by Sally Swartz full article here: http://opinionzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2014/05/11/opposition-to-all-a...
When more than 350 angry people from five counties show up at a Florida NOT All Aboard rally in Stuart, it’s clear: Foes of high-speed trains rocketing through coastal communities are organizing and ready to fight.
So are the politicians who represent them. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat whose District 18 includes Martin, St. Lucie and northeast Palm Beach counties, Martin County Commission Chair Sarah Heard, Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari and Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan drew cheers and chants of support at the May 4 event, held at Stuart’s Flagler Park beside the St. Lucie River.
On this cool and breezy Sunday morning, an electronic billboard near the railroad tracks flashes a giant poster: Stop Big Choo Choo in His Tracks.
Sharon Townley of Vero Beach sells t-shirts reading “Shoo! Shoo! Big Choo Choo!”
About 11,000 people, so far, have signed petitions opposing the trains. The Stuart City Commission sent protest letters, Indian River County Commission is poised to withdraw its support and Martin’s Commission is working on a resolution opposing All Aboard Florida.
AAF plans a high-speed rail passenger service from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but none in northern Palm Beach County or the Treasure Coast.
Backers bill it as a private venture, but they seek a $1.6 billion federal loan.
Some believe the scheme, backed by the Fortress Investment Group – owners of Florida East Coast Industries — doesn’t give a hoot about the passenger service. Instead, the plan is to use taxpayer money and a federal loan to improve tracks and upgrade rail systems from Miami to Cocoa by 2015.
That’s when a new Panama Canal lock opens. Giant cargo ships loaded with Chinese goods will be ready to head to the Port of Miami, newly dredged and equipped thanks to a $112 million grant from the state of Florida. The state is giving $215 million more to build the rail line’s Orlando station.
According to Florida NOT All Aboard, the Fortress hedge fund owns the ships, the containers, the docks, the trains and rails and plans to move cargo from ships to trains for transport up the east coast.
If All Aboard Florida fails financially — as has every other attempt at passenger rail service in the U.S. — new tracks installed for AAF remain for freight trains to use.
“People finally are starting to wake up at higher levels of government,” Murphy said. “Nothing against Miami and Orlando, but you can’t ignore everything in the middle.” He cites problems facing communities beside the railroad tracks: Noise, pollution, traffic jams and bridges blocking boat traffic 30-45 minutes each time a train goes through.
He also worries about safety at crossings and wins cheers and applause when he suggests moving the passenger train west “out of this area where it will not affect our quality of life.”
Murphy urges residents to email their opinions to him at http://patrickmurphy.house.gov/contact/
Jensen Beach resident Irene Gomes, whose Driftwood Motel is close to the tracks, agrees AAF should move west. “Move it out to cattle country,” she said.
Martin County has been trying to get answers about AAF for more than a year, Heard said.
AAF ”will never be good for residents of the Treasure Coast,” Indian River’s Solari said, and is not a “done deal” if residents make their voices heard.
“We have to stop it now,” Tequesta Mayor Brennan said. “We’ve got to start writing, yelling and all working together.”
“We can change the course of All Aboard Florida,” said K.C. Traylor, who organized the rally and leads the campaign against AAF for the Guardians of Martin County. See rally photos, petitions and more on the group’s web site at http://www.floridanotallaboard.com and Facebook page
Fort Lauderdale residents John and Sara Dotto, and Mary Sessions say AAF will kill Broward County’s marine industries and disrupt boat traffic.
See their web site at http://admmls.wix.com/savethenewriverftl.
On the Treasure Coast, double tracks would eliminate 100 parking spaces and wreck the small town charm of a rejuvenated and booming downtown Stuart. Triple tracks through Jonathan Dickinson State Park would disturb the wildlife and chop tiny St. Lucie Village in half.
The rally seems the first skirmish in what likely will be a long and difficult battle. AAF has its own page for supporters, some of whom quickly attack any opponents who post on social media.
Cynics bet big business and big money in cahoots with government supporters will win.
Opponents count on their fast-growing numbers and their passion to protect their communities to “derail Big Choo Choo.”
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org