FLORIDA OFFICIALS MUST EXPLAIN WHY THEY MISSED THE DEADLINE ON THE ALL ABOARD FLORIDA DEIS

Publish Date: 
Monday, January 26, 2015 - 6:15am

TCPalm

Some things defy understanding. The vastness of the universe. The birth of a child. The fact state officials missed the Dec. 3 deadline to comment on the draft environmental impact statement for the All Aboard Florida project.

Today, almost eight weeks after the deadline, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — the agency coordinating the state’s response to the proposed passenger rail project — still hasn’t finalized its response to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for DEP, said this week the agency’s review was “ongoing.”

“DEP notified the FRA that our comments would not be submitted by the deadline,” Miller said in an email. “The state has asked All Aboard Florida to do more to work with stakeholders to benefit the region. We’ve asked that they also extend their comment period, which they refused to do.”

All Aboard Florida plans to begin running passenger trains from Miami to West Palm Beach by the end of 2016 and through the Treasure Coast to Orlando in early 2017. The potential effects of 32 daily trains — on traffic, public safety, wildlife, noise and vibration, emergency response — could be enormous.

The state’s comments are essential to ensuring residents’ rights are safeguarded.

There are no train stops planned for our region.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which is overseeing the project, received more than 12,000 comments on the draft environmental impact statement — many of them from Treasure Coast residents opposed to the project. About 2,000 local residents attended FRA-sponsored meetings in our three counties to voice objections to All Aboard Florida. And more than 44,000 people have signed Florida NOT All Aboard’s petition to “Stop Big Choo Choo” in its tracks.

Many of you cared enough to attend meetings, sign petitions and submit comments on the 522-page draft report. And you adhered to deadlines.

The same cannot be said for state officials, who likely have squandered any opportunity to provide informed — and authoritative — comments on the federal report.

Comments on the All Aboard Florida environmental impact statement from the state departments of Transportation, Fish and Wildlife and Environmental Protection could be discarded due to the missed deadline.

That is, if such comments are submitted by the state.

State government is intractable with the deadlines it imposes on Florida residents. Good luck getting away with “ongoing” the next time you miss the deadline to renew your car tag, business license or dozens of other state-mandated requirements.

Florida officials have given Treasure Coast residents the impression they really don’t care about our concerns with respect to All Aboard Florida.

We deserve an explanation from Gov. Rick Scott and his administration for the state’s inept handling of this situation.

Governor, please explain why the interests of 600,000 Treasure Coast residents received such short shrift at the state level.

We’ll be waiting for a response.

We’d propose a deadline, but what good would that do?