On Monday, Administrative Law Judge, Bram E. Canter advised Martin and St. Lucie counties that a hearing regarding the counties' petition to challenge the issuance of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) environmental resource permit for the All Aboard Florida (AAF a.k.a Brightline) high-speed passenger rail project has been scheduled.
The hearing is tentatively scheduled to be held on December 19-22, 2016 at the Martin County Building Department on Ruhnke Street in Stuart and on February 14-17, 2017 in West Palm Beach at the SFWMD. The outcome of the hearing could result in AAF's environmental permit being denied.
Martin County believes there are major flaws with the permit and that the higher-speed trains have greater potential to harm threatened and endangered species than SFWMD considered. The County also believes the issuance of the permit will lead to impacts to wetlands, degraded water quality and will cause many other negative impacts to Martin County residents including: traffic congestion; slower emergency response times; longer emergency evacuation times; increased likelihood for collisions between trains and vehicles or pedestrians; impacts to marine navigation; and reduction in property values.
"Martin County is committed to reducing the negative impacts of the AAF project. That's why we challenged this decision, in our continued effort to protect the natural resources and quality of life of our residents," said County Attorney Michael Durham.
Another area of notable concern is that the SFWMD allowed AAF to break the project up into smaller segments. The District analyzed the impacts from these smaller segments, rather than looking at the greater impacts from the project as a whole, and failed to consider secondary and cumulative impacts of the project.
The County is also concerned that the SFWMD failed to consider that the proposed AAF high-speed passenger trains are fundamentally different than the freight trains currently travelling through communities along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. At full operation, the AAF project will result in 32 high-speed trains barreling through Martin County daily at speeds of over 100 miles per hour, in addition to the freight train traffic that already passes through the County and is expected to increase.
In July, Martin and Indian River counties won a major victory against AAF by receiving an important and favorable ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper, indicating that the counties have legal standing to proceed with their April 2015 lawsuit brought against AAF and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to stop violations of our nation's environmental laws and the improper authorization of $1.75 billion in taxpayer subsidized bonds. The next stage of the case includes the DOT's long-delayed production of the agency record, and further proceedings to bring the case to a swift final judgment.