The TC Palm: Washington group backs AAF, targets ‘NIMBY naysayers’ on Treasure Coast

Posted on June 16, 2015

Lisa Broadt

A Washington organization is collecting donations to defend All Aboard Florida’s $3 billion rail project against “NIMBY naysayers” on the Treasure Coast.

The acronym “NIMBY” stands for “Not in My Back Yard.”

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, a nonprofit organization, is raising money and collecting petition signatures on its website, according to Vice President Sean Jeans-Gail.

Donations, however, are used for all the organization’s operations, he said, so a specific amount donated for All Aboard Florida could not be identified. The number of petition signatures was unavailable, he said.

The organization’s goal is to educate the public about passenger rail and, in this case, “get them on board with All Aboard.”

“America’s passengers need to counter entrenched interests standing in the way of progress,” says the organization’s website. “Don’t let the NIMBY naysayers stop progress in Florida!”

All Aboard Florida said it communicates with advocacy groups, such as the association of railroad passengers, but does not request funding to aid its planned Miami-to-Orlando high-speed passenger rail project.

“We communicate with (the National Association of Railroad Passengers) to keep them educated as to our progress, just as we do with many groups and constituencies. We have not engaged in proactive efforts with any of these groups,” the company said Monday in a prepared statement.

The association provides passenger-rail news through a blog, newsletter and news hotline. It does not maintain local chapters but said it has taken efforts to “mobilize support” for All Aboard Florida and works closely with the Florida Coalition of Rail passengers. There’s significant overlap in leadership, with at least three board members, including the chairman of the association of rail passengers, involved in both.

Last week it encouraged members to contact local legislators and ask them to reject All Aboard Florida-related amendments, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, to an appropriations bill.

The House on June 9 rejected Posey’s amendment that would have barred the U.S. Department of Transportation from using funds as part of financing passenger rail projects on Florida’s east coast.

Posey, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and state lawmakers have spoken out against the project for its potential effect on local communities and for what they say is use of public dollars for a private project.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers acknowledges that Treasure Coast communities would see increased rail traffic with “no substantive benefit,” according to Jeans-Gail.

“The benefit would come from the 30,000-foot impact to the state economy,” Jeans-Gail said Monday. “I can see why that would not be compelling enough.”

The Florida Department of Transportation should be involved in ensuring safety for local neighborhoods, but some Florida lawmakers’ insistence that no public money be used for All Aboard Florida has made cooperation difficult, according to Jeans-Gail.

“There’s certainly a danger in looking at transportation infrastructure as a private-sector investment where you don’t respect the rights of communities like you would if you had more (government) involvement.”

Whether politics would shift in local governments’ favor is “up in the air,” Jeans-Gail said.

Still, other materials on the association’s website are less understanding of the “parochial politics” that could hinder All Aboard Florida’s progress.

In a blog post, the association said it questions whether it is “appropriate to require the railroad to contribute an undue share of the cost of infrastructure improvement” when federal assistance programs exist, and concludes “there are no substantive reasons to oppose the All Aboard Florida project.”

The association is the only organization that acts as a “voice for train passengers” on Capitol Hill and before the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to its website.

In 2013 it collected about $1.4 million, the vast majority from fees from its 28,000 members, according to a tax filing.

All Aboard Florida already has begun work between Miami and West Palm Beach. That segment of the 235-mile project is to begin service in early 2017.

Work on the second phase — from West Palm Beach and nonstop through the Treasure Coast to Orlando International Airport — could begin in late summer and is to begin running in late 2017.

All Aboard Florida plans 32 trains daily between Miami and Orlando.

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