Judge dismisses suit challenging All Aboard Florida; both sides see victory - Florida Politics

Judge dismisses suit challenging All Aboard Florida; both sides see victory

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a federal decision supporting All Aboard Florida for its high-speed passenger train project, and both the train company and its opponents hailed the ruling as a victory.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper dismissed as moot Wednesday the law suit that Indian River and Martin counties brought against the U.S. Department of Transportation alleging that the federal agency should not have allocated up to $1.75 billion in non-taxable private activity bonds to help finance a railroad project from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The company, now known as Brightline, intends to start private passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Miami this year, and plans to extend the line northward, then westward to Orlando some day.

But after the lawsuit was filed, the company withdrew its request for the $1.75 billion in bonds and filed for and received a new allocation for $600 million, largely to finance the West Palm Beach to Miami route. Because the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award of $1.75 billion is gone, the challenge is moot, Brightline argued, and Cooper agreed.

This is the third suit against All Aboard Florida that has been dismissed on such grounds. In a statement released Thursday, the company said:

“All Aboard Florida believes Judge Cooper properly dismissed the case, and we appreciate his thoughtful review and articulation of the facts and the law. This is another loss in a series of lawsuits that has cost Treasure Coast residents almost $6 million. We look forward to working with the Treasure Coast in a cooperative and more productive fashion as we advance this important infrastructure project.”

But opponents said the wording of Cooper’s decision should send a warning to All Aboard Florida/Brightline about any future attempts to raise money for the northern route.

The two counties had argued that federal officials failed to fully assess environmental impact of the proposed train route through their counties on the northern route, which they contended was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cooper appeared to agree with that concern, according to an interpretation issued by the All Aboard Florida opposition group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“For these reasons, the Court’s earlier ruling casts considerable doubt on whether DOT would adhere to any previous suggestions that PAB allocations are categorically excluded from NEPA’s coverage,” Cooper wrote. “And even if DOT were to do so, Plaintiffs could readily call it to the carpet by renewing their lawsuits in this Court.”

And citing the different policies under former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Cooper predicted that it would be unlikely the U.S. Department of Transportation would take the same action.

“Any decision on a future application by AAF will be made by entirely different officials in the new administration. While the new administration has not publicly opined on the AAF project (as far as the Court is aware) its early actions with respect to publicly-funded rail transp01iation in general suggest that it might take a different track,” he wrote.

Declared CARE Florida:

“CARE FL congratulates Martin and Indian River Counties for their legal efforts and considers this lawsuit a resounding win for the residents of the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach regions. AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies continues and the decision in this matter doesn’t advance their quest.”

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@flordiapolitics.com or scottmichaelpowers@yahoo.com.

3 Comments

  1. Give me a break! So good to see how public interest can finally trump the one dimensional, well-financed lobbyist movement that has needlessly stirred up the NIMBYs hiding behind their gated cul de sacs, and the political benefactors genuflecting to their lobbyist patrons.

    Florida will now realize a meaningful economic bump as the Beta site for the privately-envisioned and financed Brightline, which will succeed to opening up mobility and economic development throughout Florida.

    Pushing aside the NIMBYs, their political puppets, and the lobbyists representing airlines, bus firms, auto, construction, oil, and tire, next stop is to hook-up with Orlando International!

    The introduction of Brightline should only facilitate more meaningful competition between the modes of transportation serving intra-Florida travel re tourism, leisure, and business. The main difference will be seen in how Brightline triggers significant economic development at its depots and en route along its right-of-way.

    1. This rail expansion is a travesty upon some of the most beautiful communities in Florida. The railroad is an anachronism which would never have been permitted in modern east coast Florida. And they want to expand it and make it worse? More train/car accidents, more ambulances blocked from helping people, more frustrated boaters/tourists/contributors to our economy, more unsafe, aging, deteriorating RR bridges. Who would want this? Certainly not the residents. They won’t even get a train stop. If this railroad is so necessary, move it west where there is room for it. The trains can even run faster there. The rights of way are already in place. No, FEC wants to cheap out and ruin our environment.

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