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Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - St. Lucie County to Submit Expert Analyses Highly Critical of All Aboard Florida Draft EIS

Post Date:07/09/2015 2:36 PM
At last night’s regularly scheduled board meeting, St. Lucie County Commissioners unanimously accepted a 500-plus page Critical Assessment addressing “serious deficiencies” in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for All Aboard Florida’s proposed high-speed rail project from Miami to Orlando. The report indicates that the project as proposed will cause “significant impacts to the public health, safety and welfare” of St. Lucie County residents. The Board also voted to submit a resolution with the expert opinions and analyses to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Florida Department of Transportation and other state and federal officials and agencies.

The Board’s resolution demands that the FRA reject the Draft Environmental Impact Statement as inadequate and insufficient, and refrain from issuing a Final EIS until all deficiencies have been cured, a valid alternatives analysis is conducted, adequate mitigation of adverse impacts is identified, and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requirements. The findings in these reports could form the basis for legal challenges to the EIS and any federal actions either by the FRA or other regulatory agencies based on the inadequate EIS. The Board authorized the County Attorney Dan McIntyre to undertake a review of any necessary or appropriate administrative or judicial proceedings to ensure the goals of this Resolution are met. 

Attorney Segundo J. Fernandez, who was hired by St. Lucie County, retained experts in the areas of train safety/operations; traffic safety; environmental; and cultural and historical resources. These experts found that there are major concerns not addressed by the Draft EIS, and others which are inadequately addressed. They further found inconsistencies between All Aboard Florida’s 90 percent plans which were submitted to St. Lucie County in April 2015 and the Draft EIS which was issued in September 2014.

“I am an environmental attorney by trade, and this, Commissioners, is the worst Environmental Impact Statement I have ever seen,” said Fernandez at Tuesday night’s County Commission meeting. “The substance of the comments (in these reports) are devastating to the findings of the [Draft] Environmental Impact Statement.”

The Draft EIS has yet to be formally adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, and Fernandez believes that St. Lucie County’s reports should cause federal and state agencies to force All Aboard Florida to identify how the company plans to mitigate or resolve issues addressed by the county’s experts. Among the many faults identified in the report, the County’s experts point out that All Aboard Florida’s Draft EIS failed to address major issues related to non-compliant highway-rail grade crossing signals, safety risks and issues relating to school buses, cars and pedestrian traffic at numerous crossings throughout the County. In addition, the Draft EIS virtually ignores environmental concerns for a number of protected species, inadequately identifies wetland impacts, and provides a flawed analysis of impacts to the federally-protected Florida Scrub Jay.

The documents being submitted today to the FRA also provide detailed reports on inadequate consideration of cultural and historical resources, not only in St. Lucie County, but in adjacent Martin and Indian River counties as well.

“I believe we have a long way to go in working through this process. But I think this really gives us something to work with, and it gives All Aboard and the FRA the opportunity to take a hard look and realize the impacts that these issues have on our community,” said St. Lucie County Vice Chair Kim Johnson. 

A complete copy of the report titled “A Critical Assessment of the USDOT Federal Railroad Administration’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Evaluation for the proposed All Aboard Florida’s Intercity Passenger Rail Project” can be found athttp://www.stlucieco.gov/planning/All%20Aboard%20Florida.htm.

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