Train Impact Coalition by Honey Minuse
The Train Impact Coalition (TIC) was born of a need to address potential impacts from the expansion of freight rail transport and addition of high speed passenger trains proposed by All Aboard Florida (AAF).
Coalition members represent Indian River County's people, organizations and local governments. The sole purpose was to protect our interests from harmful impacts by inserting our concerns, as allowed by law, into the Federal process which would release the (Draft) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The process leading to the EIS is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because AAF had applied for a federal railroad loan. It requires identification of the natural and human environments, analysis of impacts and consideration of alternatives with benefits.
The Draft EIS has now been released and there is little recognition of Indian River County. Impacts to our natural and human environments are mostly blended in with those of South Florida
This lack of identity started with Scoping meetings. These meetings were held to determine the scope of the studies and were neither advertised nor held in our county.
Following that, "Cooperating Agency" status for jurisdictional authority and special expertise were denied to the governments of Vero Beach, Sebastian and Indian River County when each submitted individual applications.
Responding to specific sections of the report was a challenge simply because there was no information to respond to.
Expanded freight transport is frequently mentioned but there is no estimate for projected speed, length and crossings per day and per hour for rail lines shared by freight and passenger services, including both full and partial capacity. A response cannot be provided without this information.
The Army Corps of Engineers, a Cooperating Agency, in a Public Notice dated October 7, 2014 states the St. Sebastian River Bridge is in Brevard County and will be demolished and replaced with 2 new single track bridges. The southern end of the bridge is in Indian River County over the St. Sebastian River which winds into the St. Sebastian River State Park with the North Sebastian Conservation Area immediately south. The Draft EIS fails to include a proper analysis of this Bridge, the underlying waterway or the endangered species. Again, a response cannot be given without this information.
The community of Gifford existed before the current tracks were built. Today, local knowledge would have provided information about adults and children walking across the tracks to reach school, stores and employment. It would also have provided knowledge of critically ill residents unable to personally reach acute medical care facilities when the crossings were closed. Lacking such knowledge the Draft does not comprehensively identify, analyze, nor consider impacts or alternatives with long-term benefits to this community. Such data must be available in order to respond.
There is no identification of noise, vibration, interrupted vehicular travel and construction with respect to property values, real estate taxes, business vitality and employment factors.
There is no identification of residential communities or areas such as retail centers and medical facilities potentially disrupted or fragmented by the expansion of freight traffic and establishment of high speed passenger rail. Maintaining the integrity of such areas requires identification and analysis to include alternative considerations and long term benefit.
The Draft fails to identify impacts to Indian River County's public health and safety. There is no record of rail accidents to include transport of hazardous and nuclear materials, no statement of pedestrian incidents and no log of crossing closure incidents.
An analysis of the ability of Law Enforcement and Fire Rescue to respond to critical situations is neglected. A credible EIS will document, analyze and, when indicated, consider a remedy to eliminate any threat to the public well-being. Lacking this information, a response cannot be formulated.
The many Cultural and Historic resources in our County also lack identification. Such sites include an historic district in Sebastian and the Vero Man Ice Age Site which documents 13,000 years of human presence in the area. The integrity of such places listed in the Historic Register must be maintained. A proper analysis with benefit is essential and can only be done when information is provided.
NEPA assures people have a voice in the process. To date the voices in Indian River County have not been heard. The foregoing has been represented to the Federal Railroad Administration in response to the public comment time. In accordance with NEPA, we fully expect to be heard when the foregoing omissions are recognized and studied for impacts, alternatives and actions.