Water managers issue permit for All Aboard rail project

South Florida water managers on Friday announced they have approved a key environmental permit for sections of All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail project through parts of Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. 2_rails__de__chemin_de__fer1_

The South Florida Water Management District said it has issued a permit approving how the company will handle stormwater runoff around its rail line. But the approval does not include 77 intersections where the rail line crosses over roadways.

All Aboard Florida has maintained that the intersections are exempt from permit review. Water managers, however, say the “viability of the company’s assertion cannot be determined.”

The approval addresses only stormwater management systems in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, not the construction or operation of the railway line, district official said in a news release announcing the decision.

The approval has drawn criticism from Martin County officials, who have been fighting to block the rail line.

On Friday, Martin County said in a news release that it is “disappointed with this decision, and strongly believes the district should not issue the permit.”

“We will look carefully at this permit,” County Attorney Michael Durham said. “However, our assessment is that the AAF application remained incomplete and does not contain all the information required by Florida Statues. It fails to provide reasonable assurances that harmful and negative environmental impacts would not occur.”

The permit approval comes just days after Martin officials declared a “major victory” in their battle to stop the project.

A judge ruled last week that a lawsuit challenging federal transportation officials’ decision to allow All Aboard Florida to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for the rail line will continue.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper denied motions to dismiss the case, saying the bonds are key to All Aboard Florida’s ability to complete the second phase of the rail line, which will run between West Palm Beach and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The first phase of the project, between Miami and West Palm Beach, is already under construction.

Martin and Indian River counties filed federal lawsuits last year against the U.S. Department of Transportation challenging whether All Aboard Florida is eligible for the private activity bonds. All Aboard Florida is an intervenor in the suit.

AllAboard’s Brightline service plans to run 32 trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The company plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in mid-2017.