ANALYSIS: All Aboard Florida Environmental Impact Statement

The Federal Rail Administration released its draft of the Environmental Impact Statement last week. The 500+ page report is furnished by the FRA which is nothing more than a bureaucracy created to subsidize railroads.

Under the RRIF program, the FRA Administrator is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees that may be used to acquire, improve, or rehabilitate rail equipment or facilities, or develop new intermodal or railroad facilities.

The railroads have their own de-facto bank, if this is not an example of the rise of cronyism/fascism in America, nothing is. But this is not the only subsidy being handed out by government to All Aboard Florida.

The majority of this analysis will cover the N-S corridor from which AAF has gotten opposition.

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Section 1- Introduction

The introduction states its purpose which is going through the motions so that AAF can get the sweetheart loan as the study was required for the loan to be approved.

AAF has already started work on Phase I which is the Miami to West Palm Beach segment. This report is primarily focused on Phase II which include the N-S corridor of North Palm to Cocoa, the E-W corridor running along SR 528 and Beechline Highway to the MCO segment at the Orlando International Airport.

The EIS states that AAF has the right to use the railway property:

AAF is a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, LLC (FECI), which is a transportation, infrastructure and commercial real estate company based in Coral Gables, Florida. FECR, an affiliate of FECI, owns the right‐of‐way (ROW) and existing railroad infrastructure within the corridor between Jacksonville and Miami, over which FECR operates a freight rail service (FECR Corridor). AAF has an exclusive, perpetual easement granted by FECR whereby AAF may develop and operate the proposed passenger service within the FECR Corridor. AAF will operate the proposed passenger rail service within the FECR Corridor in coordination with FECR’s continued freight service.

Of note in the introduction section is what is said in regards to the N-S corridor.

The N‐S Corridor is a 128.5‐mile segment of the existing active FECR Corridor between Cocoa and West Palm Beach. The FECR Corridor was originally built as a double‐track railroad, but today it is mostly a single‐track system with several sidings. The roadbed for the second track in the corridor still exists and would be used for the additional track improvements needed for the Project.

Of contention along this corridor is the adding of another track though the corridor was originally built as a double-track railroad and the roadbed for the second track already exists.

The history of development along this corridor is also important. The railroads were encouraged to build thru the towns by governments and most the property alongside the corridor was developed after the railways were built. People who bought property along this corridor came to the nuisance of noise and vibrations that already came from railroad property built for two tracks.

Also of note is section 1.5 in the introduction that covers the permitting/approval necessary for the project. Not one of those comes from any of the municipal governments in the N-S corridor.  State and regional (SFWMD) are necessary but not the local governments that have formally opposed AAF.

Section 2- Need

Section 2 is about the purpose of AAF in detail. This is mostly nothing new. In fact it sounds eerily similar to the transportation plans in the federal government’s plan known as Seven50 which seeks to coerce usage of light rail, commuter rail and any mass transit in line and decrease auto usage. There is a word for this type of cronyism and it is the f-bomb: fascism.

This verbiage here closely matches the verbiage in the transportation section of the Seven50 Plan.

This transportation service would offer a safe and efficient alternative to automobile travel on congested highway corridors, add transportation capacity within those corridors (particularly Interstate 95), and encourage connectivity with other modes of transportation such as light rail, commuter rail, and air transportation.

More language seen in the Seven50 Plan and the Army Corps of Engineers SANDS project is used as well.

provide intercity passenger rail service that addresses South Florida’s current and future needs to enhance the transportation system by providing a transportation alternative for Floridians and tourists, supporting economic development, creating jobs and improving air quality.

Another bit of Seven50 language in the AAF report:

The Project is needed to provide a fast, sustainable, and reliable means of travel that responds to the transportation needs of the existing population as well as future population growth.

The FRA goes on to find how the roadways have failed and actually make an argument for privatizing roads where an average of 35,000 people are killed each year in America.

n 2011, more than 34 percent of all transportation fatalities involved occupants of passenger cars, while there were no fatalities related to passenger rail (USDOT 2012).

traffic socialism roadsIt is certainly not odd than a bureaucracy would find need for its own existence and to justify a crony loan.

Mobility is hampered in Florida because of chronic congestion and delays due to inadequate roadway capacity and the inability to expand most of the State’s urban roadway capacity, according to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and FHWA research (FDOT 2010; FHWA 2005a).

The FRA rightly finds that roads are not only unsafe and plagued by failures to supply roadway demand. This has been pointed out as one of the biggest failures being exposed by AAF.

Section 2 closes with the history of proposed rail projects in the recent years as an additional need to justify the loan.

It is interesting how the bureaucracy views business and found it worth noting that a business would desire to be “sustainable” by being profitable.

Sustainable means that the rail service can attract sufficient riders to meet revenue projections and operate at an acceptable profit level.

Section 3- Alternatives

This section “evaluates” the alternative routes for the AAF project (my emphasis):

The primary screening criteria used at this level was developed to assess (1) whether the alternative satisfies the purpose and need of the Project, (2) whether the alternative is practicable to construct and operate (satisfies AAF’s specified critical determining factors), and (3) to what degree the alternative would have impacts to key environmental resources.

You are sitting pretty when you can determine the scope of your evaluation.

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This section lists four alternatives:

  1. CSX Route Alternative– The FRA found: Based on land access, logistics, and environmental impacts, this alternative does not meet the screening evaluation criteria and is, therefore, not feasible to implement.
  2. Florida’s Turnpike Route Alternative– The FRA found: Based on land access, logistics, and environmental impacts, this alternative does not meet the screening evaluation criteria and is, therefore, not feasible to implement.
  3. I-95 Route Alternative– The FRA found: Based on land access, logistics, and environmental impacts, this alternative does not meet the screening evaluation criteria and is, therefore, not feasible to implement.
  4. FECR Route Alternative: Based on land access, logistics, and environmental impacts, this alternative is feasible to implement. AAF has the right to use the FECR Corridor between West Palm Beach and Cocoa.

With the FECR alternative the only N-S option considered there was no great change in route for the Treasure Coast.

Section 4- Affected Environment

This section serves to define and describe how the affected environments will be measured.

Section 5- Environmental Consequences

The FRA summarizes this section as saying the good and bad will pretty much offset each other:

This DEIS evaluates the environmental effects associated with the three Action Alternatives. The potential effects, both beneficial and adverse, of the three alternatives are summarized below. The Project has the potential to adversely affect land use, transportation (particularly traffic at‐grade crossings), noise and vibration, water resources, wetlands and floodplains, biological communities, protected species, social and economic conditions, cultural resources, parks and recreation areas and utilities. However, mitigation measures would be required that will reduce these potential adverse effects. The Project would also have beneficial environmental effects, such as traffic diversion from I‐95 and other highways, economic growth, air quality improvements and energy consumption improvements during operation.

Land Use

In regards to the N-S corridor and land use p 286 states:

The N‐S Corridor is entirely within the existing Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) Corridor; it would not require acquisition of privately owned property, and there would be no land use conversions. The N‐S Corridor would be consistent with the local land use plans of Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties (described below).

This is unsurprising as the groundwork for Seven50 was laid previously by other bureaucratic planners. St. Lucie, Indian River and Martin counties have all formally opposed AAF but have long such incorporated plans for a project like AAF.

Saint Lucie:

According to the St. Lucie Comprehensive Plan, St. Lucie County supports the reestablishment of passenger rail along the eastern coast of Florida (St. Lucie, County Planning Division 2010). It also supports the establishment of rail stations in Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie, and/or within the County’s urban service area. One of the goals of St. Lucie County is to provide safe and efficient multi‐modal transportation systems that address the movement of people and goods. The N‐S Corridor would be consistent with St. Lucie County planning goals and objectives.

Martin:

Martin County discusses the many positive effects of higher speed rail on transportation systems in its Comprehensive Growth Management Plan (Martin County, Division of Community Planning 2013). One of the goals of the County is to develop and implement a transportation network that is coordinated and consistent with municipal, county, regional, state, and federal planning programs. Martin County desires to plan for comprehensive long‐range transportation needs, including a Florida higher speed railway. The County further desires to collaborate with the Florida High Speed Rail Authority
(FHSRA) and a rail service provider to establish service between Martin County and nearby major regional hubs such as Port St. Lucie, Palm Beach County, and points beyond. The N‐S Corridor would be consistent with Martin County planning goals and objectives.

Indian River:

Indian River County does not have a passenger rail service, but supports future planning to secure access to the FECR Corridor for future passenger rail. The County also supports future coordination with the FDOT and Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) about a passenger rail service (Policy 6.7) (Indian River County, Planning Division 2010). The N‐S Corridor would be consistent with Indian River County planning goals and objectives.

Once again we see that it is unaccountable government planners that have set the stage for this project though many in the communities oppose this project.  The blame should be laid on those who have been planning for this all along.

Transportation

The FRA finds that:

There would be no significant impact to transportation as a result of the Project. The Project would not adversely impact (and will benefit) current freight train service on the FECR Corridor by increasing freight speeds and providing additional passing track, and would improve conditions on regional highways by relieving congestion. Increased train traffic will result in minor degradation of local road traffic conditions at certain at‐grade crossings and nearby intersections.

The FRA looks at the larger picture for transportation and that the project will help transportation by decreasing roadway congestion and that increased crossing closures would have minimal impact.

Along the N‐S Corridor, passenger rail service would result in minor increased traffic delays at existing roadway crossings.

Navigation

The FRA found that:

The Project would increase the number of bridge closures and vessel wait times at the three moveable bridges, however there would not be a substantial increase in the length of time for any single closure.

Particularly for Martin and St. Lucie counties:

Under Project conditions, no adverse economic impacts to marine jobs, economic growth, or development are anticipated. Increases in vessel wait times would result in minor increases in costs of less than 0.1 percent when compared to the marine industry values at the St. Lucie River, Loxahatchee River, and New River Bridges. Increased vessel wait times and queue lengths would have minor economic impacts to commercial destinations (e.g., boat/yacht repair and support facilities) along the New River; however, these types of establishments would not incur any decline in business along the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee Rivers.

Fixed bridges will be replaced but not elevated to allow greater navigation:

In summary, FRA has determined that the significant delays, costs, and risks associated with the use of elevated structures make raising any of the corridor bridges not feasible.

Physical Environment

Air Quality

In regards to air quality the FRA finds that AAF will help overall air quality:

The air quality study demonstrates that the Project would decrease emissions of all regulated pollutants. Air quality in the region would be improved through the diversion of vehicles from the roads and highways in central‐east Florida.

Noise and Vibration

The FRA finds that:

The Project would result in long‐term noise and vibration adverse impacts to residents and properties, primarily along the N‐S Corridor. The Project would result in noise impacts along some elevated sections of the E‐W Corridor. Noise impacts would be the same for the three alignments, Alternatives A, C, and E. The Project will result in minor vibration impacts along the N‐S Corridor due to the increase (approximately doubling) of vibration events as a result of adding passenger train service to the existing freight operations.

This was very much expected as trains obviously generate noise and vibration. Most of the affected property owners chose to move to the nuisance.

In some cases, however, the courts have held or at least considered that by the plaintiff’s “coming to the nuisance,” he has voluntarily entered a pre-existing situation, and therefore the defendant is not guilty. Prosser states that “in the absence of a prescriptive right the defendant cannot condemn the surrounding premises to endure the nuisance,” but our whole point here is that the homesteader of a noise or a pollution easement has indeed earned that right in cases of “coming to the nuisance” (Prosser 1971, p. 611). Source p. 249

The FRA then notes the actions AAF is committed to taking to mitigate noise:

These mitigation measures would eliminate all severe noise impacts for residential and institutional receptors along the N‐S Corridor. Where compliant with safety regulations and FRA guidelines, AAF is also working with local communities that would like to create quiet zones as an alternate noise abatement measure to wayside horns.

And that the mitigation efforts would make future noise comparable to existing noise.

The Project would reduce noise levels compared to existing noise levels. With the installation of wayside horns, total future noise levels would be comparable to existing levels, generally increasing by 0.2 to 0.3 dBA, along the mainline. Future noise levels would be substantially lower than existing noise levels at grade crossings, generally by 7 dBA.

In concluding on the study of noise impacts the FRA finds that:

Along the N‐S Corridor, the Project would have no permanent noise impacts as a result of the use of wayside horns.

Environmental Consequences

The FRA finds little impact as a result of bridge construction over waterways:

Bridge construction/reconstruction would impact small areas of aquatic resources within the Indian River and the Jensen Beach‐Juniper Inlet Aquatic Reserve.

The FRA uses some of the same climate change terminology found in the Seven50 Plan.

As documented in this section, the Project would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The N‐S and WPB‐M Corridors of the Project are vulnerable to climate change effects in the near future. Both of these corridors are along the Florida coast and cross several coastal water bodies. Bridge structures, particularly those with lower elevation, will have increased vulnerability over time, and potential infrastructure damage may result from flooding, tidal damage, and/or storms.

The FRA, like Seven50 and the ACOE SANDS project continue to quote unsettled sea level rise science.

Natural Environment

In regards to water resources the EIS states:

The Project would have negligible impacts on surface or groundwater resources.

Further it finds no significant impact due to the addition of a second track.

Reconstructing the second rail line within the existing roadbed would not create new impervious area. Adjacent surface drainage would also not be impacted with the reconstruction of the second line. Existing cross drainage facilities on the adjacent roadways span the entire right‐of‐way width and would not require modification to account for the installation of the rail line on existing roadbed.

Moving on from groundwater to surface water the study finds that:

Surface water resources would experience minor direct effects as a result reconstructing or replacing 18 bridges (Table 5.3.1‐1). Figures depicting the bridge crossing locations are provided in Appendix 5.3.1‐A. Direct permanent impacts would include installing concrete pilings and abutments within surface waters. No permanent adverse impacts to surface water quality would be caused by the bridges.

It is estimated that a total of 2.0 acres of wetlands will be needed along the entire N-S corridor to accommodate construction.

Direct wetland and aquatic habitat losses within the N‐S Corridor would total approximately 2.0 acres due to bridge construction… Wetland wildlife habitat would experience minor impacts due to bridge reconstruction.

Biological Resources

The FRA finds no significant impact to wildlife:

The Project would have minor impacts on biological resources and natural ecological systems as a result of the loss of natural vegetation along the E‐W Corridor, south of SR 528. The Project would not contribute to habitat fragmentation or loss of important natural systems, and would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or migratory bird habitat. The Project would not impact any wildlife preserves, sanctuaries, or corridors

The loss of habitat would not eliminate any habitat patches, but would reduce the size of available habitat areas slightly although this is not likely to displace wildlife populations. The Project would not result in the loss of habitat within any of the important wildlife conservation areas listed in Section 4.3.5.2,nor would it interrupt any existing wildlife corridors

Wildlife Habitat

The report states that while some habitat may be lost there is no significant impact as a result:

The loss of habitat would not eliminate any habitat patches, but would reduce the size of available habitat areas slightly although this is not likely to displace wildlife populations. The Project would not result in the loss of habitat within any of the important wildlife conservation areas listed in Section 4.3.5.2, nor would it interrupt any existing wildlife corridors.

Fish Habitat

The study found that no impact would be had for fish but that this did not take into account bridge reconstruction.

The USACE determined that the Project would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or federally managed fishery species based on the proposed mitigation. On October 28, 2013 the NMFS agreed with this determination (Appendix 5.3‐6‐B4). This determination did not include the additional bridge replacement proposed in Brevard and St. Lucie Counties.

Threatened/ Endangered Species

While the opposition has indicated such species may be harmed the study found otherwise:

As described below, the USACE has evaluated the effects of the Project on federally listed species and determined that the Project would not jeopardize any listed species or modify any designated critical habitat. The USACE has made determinations of “no effect” or “no adverse effect” for each of the listed species within the Project Area.

Social and Economic Environment

While this reeks of govt central planning the study found no impact:

The Project under all Action Alternatives would not result in residential displacement, neighborhood fragmentation, or the loss of continuity between neighborhoods.

Particularly the impact on the N-S corridor:

The N‐S Corridor would not result in residential displacement, neighborhood fragmentation, or the loss of continuity between neighborhoods. The N‐S Corridor is within the existing FECR Corridor, and would not displace residences or businesses. The existing FECR Corridor has supported freight and/or passenger service on a continuous basis for more than 100 years, and existing neighborhoods largely developed around these conditions.

It continues:

Project would not result in residential displacement, job loss, or neighborhood fragmentation due to required property acquisitions along the N‐S Corridor. Therefore, there would be no adverse impacts to environmental justice communities from changes in land use.

..Potential impacts resulting from changes to noise in environmental justice communities would not be appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the impacts experienced by non‐environmental justice communities along the N‐S Corridor.

Economic Conditions

The EIS study found:

The Project would not reduce municipal property tax revenues along the MCO Segment or N‐S Corridor…. The Project would have beneficial regional economic impacts from increased economic activity, tax revenues, construction jobs, and associated spending.

Specifically in regards to the N-S corridor:

The Project would not require acquisition of privately owned property along the N‐S Corridor, as the N‐S Corridor is entirely within the existing FECR Corridor. Since no land acquisition is necessary, the Project would not result in the reduction of municipal tax revenue, commercial displacements, or job loss along the N‐S Corridor.

Public Safety

The FRA finds no threats to public safety:

The Project would not appreciably affect public health, safety, and security in the rail corridor.

At-Grade Crossings

This will mostly affect the local area yet the effects will be limited:

As part of the Project, existing crossings along the N‐S Corridor would be upgraded in accordance with applicable laws regarding safety requirements, with the need for improvements being determined by a crossing‐by‐crossing diagnostic approach.

Section 6- Evaluation

This section covers mostly the bridges. The St. Sebastian River bridge will be demolished and replaced with a safer bridge:

The Project requires that the St. Sebastian River Bridge, a structure located within the FECR right‐of‐way, be demolished to construct a new structurally‐sound bridge able to accommodate the future passenger and freight traffic.

…There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the demolition of the Eau Gallie River and St. Sebastian River bridges. New bridges are required at these locations to upgrade these crossings to double track crossings, and retaining the bridges presents an unacceptable safety risk to navigation of vessels on the waterways below.

Section 7- Mitigation Measures and Project Commitments

This section covers the litany of actions that will be taken by AAF to meet or surpass all regulation necessary. Most of these have been covered above. Some are required by law while others are not but still committed to by AAF as an act of goodwill to the public.

Section 8- Public Involvement Process

This mostly covers the scoping and public comment process as necessary in the loan approval process.

Conclusion:

Most of the problems AAF is taking the required actions to mitigate the consequences of the project. The FRA finds that AAF will mostly be beneficial while identifying varying degrees of impact along the way.

The FRA seems on track to approve the AAF project if not also grant the RRIF loan.  AAF has previously stated they will continue with Phase II (West Palm to Orlando).

Despite local inconveniences to the project the FRA has made the case that moving foward with AAF along the FECR corridor is somewhat an inevitability given that FECI has contracted the use to their private property with AAF.

Angry about this?

Blame government. Government planning in your community has set the planning precedents to encourage a project such as this. At the same time they have claimed your property and are preparing to dole it out to AAF.

The similarities between the Seven50 Plan and the All Aboard Florida Environmental Impact Study are clear and not of coincidence. Seven50, like AAF, is backed by federal agencies seeking to intervene locally.

AAF is merely navigating the system laid out by the government. Blame those who created this mess of the game not those who are forced to play it.