Martin County to consider spending another $1.37M fighting All Aboard Florida

Posted on February 5, 2016

By Lisa Broadt

The Martin County Commission on Tuesday will consider allocating up to an additional $1.37 million to continue the fight against All Aboard Florida.

The county already has spent nearly $1.4 million of the $1.56 million dedicated in 2014 and 2015 to fighting the Miami-to-Orlando passenger railroad.

If commissioners approve the funding, Martin County's allocation would surpass Indian River's $2.7 million, previously the largest on the Treasure Coast.

Together, the counties will have spent or allocated more than $6.6 million to fight the railroad, which by late 2017 would have 16 daily round trips running through the Treasure Coast.

Though Martin County has lost legal challenges in federal and state courts, now is the time to strike harder, according to County Commissioner Anne Scott, who said she would "enthusiastically" spend another $1.35 million on the fight.

All Aboard Florida "is on its back foot," Scott said of the company's apparent struggle to sell $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds, the company's first-line financing plan. "Cutting back is what they want us to do. It's time to double down."

The $3.1 billion railroad is not a done deal, and it's essential the county show its strength while All Aboard is vulnerable, according to Scott.

"They've tried to litigate us to our tolerance, but we've dedicated an impressive amount," she said. "They must be surprised at the determination and resources we're willing to commit."

All Aboard Florida on Friday said it does not view Treasure Coast communities as adversaries.

"Our focus on public safety is our obligation, and quite simply a requirement for the success of our business. Our needs and the interests of the community are actually in full alignment," a spokeswoman said. "AAF has repeatedly stated that we will both fund and construct a comprehensive set of safety and operating improvements that will exceed all of the most stringent requirements and regulations set by the Federal Railroad Administration."

Commissioner John Haddox said he would need to review the proposal, but would be inclined to commit additional funds to stopping the train, which, he said, threatens residents' quality of life.

Martin County over the last several years has been vocal in it complaints about its own mounting infrastructure-maintenance costs, and in 2014 the commission asked, and failed to convince, voters to approve a sales tax to pay for that maintenance.

But putting funding toward the All Aboard battle, rather than the estimated $258 million of deferred infrastructure work, makes long-term financial sense, according to Haddox.

"It sounds like a lot of money — and it is — but it will save taxpayers money in the future," he said of potential detrimental effects on local property values.

All Aboard Florida on Friday said that, in fact, the company is "committed to working with all communities along the rail to preserve quality of life," as evidenced by its offer to help local communities construct quiet zones, or stretches of track that meet a high safety standard and engineers are not required to sound their horns.

County staff on Tuesday will update the commission on the county's ongoing battle — it has at least three active lawsuits — and will suggest the commission spend $675,000 on immediate and ongoing projects and set aside $700,000 for potential projects.

Indian River County, meanwhile, has spent just over half its allocated $2.7 million, according to county data.

The remaining $1.3 million should cover costs in the coming year, according to Dylan Reingold, county attorney.

Nearly half of the money already spent by Martin County went to its outside counsel, Washington attorney Stephen Ryan. That trend could intensify in 2016; up to $1 million could go to Ryan, based on the new staff proposal.

A litigation and lobbying specialist, Ryan previously helped the Rochester Coalition — a group comprising 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. That project has been delayed "indefinitely," according to Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., the company behind the proposed freight-line expansion.

Ryan also represents the citizen activist group CARE FL, which also opposes All Aboard Florida.

Construction of All Aboard Florida already has begun between Miami and West Palm Beach, and Brightline passenger service there is to begin in early 2017, with full service beginning in late 2017.

Click here to view original article