Throughout my lifetime and during my tenure
on the Indian River Board of County Commissioners, communication has always been the key to my success. With citizens, with County workers, with the committees and Boards I participate in. When true communication happens everything has more of an opportunity ...

All Aboard Florida Timeline

In 2013, All Aboard Florida ("AAF") approached Indian River County ("County") claiming to be a private enterprise that intended to operate a completely private passenger rail system from Miami to Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway corridor. At first, the Board of County Commissioners was supportive of the idea and even wrote a letter encouraging AAF to consider stopping in our area. Later that year, however, the County learned that AAF made misrepresentations about being a private venture and had every intention of asking for government subsidies from every level of government including the local level. Not only did AAF submit two applications to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for a total of $1.875 billion through a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Loan (RRIF), it also sent the County a draft agreement that indicated that AAF will incur the costs associated with the safety upgrades at the railroad-highway crossings only if the County agreed to add AAF as a third part to the existing crossing agreements with Florida East Coast Railway. Pursuant to the referenced agreements, the County pays the majority of railroad maintenance at the railroad-highway crossings. If the County were to agree to add AAF as a third party to the underlying agreements, not only would the County be financially responsible for the long-term maintenance of the additional safety improvements needed to operate AAF's high-speed passenger rail service but it would also be responsible for indemnifying AAF should an accident occur at one of the crossings.

Starting in 2014, the County tasked the County Attorney's Office with researching AAF and any future issues that may be related to its proposed high-speed rail system. Some of the issues include, but are not limited to, safety regulations, safety improvements, implementation of quiet zones, and the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) process. AAF was frequently not crossing its proverbial "T's" or dotting its proverbial "I's". For example, AAF made a concerted effort to pressure the Board to apply for a quiet zone in our community even though it would have been wholly inappropriate for the County to apply for a quiet zone because it did not have the necessary information. During this time, the County started working with a coalition that included Martin County, St. Lucie County and various grassroots groups including CARE-FL.

In September 2014, the FRA published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for AAF's project and it had significant deficiencies. At the same time, AAF changed its funding scheme and requested $1.75 billion in private activity bonds from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). It is important to note the USDOT determined the allocation of private activity bonds did not require the FRA to complete the NEPA process. This determination prompted the County to bring a lawsuit against the USDOT. In August of 2016, a federal judge issued an opinion in favor of the County's position that an allocation of private activity bonds from the federal government required the NEPA process to be completed. In response to this opinion, AAF withdrew its application for an allocation of private activity bonds for $1.75 billion and filed a separate application for just Phase I of the project. Having forced AAF to withdraw its application, the case became moot and was dismissed.

In December of 2017, under a threat by the United States Congress that the private activity bond program would be eliminated, the FRA issued its Record of Decision (signaling the end of the NEPA process) and the USDOT allocated $1.15 billion in private activity bonds for Phase II of AAF's project. The County filed a lawsuit arguing: (1) the USDOT improperly allocated private activity bonds to AAF, and (2) the NEPA process has significant deficiencies that failed both (a) identify all of the impacts of the project and (b) mitigate for the impacts of the project.

It is also important to note that since 2016, the County has been encouraging FDOT to be more engaged in determining the safety improvements needed at the railroad-highway crossings. While the County has had numerous meetings with FDOT, it has also supported legislation that would ensure FDOT's participation. This process has yielded a number of positive results including, but not limited to, (1) the recent admission by FDOT that it has some regulatory authority relating to the railroad-highway crossings, and (2) AAF has verbally committed to pay for all of the initial safety requirements required by law at the railroad-highway crossings regardless of whether the County executes amendments to the crossing agreements. According to the County's rail safety consultant, the initial safety improvements for Indian River County alone will cost between $11.5 and $13.8 million.