BY SAMANTHA ROHLFING BAITA
The Sebastian City Council was very unhappy upon learning survey work on the controversial $1 billion All Aboard Florida project was already well under way along the tracks in Sebastian, without any prior notification to the city as had been promised, nor any impact data gathered from the municipalities that will be directly affected.
To make matters worse, Community Development Director and Engineer Frank Watanabe learned that two previous surveys had already taken place during the last few months, all unbeknownst to Sebastian officials.
Councilwoman Andrea Coy said she had come upon the survey work and immediately asked what was going on. I am shocked and disappointed. We need to stay in this game. And its not a game we take it very seriously.
She asked that the city manager be directed to make a formal complaint signed by the mayor. Mayor Bob McPartlan and the council concurred. City Manager Joe Griffin said hell meet with Watanabe and get a formal document drawn up right away.
Rusty Roberts is Vice-President-Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Industries, the conglomerate planning the controversial multimillion dollar rail project intended to carry passengers between Miami and Orlando via high speed rail with no stops along the Treasure Coast.
Roberts, the face of All Aboard Florida, had presented the project to the Sebastian city council this past January, and council members agreed with Coys recollection that they had been assured we would be invited to be a part of the plan progress from the start.
In a later conversation with Sebastian River News, Watanabe said he and the city public works director had been conducting a field survey on another city project, in the vicinity of the Main Street rail crossing, when they noticed a survey crew at work near the tracks. Watanabe approached the survey crew leader, who told him they were with AMEC environmental consultants, a company subcontracted by HNTB, an engineering, architecture design and planning firm, one of three firms which, according to the surveyor, were hired for the All Aboard Florida Project.
They were, he explained, doing a vertical clearance survey that was, in fact, the last of three they had been assigned for the AAF project. Already completed, he said, are the drainage infrastructure and the roadway geometrics surveys.
Astonished and concerned, Watanabe got in touch with a higher-up at AMEC, who confirmed that the work was indeed for the All Aboard Florida project. In addition to HNTB, the other two firms contracted by AAF are ERS Engineering (electrical, mechanical, and technology design services), and Transit Systems.
Watanabe, with significant experience in such matters and knowledge of the way private companies operate, said he has never seen survey work proceeding before the environmental studies have been completed, the issues and concerns identified, and valid options determined. Although AAF has yet to complete the environmental impact document, Watanabe says the fact that the surveys are already well underway would indicate they are going ahead before the diagnostics have been done. Why? There are lots of questions. Its a red flag.
The lead agency for the project, Watanabe said, is the Federal Rail Administration, and, as such, should certainly be made aware of whats happening, and that we want to be a cooperating agency, but we should be a part of the process as we were told we would be. If enough cities and regional agencies put them on notice, put the pressure on, perhaps some answers will be forthcoming, Watanabe said, emphasizing that communication is critical.