By Arnie Rosenberg TC Palm
The Coast Guard this week will hold its much-awaited meetings on navigation through the St. Lucie, Loxahatchee and New rivers’ railroad bridges. The meetings — in Stuart, Jupiter and Hollywood — are about navigation through the bridges, not the effect of All Aboard Florida, which would run high-speed passenger trains between Miami and Orlando and require 32 additional daily closings of the railroad bridges. In fact, formal comments about All Aboard Florida won’t be allowed at the forums, the Coast Guard said.
A court reporter will transcribe comments made about navigation, and those comments will be used to develop new Coast Guard rules, which will be published in the Federal Register.
People can speak about All About Florida informally to Coast Guard representatives, but those comments won’t be part of the meeting transcript. You can email the survey form here.
The Coast Guard process is separate from the Federal Railroad Administration meetings that wrap up this week in Cocoa and Orlando. For those meetings, required as part of the environmental impact statement process, all comments become part of the Federal Register.
“This is a regulatory issue with the bridges and not about All Aboard Florida,” said Barry Dragon, director of the Seventh Coast Guard District Bridge branch. “We started this process two or three years ago, before All Aboard Florida even was happening.”
Boaters, particularly in Martin County, have protested since early this year the additional delays and potential dangers created by additional closings of the railroad bridge over the St. Lucie River bridge in Stuart.
The Coast Guard meetings are intended to survey the boating community — both commercial and recreational — about how it uses the waters through the bridges and what boaters need to safely navigate through them, Dragon said.
People attending the meetings will get two minutes to speak, but they won’t be permitted to speak about All Aboard Florida, Dragon said.
The meetings will help the Coast Guard propose new regulations to Florida East Coast Industries, which owns the three bridges and owns All Aboard Florida. New rules could include closing schedules and the addition of bridge tenders, Coast Guard officials said.
Condition and age of the bridges and their ability to withstand increased passenger and freight traffic — from a total of 14 trains a day now to 52 by the time All Aboard Florida is to begin running through the Treasure Coast in 2017 — is beyond the Coast Guard’s responsibility, Dragon said.
The Coast Guard will evaluate the input; consider elements such as maneuverability, weather, currents and tides; and make proposals to Florida East Coast Industries. It could be spring before a final rule is published in the Federal Register.
IF YOU GO
What: Coast Guard public meetings about navigation through the St. Lucie, Loxahatchee and New rivers’ bridges
When/where: New River bridge, 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, Ann Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood; St. Lucie River bridge, 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Blake Library, 2351 S.E. Monterey Road, Stuart; Loxahatchee River bridge, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Jupiter Town Hall, 210 Military Trail, Jupiter
Information: Contact Gene Stratton, 305-415-6740
HOW TO SUBMIT COMMENTS
Make a request to speak at any of the three meetings or submit comment or written material on navigation on the St. Lucie, Loxahatchee or New rivers:
Email: Submit survey here:
Mail: Brickell Federal Building, c/o Seventh Coast Guard District Bridge Branch, 909 S.E. First Ave., Miami 33131-3050
Hand-delivery: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays except Tuesday, which is Veterans Day, a federal holiday. Phone number is 305-415-6946.
Details: Include the docket number for these meetings (USCG-2014-0937). Indicate which bridge you’re commenting on and the reason for each comment or recommendation. Include your name, mailing address, email address or phone number where you can be contacted if there are questions about your submission.
Deadline: An initial Dec. 1 deadline is likely to be extended, according to the Coast Guard.