The Indian River County commission voted in January to look for ways to challenge Brightline’s permit request filed with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the governmental agency responsible for managing groundwater and surface water resources in all or part of 18 counties in northeast and east-central Florida.
A challenge was filed with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings in September. But after reviewing the permit documents, Indian River County agreed to drop the challenge on Nov. 21, a filing in the case shows.
The move came just days before the U.S. Department of Transportation said it had withdrawn its 2014 approval granting Brightline permission to sell up to $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for the rail project, a move federal officials now argue makes a lawsuit filed by opponents of the train service moot.
In court documents filed Monday, the Transportation Department said it withdrew its original approval last month, and instead granted All Aboard’s Brightline provisional permission to move forward with a smaller bond sale.
The original sale would have paid for the second phase of Brightline’s project, connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando.
The new sale will be limited to the rail venture’s first phase between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Martin and Indian River counties filed suit last year over the original bond sale, arguing that federal officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved the tax-exempt bonds before an environmental study of the rail project’s second phase was complete.
The Transportation Department on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying the financing shift has resolved the dispute because the second phase of the project will no longer be included in the bond sale.
Brightline President Michael Reininger pointed to improving economic conditions, adding that a smaller “targeted” sale would be easier to market.
“Since December 2015, we have been monitoring the status of the markets and evaluating potential options for an offering of (tax-exempt bonds),” Reininger wrote in a Sept. 30 letter to federal transportation officials.
“We are pleased to report that market conditions relative to bond financing began to improve earlier this year and have continued to improve, to the point that we now believe we can conclude an initial offering of (tax-exempt bonds) on favorable terms in the near future,” he wrote.
In the letter, Reininger said the company planned to consider a second, $1.15 billion bond sale to help pay for rail work between West Palm Beach and Orlando.