Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) continues to be active on advocacy efforts, legal work and public relations activities in opposition to the expansion of All Aboard Florida’s (AAF’s) Brightline passenger rail project into Phase II. This is the phase of the project that would result in 32 additional trains speeding through our communities at speeds of 80 to 110 miles per hour without stopping, on the way from West Palm Beach to Orlando. CARE FL continues to work with its allies in Indian River County and Martin County on these efforts.
We have recently provided you with updates on CARE FL’s federal advocacy efforts in Washington, DC—including an important hearing before the U.S. Congress regarding AAF’s $1.15 billion Private Activity Bond (PAB) allocation—as well as CARE FL’s ongoing safety concerns at the many inherently dangerous at-grade crossings along the AAF route. In this update we are providing you with news on CARE FL’s legal efforts at the federal level, our forthcoming Candidate Report Card for 2018 and an update on our state advocacy efforts from Tallahassee.
Update on Federal Litigation
CARE FL—along with Indian River County and Martin County—on February 13 filed a joint Complaint in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The Complaint demonstrates that the approval of the project ignored or failed to consider the environmental, public safety, maritime and environmental impacts the AAF project will have on Treasure Coast communities, and how those actions are contrary to and violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition, the Complaint also addresses the issue of the legality of the $1.15 billion PAB allocation based on the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) corridor’s past use of Title 23 dollars.
On May 20, USDOT filed the required Administrative Record, containing thousands of files. On June 13, U.S. District Court Judge Cooper issued an order setting the briefing schedule for filings from the Plaintiffs and Defendants. The timing is as follows:
- July 18 – The date by which CARE FL and the Counties must file their Motion for Summary Judgement on both the NEPA issue and the Title 23 issue
- August 15 – The date by which USDOT must file its Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment
- August 22 – The date by which AAF must file its Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment
- September 7 – The date by which CARE FL and the Counties must file their Opposition and Reply
- September 21 – The date by which USDOT must file its Reply
- September 28 – The date by which AAF must file its Reply
After all of these filings are completed, Judge Cooper could schedule an oral argument in the fall before he rules on the case.
As you can see from the schedule, the legal teams from CARE FL, Indian River County and Martin County will be busy over the next three months, and we will continue to keep the community apprised as this process moves forward and as developments occur.
CARE FL 2018 Candidate Report Card
In 2016, CARE FL surveyed more than 100 candidates in the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach County regions, scored their responses and issued the first CARE FL Candidate Report Card. As we approach the important 2018 primary and general elections, we are once again surveying candidates running for the following offices: U.S. Senate, Congressional Districts 8, 18, and 20, Governor, the Florida Legislature, and county and select city commissions in the region.
We are in the process of gathering and reviewing candidate responses now. After this assessment is completed, we will issue a Candidate Report Card to the community in late July.
Update from Tallahassee
On June 14, our government relations team attended Senator Debbie Mayfield’s At-Grade Crossing Safety meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the local governments. Originally, FDOT Secretary Mike Dew was scheduled to attend. However, he called Senator Mayfield and cancelled the morning of the meeting. The meeting, which was held in St. Lucie, was attended by Senator Mayfield, the FDOT Deputy Secretary that oversees freight and rail, Representatives Erin Grall and MaryLynn Magar, as well as staff from Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie Counties, and the cities of Vero Beach, Sebastian, and Stuart.
Senator Mayfield was direct in her questioning of FDOT, and FDOT was not forthcoming in response to the concerns expressed by the legislators, counties, and municipalities. During the meeting, FDOT made statements indicating that they seemed to take AAF at their word with respect to safety upgrades. FDOT appeared confused as to its authority over this project, and Senator Mayfield made it very clear that she would be watching the FDOT and urged them to do the right thing.
In other Tallahassee news, the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) rail study continues to move forward. It was the work of CARE FL—along with Indian River and Martin Counties, as well as our legislative champions in Tallahassee—that resulted in the Florida Legislature’s inclusion of language in the state budget directing OPPAGA to commission this study, which is due to be released on November 1, 2018.
CPCS Transcom Limited was recently selected by OPPAGA to assist with the rail study. CPCS specializes in mobilizing private investment monies for public infrastructure projects, which makes them an unusual choice. Our government relations team spoke with Senator Mayfield about this and she also expressed concerns that instead of accepting the University of South Florida proposal, OPPAGA accepted a proposal from a company not based in Florida. We will have more to report to you on this matter in future updates.
Interest in CARE FL continues to grow on the national level, and we will have more to report to you on this soon. At the state level, WMNF radio, covering the Tampa region, also reached out to CARE FL this month to talk about Governor Scott’s high-speed rail announcement. We will provide you with a copy of the interview as soon as it becomes available.