Environmental study of All Aboard Florida project draws 8,000 comments

Publish Date: 
Friday, December 5, 2014 - 1:15pm

BY Jennifer Sorentrue  The Palm Beach Post

As of Tuesday, the Federal Railroad Administration had received roughly 8,000 comments about the project. Michael Cole, a spokesman for the administration, said it was not clear how that number compares to other projects across the country. “It depends on the project,” Cole said. “We are very grateful for all of the public input that we got.” Cole said each comment will be categorized and evaluated to determine whether there are environmental impacts that have not yet been considered. Federal officials have not said how long that process might take.

“There is no normal,” Cole said. “Every one of these projects is unique, and every one requires very specific attention.”

At the request of All Aboard Florida, federal officials in May agreed to give the public 75 days to comment on the project — up from the traditional 45-day public comment period. All Aboard Florida officials said they made the request after a discussion with Gov. Rick Scott.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion, a coalition of residents and communities opposed to the rail project, on Tuesday called on federal rail officials to prepare a “supplemental” environmental study. The group argued a draft version of the federal review, which was released in September, contained an “inaccurate and inadequate analysis” of the project’s impacts — especially the effect it could have on local waterways and boat traffic.

“The project will run high-speed passenger trains through densely populated coastal communities, and in the same right-of-way there will be a sharp increase in the number of freight trains carrying toxic materials,” the group wrote in the 60-page response to the draft study. “It will profoundly disrupt the region’s recreational and commercial boating activities in navigable waterways.”

All Aboard Florida plans to begin service from Miami to West Palm Beach in late 2016 with the Orlando leg starting in 2017.

Construction on the private rail company’s station in downtown West Palm Beach began last month.

The public comment period ends today for a federal study looking at the environmental impacts of All Aboard Florida’s passenger rail service. Here is what happens next:

* Officials will categorize all of the roughly 8,000 comments that have been submitted

* Each comment will be evaluated to determine whether there are impacts that have not yet been considered