Guest Column: Our efforts against All Aboard Florida have been worthwhile
Posted on July 21, 2016
It is impossible to live in Martin County these days and not be horrified at the devastating effects the toxic algae is having on our residents' health, economy and way of life.
However, an equally ominous threat is the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project.
All Aboard Florida plans to have trains barreling through our communities at 100 mph along the same tracks as freight trains carrying hazardous materials. This will destroy our neighborhoods, create safety and traffic issues, reduce property values and hurt the marine industry which is a core part of our economy and our heritage.
Thankfully, local governments in Martin and Indian River counties, along with grassroots organizations, heard the public outcry loud and clear.
Since 2014 we have been fighting to protect residents from this behemoth of corporate greed, power and influence. We have disputed AAF's improper request to the Florida Development Finance Corp. to fund the project with high-risk bonds that it can't even sell right now.
We have been critical of the deeply flawed and incomplete environmental impact analysis released by the Federal Railroad Administration.
We have demanded safety upgrades and technology features that AAF didn't want to acknowledge or agree to in its design plans and hasn't shown any commitment to paying for.
AAF arrogantly believes that because its sister company, Florida East Coast Railway, laid tracks through our towns decades ago, it has the right to move ahead with this project with no sensitivity or regard for negative impacts. As AAF builds its high-rise real estate empire in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, our communities are the places that will be harmed.
I have yet to meet a local who actually supports the AAF project. I do meet people, however, who are skeptical of investing taxpayer dollars to fight what some perceive as a losing cause. They think greed, power and corruption will win.
I disagree. The money that has been invested in legal and other pursuits has been money well spent. The information collected through the diligence of our attorneys and consultants has shed light on the flaws and improprieties of AAF, FEC and their parent company, Fortress Investment Group.
Martin County has had serious concerns with AAF's actions on this project, from its tax-exempt bond application and its request for a federal rail loan to the incomplete and inadequate Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Even its premise that the FEC tracks were the best option for running the passenger trains was flawed. Its own ridership study — including exaggerated estimates of the number of people who will use the train, as well as the price per ticket — was conducted by a firm that was recently convicted of corruption and criminal charges. Without our various lawsuits, this information might not have ever been forthcoming.
We have also discovered many deficiencies in AAF's design plans regarding safety. We have repeatedly implored AAF to provide us with relevant information about its intentions to make our communities safe. We have provided detailed correspondence including requests for sealed corridors, additional sidewalks and crossings in our neighborhoods and inclusion of safety technologies such as Vehicle Presence Detection and Remote Health Monitoring.
While the lawsuits continue, our engineers, environmental staff and consulting experts continue to review AAF's plans and permits, providing critical comments to ensure our citizens' concerns are heard and addressed.
Battles are won using a multipronged strategy. The troops must have the right resources to defeat their opponents. The enemy must not be underestimated.
Make no mistake, AAF would have literally railroaded us with its boondoggle had our community not had the courage to fight back.