TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The next stop for a group of wealthy opponents of a proposed Miami-to-Orlando passenger rail service is a meeting with officials behind the private venture.
The Coral Gables-based All Aboard Florida announced Thursday it would meet in a few weeks with the relatively new residential group from Jupiter and Martin County.
Hour before the railroad company made the announcement, members of the coalition, called Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, sat down with Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and Rachel Cone, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Rick Scott.
Stuart resident Bill Ward, a leader of the coalition, said after the meeting — held at the Department of Transportation in Tallahassee — that the state officials appeared “open” to the residents’ concerns about the expected impacts from having the proposed passenger rail service run without stops through the Treasure Coast.
“We thought it was a very good meeting and we hope to continue this dialogue in the future,” Ward said. “We want them to own up to their responsibility which is public safety. And we welcome an opportunity to meet with All Aboard Florida and talk about these concerns. So far those meetings have not been available, and those concerns have not been addressed.”
Ward added that Prasad and Cone also agreed to urge All Aboard Florida to meet with the coalition, which represents a number of upper-end residential communities in Jupiter and Martin County.
A statement from All Aboard Florida noted that the rail venture has previously met with members of the coalition and would schedule a meeting with the group “in the coming weeks.”
“We remain open to meeting with anyone who would like to discuss our project, and we encourage these groups to also contact the agency leading the process if they have technical questions,” the statement said. “As we’ve said previously, we believe many of the fears and misconceptions will be allayed when the draft (environmental impact statement) is published, which we hope is very soon.”
The environmental impact statement, part of All Aboard Florida’s application for a federal railroad loan, is expected to address the effects the project could have on the Space and Treasure coasts.
The coalition requested the meeting with Scott’s office July 7.
Opposition to the rail service — currently set to first roll out in late 2016 between Miami and West Palm Beach — has become a political issue along the Treasure and Space coasts.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, publicly announced his opposition to the planned passenger service in June. Meanwhile, Sen. Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican who has expressed opposition to the rail service, has asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to delve into a lease between the Central Florida Expressway Authority and All Aboard Florida that he says could keep the trains from ever stopping in Brevard and Indian River counties.
Bondi’s office has yet to respond to Altman’s request.
The residents’ coalition has questioned the funding for the All Aboard Florida project and is troubled by the potential impacts to motorists, boaters and first responders by adding 32 trains a day on the Florida East Coast rails that run near their waterfront communities.
Scott has asked All Aboard Florida President Michael Reininger to “be sensitive” to residents’ concerns and for extra consideration to be given to the drawbridge crossings over the New, St. Lucie and Loxahatchee rivers.
While Scott has touted the project as a private venture, the state budget includes $10 million for train noise buffers and $230 million for a long-planned station at Orlando International Airport that could serve as a terminal for All Aboard Florida as well as a parking garage, a potential spur for SunRail and ground transportation to and from the airport.
This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.
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