By Steve Ryan, August 26, 2014 Care FL.
By Steve Ryan, Attorney for Care FL.
At the heart of the AAF matter is this question: Is AAF and the FECI requiring communities to increase the already illegal railroad unfunded mandates to provide safety equipment and maintenance?
The evidence now in is an unqualified yes! In a carefully reasoned memo from Brevard County Attorney Scott L. Knox to his County Commissioners, he provides a compelling and clear legal analysis rejecting the over-reaching requests by Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and All Aboard Florida (AAF) to modify existing crossing agreements affecting road crossing agreements between the railroad and County. Knox’s conclusions indicate the costs currently incurred by the county for grade crossing expenses are already improperly borne by the local taxpayers and detail how those expenses will dramatically increase with the current FECI/AAF proposal. In other words, for years, decades in fact, the FEC has been unlawfully sending bills for such maintenance to local communities. And now they want authorization to send even bigger ones, and to hold up the counties to pay for safety corridors and quiet zones, as well as maintaining them at county expense for perpetuity.
Brevard County’s legal analysis concludes that existing FEC rail crossing agreements with the county are void and unenforceable—noting that this presents the county with an opportunity to seek ‘recoupment’ of all maintenance fees that have been improperly paid to FEC. Further, the county’s analysis states: “If the crossing agreements are terminated or void and no irrevocable license is declared, the County can use the power of eminent domain, if necessary, to obtain permanent crossing easements at existing railroad crossings.”
This thoughtful legal analysis of the county’s options for responding to AAF/FEC dovetails with CARE FL’s belief that AAF and increased freight amount to an unfunded mandate being imposed on the counties through which the railroad runs and who will not benefit in any way from the increased traffic. And nothing in Brevard’s analysis would not equally apply to all the other counties along the line.
So why should the local communities and the state have to foot this bill, even in part, to ensure that our homes and neighborhoods have the improvements needed to maintain our quality of life to benefit AAF’s and FEC’s plans?
Conclusion: AAF can and should be required to pay 100 percent of the costs associated with grade crossing safety improvements, sealed corridors and quiet zones.
If as we suspect they will not make such a binding promise, in writing, they should stop fudging and be more honest and transparent about their unwillingness to do so, and admit they are heaping these installation costs and maintenance fees on the taxpayers of Florida.