Brightline opponents want access to bond records

Two Treasure Coast counties who filed a federal lawsuit challenging All Aboard Florida’s push to sell tax-exempt bonds to pay for its Brightline train service asked a federal judge on Thursday to allow them to review bond records before deciding whether to dismiss the case.

A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida's Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida’s Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In court documents filed Thursday, Martin and Indian River counties said they should be able to review documents between All Aboard Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation that deal with bond sales for the rail project.

Martin and Indian River counties filed suit last year over the sale of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds for the rail project, arguing that federal officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental policies when they approved the sale before an environmental study of Brightline’s second phase was complete.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last month withdrew its 2014 approval granting All Aboard Florida’s Brightline permission the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the counties moot.

Instead, the federal transportation officials granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller bond sale.

A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida's Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida’s Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

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 – where an environmental review has already been completed.

As a result of the financial change, federal transportation officials have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

But before a decision is made on that request, Martin and Indian River counties say they should be allowed to review documents related to both bond sales.

In the court filing, the counties pointed to a letter Sept. 30 letter from All Aboard President Michael Reininger to federal transportation officials.

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.

“Within the next several weeks, we will separately discuss a new request for an allocation of up to $1.15 billion in (private activity bond) authority for Phase II,” Reininger wrote to federal transportation officials.