By Donald Rodrigue
For Hometown News
MARTIN COUNTY -- State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, became the latest public official to take a stand against All Aboard Florida, a planned, $2.25 billion high-speed passenger rail service connecting Orlando with Miami.
Sen. Negron spoke at a Stuart Rally June 26, adding his voice to thousands of others from the Treasure Coast clamoring to stop Florida East Coast Industries from implementing the railway that proposes to send 32 trains daily between Orlando and Miami through the region. The company plans no stops along the Treasure Coast, and Sen. Negron has vowed to stop the firm from obtaining $1.5 billion in federal financing.
"All Aboard Florida is not good for our community," he said.
Sen. Negron joined Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard and several other speakers near the foot of the St. Lucie River drawbridge, one of the spots area boaters fear will see a tremendous backlog of marine traffic due to the planned project's increased rail traffic. K.C. Traylor, a Palm City resident who's collected more than 18,000 signatures on her online petition Florida Not All Aboard, got a standing ovation from the crowd.
"Joe Negron has chosen the right side of the issue," Ms. Traylor said.
Ms. Traylor also spoke June 17 before the St. Lucie County Commission in an attempt to sway that body to take the same stand. The commissioners subsequently voted unanimously to oppose the project.
"The time to take a stand is now, before the release of the environmental impact statement," Ms. Traylor said. "This projects offers no benefits, and I strongly believe a unified voice up and down the coast will make a difference."
The Federal Railroad Administration is currently preparing an environmental impact statement to determine both the positive and negative environmental effects the railway would have on the quality of the human environment. Jensen Beach resident Phillip McAdam also pleaded with the St. Lucie County Commission to take a stand.
"My family owns property on Indian River Drive in St. Lucie County, and last year, for the first time, the values started going back up," Mr. McAdam said. "I have the property for sale, and I already lost a sale directly because of these trains."
During the Martin County Commission meeting June 3, Commissioner Heard expressed her concern about the possible negative impacts on public safety, wildlife and small-town charm of the community redevelopment areas.
"We need to make a bigger emphasis on the importance of the marine industry; and on the genuine threat to public safety and welfare," Ms. Heard said. "The FECI tracks run through Jonathan Dickinson State Park and are passing through all of our historic towns where we have ponied up additional dollars to make those historic towns robust."
Before voting unanimously to oppose the project, commissioners listened to the fears of Jupiter resident Valerie Morton who lives on the Loxahatchee River.
"We're very cautious boaters, and one weekend we decided to come back in early due to threatening weather," Ms. Morton said. "As we rounded that corner where the lighthouse is, there were 20 boats waiting for the railroad trestle to come down, all trying to keep a safe distance from each other. There are only 16 trains now, and they want to make it 50? You're going to have problems out there and real safety issues."
Martin County has joined a string of Treasure Coast municipalities voting against All Aboard Florida, which includes St. Lucie County and the cities of Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce, Sebastian and Tequesta. Indian River County officials have decided to await the release of the environmental impact statement before deciding on the issue.
The city of Stuart has not publicly taken a stance on the project yet, but Mayor Troy McDonald has been actively pressing his fellow city commissioners to further investigate the possible negative impacts on the area. Instead of harping on the potential problems, some city officials have instead been trying to unsuccessfully persuade All Aboard Florida on the idea of a Stuart stop on the line. McDonald told fellow officials in a memo that a more hard-nosed approach may be in order.
"If we wait, it may be too late to mitigate many of the negative impacts," Mayor McDonald said.
Most other Treasure Coast officials have also cited concerns about delays of emergency vehicles at the railroad crossings and a backlog of boaters at the region's railroad trestles.
The Fort Pierce City Commission voted against the project on March 3, and Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said she's concerned about both public safety and the future cost of maintaining the railroad crossings in the city.
"I am personally committed first to keep our citizens safe and second to protect the quality of life of Fort Pierce citizens," Mayor Hudson said. "I know that our city does not have the resources to upgrade the crossings, nor would we have funds in the future to maintain expensive crossings. I fear that some state officials see the benefit to Florida from All Aboard Florida, but don't see the potential harm to communities smaller than the South Florida urban corridor and the Central Florida urban area."
Mike Reininger, president of All Aboard Florida, took to the air waves in mid-June to publicly defend the project in the light of so much Treasure Coast opposition. During that interview, Mr. Reininger emphasized that the trains would take no more than 45 seconds at each crossing to alleviate the concerns of emergency service providers. Although there is no proposed stop on the trains for the Treasure Coast, Mr. Reininger believes the railway will financially benefit every community in which it passes.
"That economic activity supports tens of thousands of jobs in construction along the entirety of 235 miles where construction takes place," he said. "Millions of dollars of improvement are going to go into the new marine and railway bridges themselves."