Martin, Indian River sue feds over OK of bonds for Brightline
Environment and safety ignored by officials, suit claims.
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.