Brightline railroad wins key court decision for environmental permit

Brightline train

The company planning the Brightline passenger train service has won a key State Administrative Court decision in a case that was holding up an environmental permit needed for the West Palm Beach to Orlando leg of the train line.

On Thursday Administrative Judge Bram Canter sided with Brightline and the St. Johns River Water Management District, in a dispute in which another water authority was charging that the railroad’s proposed bridges were too low over canals.

Canter disagreed with the petition from the Indian River Farms Water Control District in Indian River County. That frees up the Environmental Resource Permit Brightline needs to build the bridges in Indian River County. Without the permit the company could not move forward, and its limbo state since Indian River Farms WCD challenged it last fall was one of key factors preventing Brightline from being able to move foreword seeking $1.1 billion in financing it needs for the project.

Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, intends to open up a privately-owned and -operated passenger service train this year connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Its next phase is to upgrade and double-track a route from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport, to accommodate passenger trains that can go 110-mph up the coast, and 120 mph heading inland to Orlando.

But that plan requires the environmental permits to build new bridges over numerous canals and other water bodies.

Thursday’s victory is only one of two Brightline needs. It still faces a petition challenging another permit it needed for projects farther south along the route. Martin and St. Lucie Counties are fighting to invalidate Brightline’s environmental permit from the South Florida Water Management District.

Still, Brightline hailed Thursday’s victory in a statement.

“This ruling is further demonstration that Brightline is adhering to all regulations for the construction of its system,” Myles Tobin, General Counsel for Brightline stated in that release. “As Treasure Coast taxpayers continue to spend millions on legal challenges fighting Brightline, we continue to invest more than $1.3 billion to connect the state’s most populated centers, creating jobs and spurring economic opportunities. We are planning for Phase 2 while preparing to launch the South Florida service in several months.”

Indian River Farms WCD had contended that its engineers had determined the bridges would be too low, putting them within the 100-year flood plain, and creating a obstruction problem that could cause drainage problems in the canals. Yet Brightline’s plans for double-tracking the route include building new bridges identical in height to the old ones they would join. And the St. Johns River WMD convinced the judge that height was not in the 100-year flood plain.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected].


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