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 continue to press for access to records related to the sale.
In a federal court documents filed Wednesday, attorneys for Martin and Indian River counties called a new financing plan for the rail project – made public as a result of the court case – a “scheme” and a “work around” to circumvent the legal challenge.
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, $600 million 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 – 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 court filings, the counties point 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.
Wednesday’s filing also pointed to a series of email message between All Aboard and federal officials. The counties allege the emails show that All Aboard and federal transportation officials chose to communicate by phone or in person “in order to avoid written and discoverable substantive records of those communications.”
Meanwhile, Brightline’s first passenger train arrived in West Palm Beach last week.
The train is being stored at the company’s rail repair facility on 15th Street in West Palm Beach. The 12-acre site is located just west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
Brightline plans to start shuttling passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami in mid-2017. The bulk of the construction on the buildings and tracks that will mark its route is complete.
Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.