Senator Debbie Mayfield will be hosting this year’s Indian River County Legislative Delegation meeting on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 between 9:00am and 12:00pm. [Read more…] about 2019 Indian River County Delegation Meeting
Indian River County
Indian River & Martin Counties, CARE FL File a Federal Lawsuit to Stop the
U.S. DOT from Ignoring Safety, Maritime & Environmental Problems and
Illegally Subsidizing All Aboard Florida/Brightline with Tax Exempt Bonds
Indian River County, Martin County and Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) today filed a joint complaint in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
The complaint demonstrates that federal officials ignored or failed to consider the environmental, public safety, maritime and environmental impacts the All Aboard Florida (AAF) rail project will have on Treasure Coast communities. Instead of directly addressing those vital concerns and directing that they be appropriately resolved in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD), USDOT/FRA instead acted as the project’s supporter, deferring to AAF’s needs and wishes in violation of law. The Counties and CARE FL demonstrate how those actions are contrary to and violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“Throughout the NEPA process, Indian River County submitted comments to the FRA demanding that the agency take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the All Aboard Florida project,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “Unfortunately, after improperly waiting 28 months, the FRA issued a flawed and legally inadequate Record of Decision.”
The new complaint demonstrates that the AAF rail project will significantly increase the number and speed of trains passing through nearly 350 at-grade road crossings along the Florida East Coast Rail corridor, 28 of which are located in Martin County and 31 of which are located in Indian River County. Those at-grade road crossings create what the FRA has euphemistically called in the FEIS, “opportunities for conflict between trains and vehicles or people.” Collisions and death are the result.
“Martin County feels strongly that the Federal Government rubber-stamped a high-speed train route through historic and environmentally sensitive areas of Martin County, ignoring viable alternative routes just to maximize profits,” said Sarah Woods, Martin County Attorney.
Even before All Aboard Florida’s Brightline began service on Phase 1 from Miami to West Palm Beach, in mid-January 2018, two pedestrians were killed. Subsequently, once service began a very few weeks ago, two more citizens have been hit and killed, and two injured—in all six separate encounters with the higher speed trains have occurred, garnering national attention. These tragic incidents are at slower speeds (below 80 miles an hour), while the speeds in the Counties will be 110 miles per hour. The accidents clearly demonstrate the urgent need for the United States and State of Florida to pay much greater attention to the need for safety measures that will be necessary to protect pedestrians and motorists impacted across Florida.
The Florida East Coast Railway, on which Brightline operates, is already one of the deadliest tracks in the United States. Between 2011 and 2017, data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration shows that there have been a total of 103 deaths, over 350 miles of Florida East Coast Railway tracks. With the AAF/Brightline deaths, that number is now at least 107, and likely to continue to increase.
“While the death toll mounts day by day, the fundamental issue is how many more ‘encounters’ between AAF/Brightline trains and pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists will occur at the at-grade crossings?” questioned Steve Ryan, CARE Florida’s and Martin County’s attorney. “We don’t believe that these crossings in highly populated areas can be made safe for trains traveling at 110 miles per hour.”
The complaint also addresses USDOT’s decision to subsidize AAF with tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs). The Internal Revenue Code only permits the issuance of tax-exempt PABs to finance a project if it falls into approved specified categories. However, the AAF project does not qualify to be designated as a “high-speed intercity rail facility”, and the USDOT and FRA have unlawfully approved the PABs for AAF, claiming incorrectly that the project is a “qualified highway or surface freight transfer facility.” The project is clearly not qualified as a passenger railroad based on how Congress defined qualifying projects– and it is neither a highway nor a freight transfer facility, and the U.S. government should not try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in order to justify providing subsidies inconsistent with the statute Congress carefully considered and passed.
Also described in the complaint are the multiple, significant environmental impacts the AAF project would have on the Treasure Coast region. For example, the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon, which support one of the most diverse assembly of flora and fauna communities, are two of the most productive and most threatened estuaries in the nation.The need to replace antiquated bridges, and the impact of grossly increased rail-bridge closures resulting from the AAF project, will have multiple adverse impacts on these rivers, the ecosystem and maritime commerce. The Project’s construction, noise and vibration, among other things, would also harm protected wildlife species and their habitat in the region.
In addition to environmental and public safety concerns, the complaint also outlines the adverse financial impact the Counties and its taxpayers will have to bear to mitigate the safety impacts of a project built and operated by a private railway company. The Federal government is inexplicably ordering the Counties to pay the increased costs of maintenance and rehabilitation of the project in perpetuity. The counties will be forced to pay millions of dollars to support AAF’s crony capitalism, already subsidized by the Federal and Florida state governments.
In 2015, Indian River County, Martin County and individual CARE FL plaintiffs successfully sued U.S. DOT in two different Complaints that were consolidated for decision. In August 2016, the U.S. District Court ruled that the PABs used by U.S. DOT and AAF would provide a taxpayer subsidy of $600 million to AAF in the first 10 years and that the PABs constituted a ‘major Federal action’ and that NEPA applied to the project. The Court made clear this was the first such finding by any Court. Subsequently, AAF and USDOT decided to withdraw the $1.75 billion in bonds to ‘moot’ the first case. Since AAF has now been ‘re-awarded’ two tranches of PABs worth $600 million and $1.15 billion, it is obvious that withdrawal was just a tactic to delay the NEPA suit now being filed. USDOT took 28 months from the time the FEIS was filed in August 2015 to December 15, 2017, before issuing the ROD that enables the NEPA suit to proceed. These manipulations on behalf of AAF demonstrate the steps USDOT has taken to frustrate safety, health and environmental review.
As the Congress and public begins to review the President’s infrastructure proposal, both are entitled to know USDOT will actually follow Congress’s directions—and not attempt to turn the statute upside down to subsidize a non-qualifying passenger train project as it is trying to do here.
Indian River Board of County Commissioners will meet on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at 9:00 a.m. in the Indian River County Administration Complex to discuss items before the commission. An update on All Aboard Florida is currently listed on the agenda, Item 7.M.
Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold will make a presentation related to communications between the Federal Rail Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation about rail safety regulations and its current authority to address safety concerns.
The Indian River County Commission meeting will be streamed live here.
WHO: Indian River County Board of County Commissioners
Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold
WHAT: Indian River County Attorney to present on rail safety regulations and public records request.
WHEN: Tuesday, February 6, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. EST
Agenda Item 7.M
WHERE: Commission Chambers
Indian River County Administration Complex
1801 27th Street, Building A
Vero Beach, Florida 32960
INDIAN RIVER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER NAMED TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALIST AND RECEIVES $5,000 FROM MACY’S AND FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION!
Macy’s partners with the Florida Department of Education for a surprise announcement
to name one of the five finalists to compete for the 2018 Florida Teacher of the Year
Like any other school day, Ms. Fiori and her students were focused on their lessons for the day. She had no idea that today was different and that she was about to receive the surprise of a lifetime! From a group of 73 teachers, Katelyn Fiori from Vero Beach Elementary School in Indian River County was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Award!
For the past 29 years, Macy’s, along with the Florida Department of Education, has honored the most exceptional educators in Florida who make magic in and out of their classrooms every day. The Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors the contributions of outstanding classroom teachers who have demonstrated a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.
At 10:30 a.m., Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, along with Lee O’Rourke, Macy’s district vice president, were on hand to make the big surprise announcement. The fourth-grade elementary school teacher was instructing her class when the Commissioner made the surprise visit and told her that she had been chosen as one of five finalists for the prestigious honor.
“Katelyn Fiori is a great teacher who challenges and inspires her students to believe and achieve a better tomorrow. Macy’s congratulates Ms. Fiori for her commitment to help her students reach their full potential,” said Dennis Witte, Macy’s executive vice president and regional director of stores.
Upon receiving the good news, Katelyn Fiori was presented with a $5,000 check from the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s, and a $500 Macy’s gift card. A $1,000 check, funded by Macy’s, was presented to Vero Beach Elementary School.
“Teachers are some of THE most important people in our children’s lives,” continued Witte. “To be a teacher is to be a mentor, a friend, a coach and a constant in the lives of their students. Teachers are life changers and this is what happens each day in Ms. Fiori’s classroom. Throughout Macy’s sponsorship of this program, we continue to be humbled and proud to support the best educators in the Florida.”
“Ms. Fiori’s passion for her students and the teaching profession as a whole sets her apart from the crowd,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “Her colleagues praised her for demonstrating perseverance and refusing to accept excuses – from herself or her students, a trait she honed while serving as a military wife. In her first year at Vero Beach Elementary, she has developed innovative approaches to tracking students’ progress, and I am thrilled to share that she is a 2018 Teacher of the Year finalist.”
The winner of the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award will be announced during a ceremony on Thursday, July 13, 2017. The event will be held at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios CityWalk.
In addition to a $5,000 award funded by Macy’s and the Department of Education, the Teacher of the Year will receive awards from Macy’s including an all-expense paid trip for four to New York City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The winner will also serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges in the Sunshine State. To date, Macy’s has contributed $3 million to teachers throughout the state.
This year’s five finalists were chosen from more than 195,744 public school teachers throughout the state by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee representing teachers, principals, parents and the business community. Each finalist is selected on the basis of outstanding ability to teach and communicate knowledge of the subject taught, professional development, philosophy of teaching, and outstanding school and community service.
Macy’s, the largest retail brand of Macy’s, Inc., delivers fashion and affordable luxury to customers at approximately 730 locations in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, as well as to customers in the United States and more than 100 international destinations through its leading online store at macys.com. Via its stores, e-commerce site, mobile and social platforms, Macy’s offers distinctive assortments including the most desired family of exclusive and fashion brands for him, her and home. Macy’s is known for such epic events as Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks® and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, as well as spectacular fashion shows, culinary events, flower shows and celebrity appearances. Macy’s flagship stores — including Herald Square in New York City, Union Square in San Francisco, State Street in Chicago, Dadeland in Miami and South Coast Plaza in southern California — are known internationally and leading destinations for visitors. Building on a more than 150-year tradition, and with the collective support of customers and employees, Macy’s helps strengthen communities by supporting local and national charities giving more than $69 million each year to help make a difference in the lives of our customers.
For more information about the Florida Department of Education, visit www.fldoe.org.