboard Florida's Miami-to-Orlando passenger railroad. The County Commission is to discuss the funding, and possibly hiring additional outside legal help, at its Feb. 9 meeting, according to the county agenda.

Indian River County commissioners last week approved their own plan for additional legal representation; additional outside attorneys would help the county challenge federal and state permits for the $3.1 billion railroad.

On Feb. 2, the commission is to consider paying a new outside attorney $295 per an hour.

FOLLOW THE TRACKS | All Aboard Florida timeline

The proposed agreement sets no cap on Indian River's legal costs: "The parties recognize and acknowledge that legal fees for work on the matter can get very high very fast,"the law firm warned in the proposed contract.

Lawyers also warned that they made no "warranty to you concerning the likelihood of success."

Indian River County since 2013 has allocated about $2.6 million to the All Aboard Florida fight.

Martin County had no All Aboard Florida spending information available Monday, but the county's quarterly financial report shows that last year it spent $1.6 million on outside counsel for litigation and has earmarked $668,000 for the current budget year. The county did not indicate how much of that spending went to fight All Aboard Florida.

Despite the millions of dollars spent and a stable of in-house and outside counsel, the counties have suffered defeats in state and federal courts.

But a recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could have created a new legal opening, according to Indian River County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a Jan. 7 letter to All Aboard Florida, said it needs more information about potential damage to federal waters, including wetlands, before it allows the railroad to begin work in Indian River and Brevard counties.

Indian River County wants the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Corp's state-level counterpart, to follow suit.

County staff is to meet with the water management district Tuesday. New outside legal counsel, if hired, would continue to pursue the issue, according to Dylan Reingold, county attorney.

Construction of the passenger railroad already has begun between Miami and West Palm Beach, and Brightline passenger service there is to begin in early 2017, with full service — through the Treasure Coast and on to Orlando International Airport — beginning in late 2017.

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