TC Palm: Rich Campbell: Treasure Coast should end its legal fight against All Aboard Florida

Posted on August 28, 2015

Rich Campbell

We’ve reached the point where fighting All Aboard Florida has become a liability to our region.

Accept it, folks.

The train is coming.

It’s time for the Treasure Coast to pivot from its opposition to All Aboard Florida and actively pursue ways to mitigate potential impacts from the Miami-to-Orlando rail project, which is scheduled to bring 32 daily trains whisking through the Treasure Coast by late 2017.

No train stops are planned for Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

If All Aboard Florida sells its $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds — it received approval to do so Aug. 5 from the Florida Development Finance Corp. — the project will almost certainly become a reality.

We’re doing more harm than good by continuing to wave the battle flag and oppose the project.

Case in point: the regional workshop on Wednesday in Vero Beach hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation. The agency conducted the meeting to generate ideas from Treasure Coast residents, officials and planners to help prioritize local and state road projects.

However, the workshop was hijacked by All Aboard Florida opponents.

“Our focus is to attend these public meetings to let public officials know the concern the public has about this project,” said Phyllis Frey, a longtime opponent of the train project who organized the takeover.

Gee, I wonder if there were any state transportation officials at Wednesday’s meeting who learned for the first time how passionately and pervasively our region opposes the project?

The Treasure Coast had the opportunity to speak with state transportation officials about local highway needs and priorities. Instead, opponents of All Aboard Florida switched the subject matter, regurgitated well-documented arguments and trampled on the purpose of the meeting.

Maybe Frey and her group feel emboldened to continue fighting a lost cause because Indian River and Martin counties are doing the same.

On Aug. 18, Martin County commissioners voted unanimously to allow County Attorney Michael Durham to file a legal challenge questioning the authority of the Florida Development Finance Corp. to issue bonds to All Aboard Florida.

As of July 16, Martin County had spent $322,000 of the $1.5 million it earmarked in February to fight the rail project.

Part of the revenues generated by Martin County’s proposed 2.3 percent tax rate hike for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, will be used to replenish reserves spent fighting All Aboard Florida.

The Indian River County Commission has scheduled a private attorney-client session Sept. 15 to discuss the county’s legal action against All Aboard Florida.

As of July 13, Indian River County had spent $794,000 of the $2.7 million it earmarked in February to fight the rail project.

To date, what do the counties have to show for their combined $1.1 million legal expenditures?

Beyond adding to the wealth of a bevy of attorneys, not much.

The May 29 hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. — where attorneys representing Indian River and Martin counties asked Judge Christopher Cooper for a temporary injunction to block All Aboard Florida’s issuance of $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds — set the tone for the legal fight.

Cooper rejected the request, noting in his 21-page ruling the counties “stumbled at the threshold of standing.”

Specifically, the court said the counties failed to show that prohibiting the U.S. Department of Transportation from authorizing the bonds would significantly increase the likelihood All Aboard Florida would abandon the project.

There is a circular dynamic at play in the counties’ ongoing struggle against the rail project. Elected officials feel emboldened by the widespread opposition of residents; residents feel emboldened by the counties’ continuing legal challenges.

Reasonable minds need to examine the escalating costs and unlikelihood of stopping the train by legal means and salt our conversations with a much-needed dose of reality.

As I wrote earlier this month, the marketplace is the final hope to stop All Aboard Florida.

Continued, active opposition appears to be futile.

Let’s use our energies and resources from this point forward to mitigate the impacts of the project. This may include the installation of quiet zones — federally regulated safety upgrades that eliminate the need for trains to sound their horns at rail crossings.

These words are difficult for me to write. I’ve been an active, staunch opponent of All Aboard Florida since I first learned about the project almost two years ago.

But I believe we’ve reached the end of the tracks.

The Treasure Coast should terminate its fight against All Aboard Florida.

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