Martin, In­dian River sue feds over OK of bonds for Brightline

En­vi­ron­ment and safety ig­nored by of­fi­cials, suit claims.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Jen­nifer Soren­true Palm Beach Post Staff Writer jsoren­true@pb­ Twit­ter: @soren­truepbp

Martin and In­dian River coun­ties and a Trea­sure Coast-based cit­i­zens group filed a fed­eral law­suit Tues­day chal­leng­ing the ap­proval of $1.15 bil­lion in tax-ex­empt bonds to help pay for Brightline’s planned ex­pan­sion north to Or­lando.

The 94-page com­plaint filed against the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion al­leges fed­eral of­fi­cials ei­ther ig­nored or failed to con­sider the im­pacts the com­pany’s trains could have on the en­vi­ron­ment, public safety and mar­itime traf­fic.

Brightline be­gan op­er­at­ing its pas­sen­ger trains be­tween West Palm Beach and Fort Laud­erdale in Jan­u­ary. The com­pany is ex­pected to ex­pand ser­vice to Mi­ami in the com­ing weeks.

Even­tu­ally, Brightline plans to op­er­ate 32 trains a day be­tween Mi­ami and Or­lando. The trains are ex­pected to reach speeds of 110 mph be­tween West Palm Beach and Co­coa and 125 mph be­tween Co­coa and Or­lando.

This marks the sec­ond time the two Trea­sure Coast coun­ties have filed suit to block the project.

In a sep­a­rate law­suit filed in 2015, the coun­ties ar­gued that fed­eral of­fi­cials vi­o­lated the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act when they ap­proved the sale of $1.75 bil­lion in tax-ex­empt bonds be­fore com­ple­tion of an en­vi­ron­men­tal study of the rail project’s sec­ond phase be­tween West Palm Beach and Or­lando.

A fed­eral judge dis­missed the law­suit in 2017 af­ter the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion with­drew its orig­i­nal 2014 ap­proval grant­ing Brightline per­mis­sion to use the bonds.

Be­fore the dis­missal, Brightline filed an ap­pli­ca­tion with the trans­porta­tion depart­ment re­quest­ing per­mis­sion to move for­ward with the smaller, $600 mil­lion bond sale.

At the time, the com­pany said it planned to con­sider a sec­ond, $1.15 bil­lion bond sale to help pay for rail work be­tween West Palm Beach and Or­lando.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials com­pleted the en­vi­ron­men­tal study of the project’s sec­ond leg late last year. It won ap­proval to sell $1.15 bil­lion in bonds in De­cem­ber.


Brightline trains like this one will be trav­el­ing to Mi­ami within in the com­ing weeks, and when the rail sys­tem is com­plete, it will be op­er­at­ing 32 trains a day be­tween Mi­ami and Or­lando.

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