Environmental permit challenges latest chapter in rail project fight

Posted on November 2, 2016

CORAL GABLES – Officials in Martin and Indian River counties have started a new battle in connection with the completion of the proposed $3.1 billion All Aboard Florida Miami-to-Orlando project by attempting to derail efforts to obtain the necessary environmental permits. 

Ed Garland, public communications coordinator for the St. John's River Water Management District, said the district determined that All Aboard Florida has met the conditions for approval of at least one of those permits, although Indian River County has formerly challenged that determination.

“The proposed works in wetlands and surface waters, including the removal and replacement of bridge structures, is not anticipated to adversely affect public health, safety or welfare of off-site properties,” Garland told the Florida Record.

Garland said All Aboard Florida applied to the St. John’s River District on Nov. 13, 2015 for a permit in connection with an area that spans an area of approximately 67 miles, beginning adjacent to State Route 528 in eastern Brevard County and extending south to the Indian River and St. Lucie County line.

“The project meets the district's water quality standards,” Garland said.

However, Garland stressed that the St. John's District’s review of All Aboard Florida’s application was limited to those matters within its regulatory authority, such as flood protection and drainage, adverse impacts to wetlands and/or surface waters and water quality.

“The district does not have the authority to consider other non-water resource related matters as part of the application, such as noise, property values, local government requirements or traffic related impacts,” Garland said.

Garland said the district received an administrative petition challenging the issuance of the environmental resource permit (ERP) and requesting an administrative hearing. The district is currently reviewing the issues stated in the petition. The petition was filed by Indian River County.

“The intent to issue ERP should not have been issued, and the district’s action must be reversed,” Indian River County said in the petition.

Although the ERP covers just a 67-mile portion of the project, Indian River County said in the petition that it maintains that the true impact of the All Aboard Florida project is much larger.

Specifically, the county said the project itself covers hundreds of miles and calls for at least 32 passenger trains, pulled by diesel locomotives, to pass through the county daily at speeds of more than100 miles per hour, causing long-term adverse impacts to the county’s natural resources and wetland conservation areas, as well as creating safety hazards, socioeconomic harm to the neighborhoods and historic resources of the county, and adversely affecting the county’s economic development plans.

Receipt of the petition renders the ERP as a non-final agency action and the matter was referred to the division of administrative hearings (DOAH), Garland said.

The environmental challenges are the latest moves in the counties’ fight against the rail project. In a pending federal court case, the counties argued that the $3.1 billion project cannot move forward without governmental financial support in the form of tax-exempt bonds.

In addition to Indian River County’s challenge of the St. John’s District permit, Martin County recently appealed an environmental permit granted to All Aboard Florida by the South Florida Water Management District in connection with stormwater management systems in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

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