On Wednesday, September 14, Martin and St. Lucie counties filed a Petition with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) seeking a hearing on the proposed issuance of an environmental permit for the All Aboard Florida (AAF a.k.a Brightline) high-speed passenger rail project. SFWMD proposed granting AAF the permit for construction of railway facilities in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. The SFWMD Environmental Resource Permit is required for development or construction activities to prevent flooding, protect water quality from stormwater pollution, and protect wetlands and other surface waters. It also must address impacts on listed species, cultural resources, public health and safety, and the overall public interest of the project.
Martin County is concerned that if AAF receives its permit, it will lead to the loss of wetlands, degraded water quality, potential harm to threatened and endangered species and other detriments to the community. "Martin County is committed to reducing the negative impacts of the AAF project. That's why we filed this petition, in our continued effort to protect the natural resources and quality of life of our residents," said County Attorney Michael Durham.
If Martin County's petition is successful, AAF's environmental permit could be denied, or AAF could be required to take additional measures to reduce environmental impacts from its project. An independent administrative law judge must now evaluate whether AAF's permit application should be approved or denied. It could be months before there is a resolution.
Martin County believes there are major flaws with the proposed permit. One 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.
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.
The County believes these high speed trains have greater potential to
harm threatened and endangered species than SFWMD considered. The project will also cause a myriad of other negative impacts to Martin County residents including: greater 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.
Last month, 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.