All Aboard, federal officials move to end lawsuit over tax-exempt rail bonds

The U.S. Department of Transportation has withdrawn its 2014 approval granting All Aboard Florida’s Brightline permission to sell up to $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for the rail project, a move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.

(Provided)
(Provided)

In court documents filed Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it withdrew its original approval this month, and instead granted All Aboard 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 U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying the financing shift has resolved the dispute since the second phase of the project will no longer be included in the bond sale.

A rendering of All Aboard's Florida's West Palm Beach station sits on the top floor of the building, overlooking downtown, after "topping off" ceremonies, signaling construction of the building has hit a new milestone and reached its top elevation, Friday, September 30, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
A rendering of All Aboard’s Florida’s West Palm Beach station sits on the top floor of the building, overlooking downtown, after “topping off” ceremonies, signaling construction of the building has hit a new milestone and reached its top elevation, Friday, September 30, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Court documents show All Aboard filed an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation in September requesting permission to move forward with the smaller, $600 million bond sale.

All Aboard’s 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 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.”

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.

In a statement released Tuesday, a citizens group opposing the project said the financing shift was “visible proof” that efforts to block the rail project are working.

“They have no obvious way to fund Phase 2,” Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida said. “…They aim to repackage their offer, but pouring bad wine into new bottles doesn’t make it taste any better. It remains to be seen whether the investor community will back even this more limited financing activity. ”

Construction on the first phase of Brightline’s service, which includes three stations and track work between Miami and West Palm Beach, is 70 percent complete, company officials have said.

Brightline’s first train is expected to arrive in south Florida by the end of the year.

Anti-rail group to hold town hall meetings about All Aboard’s Brightline

The citizen’s group opposing All Aboard’s Brightline passenger train service will hold two town hall meetings this week to discuss the project.

Construction continues on the All Aboard Florida train station on the Florida East Coast Railway in downtown West Palm Beach on September 6, 2016.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Construction continues on the All Aboard Florida train station on the Florida East Coast Railway in downtown West Palm Beach on September 6, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, also known as C.A.R.E. FL, said the meetings are designed to provide residents with an update on efforts to block the rail project.

Construction on the first phase of Brightline’s service, which includes three stations and track work between Miami and West Palm Beach, is well underway.

Brightline plans to eventually run 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The second phase of the track work, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.

CARE FL’s  meetings will be held in Stuart and Jupiter. Speakers include: Attorney Stephen Ryan; Brent Hanlon, CARE FL Steering Committee Chairman; and Robert Crandall, former president and CEO of American Airlines.

Stuart Town Hall Meeting

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 7p.m.

The Lyric Theater, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart

Jupiter Town Hall Meeting

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 7 p.m.

Jupiter Community Center, 200 Military Trail, Jupiter

DirecTV customers cry foul after Fox News outage

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some DirecTV customers are crying foul after Fox News was blacked out for several mornings this week because of “technical difficulties.”

Port St. Lucie resident Christine Fischer said for the last week an error message has popped up on her screen when she tried to watch the Fox News channel in the morning. The outage has not impacted any other stations, she added.

“I think they are somehow blocking us,” Fischer said. “I can understand if DirecTV is going out on all stations.  I went through my TV and hit every channel, and it is just Fox. I am sorry, there is something going on.”

Fischer is not alone. Customers across the country have taken to social media to raise questions about the outage.

In responses posted on its Twitter account, DirecTV said it was working to resolve the issue and noted that it is also experiencing problems with CNN. The company directed customers to watch those networks online at and

“We’re experiencing technical difficulties impacting 8 HD channels, including CNN HD and FOX News HD, for our satellite customers. These and most of the other channels are available in SD and via our streaming apps. Customers can learn how to unhide SD channels at http://soc.att.com/2f1HYN5. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to address the issues and will update accordingly,” Kelly Layne Starling, Senior Public Relations Manager for AT&T in South Florida and the Virgin Islands, said in an emailed statement.

Fischer said she has been a DirecTV customer for about 9 years and has never received the “technical difficulties” error message before.  She tried to call DirecTV several times this morning but was not able to get the problem addressed.

 

How FEC, All Aboard Florida and CSX are preparing for Hurricane Matthew

An FEC train travels along the tracks just south of Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
An FEC train travels along the tracks just south of Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Rail lines in Florida are preparing for possible effects as Hurricane Matthew approaches the state.

Florida East Coast Railway is shutting down its train service tonight, said Robert Ledoux, FEC senior vice president and general counsel.

COMPLETE LIST OF SHELTERS, EMERGENCY RESOURCES

Crews on those trains will swap about halfway through their trip so they can be back in their homes tonight, Ledoux said.

Click here for the latest on Tri-Rail service

FEC service will be closed tomorrow and could reopen either late Friday or Saturday, but much of that depends upon the extent of damage along FEC’s line.

Ledoux said about 100 FEC employees are staged to mobilize once the storm has passed. They’ll work in smaller crews, covering about 60 miles of track each to find and fix any damage.

The first service once the FEC line reopens will be northbound out of Miami, as Matthew is expected to move north along Florida’s coastline.

FEC also is watching storm forecasts closely to determine if and when signal arms may need to be removed. The arms will be removed once forecasts indicate an area is supposed to receive 80 mph sustained winds, Ledoux said.

CSX leaders have been monitoring Matthew and have activated the company’s Hurricane Operations Plan, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

The freight company has suspended its operations along its main line between Savannah, Ga., and Pembroke, N.C., starting today, the spokesperson said. CSX service in South Florida was suspended this morning until further notice.

The company is working with its customers to reroute freight traffic or make other arrangements as necessary as delays are expected in the Southeast, the spokesperson added.

 

Work has been underway to secure construction sites for All Aboard Florida’s Brightline passenger rail service stations.

“Safety is Brightline’s number one priority,” Brightline said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the hurricane and have implemented the necessary safety precautions required for all active construction sites.”

More coverage of Hurricane Matthew:

Dozens of flights cancelled and delayed in South Florida

The latest from The Post’s weather reporter, Kim Miller

When will Florida’s Turnpike tolls be suspended for Hurricane Matthew?

Which Palm Beach County gas stations can pump without power?

All tolls on Florida’s Turnpike free as Matthew approaches

The entrance to the Florida Turnpike at Okeechobee Boulevard Tuesday, June 30, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
The entrance to the Florida Turnpike at Okeechobee Boulevard Tuesday, June 30, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

As Floridians prepare for possible mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Matthew, one question may come to mind: Will you have to pay tolls on Florida’s Turnpike before, during and after the storm?

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he has authorized the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend tolls in counties where there are evacuation orders issued.

COMPLETE LIST OF SHELTERS, EMERGENCY RESOURCES

Wednesday evening, Scott’s office issued an update saying this now includes the entire Florida’s Turnpike, Alligator Alley and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.

Tolls on Florida’s Beachline — State Road 528 — from Brevard County to Orlando already had been suspended because of a mandatory evacuation order in Brevard County earlier in the day, Scott said.

“Protecting life and moving people to safety remains our top priority and today I directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend tolls as needed to keep traffic flowing,” Scott said in a news release. “If there is an evacuation order in a county, all tolls will be suspended in that county.”

Storm 2016.com: Tracking map, full preparedness guide

The Florida Department of Transportation is keeping track of traffic counters in South and Central Florida as it prepares for the storm’s effects, Scott’s office said.

Here’s more from the governor’s office on the latest efforts to prepare roads for Hurricane Matthew:

• FDOT construction: All state projects on interstates, limited-access facilities, coastal and evacuation routes have been stopped. Contractors are securing equipment and removing all unnecessary barricades, signs and drums.

• Flooding: FDOT is monitoring flood-prone areas and will work with county emergency operations centers to coordinate any necessary response.

• Intracoastal bridges: In Palm Beach County, they will be locked down by 8 p.m. Wednesday. During lock-down, the bridge is closed, power turned off and the traffic arms may be removed.

More coverage of Hurricane Matthew

Dozens of flights cancelled and delayed in South Florida

The latest from The Post’s weather reporter, Kim Miller

Make sure you have your hurricane supplies

Which Palm Beach County gas stations can pump without power?

What to do at an intersection when the power goes out

 

 

 

 

Need a job? This company is hiring in northern Palm Beach County

Publix will hold a two-day job fair this month to fill positions at its stores in Jupiter, Tequesta, northern Palm Beach Gardens and southern Martin County.

080212 (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post) BOYNTON BEACH - A small crowd gathers outside the new Boynton Beach Publix in Sunshine Square before its garnd opening Thursday morning.
080212 (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post) BOYNTON BEACH – A small crowd gathers outside the new Boynton Beach Publix in Sunshine Square before its garnd opening Thursday morning.

Here are the details:

Dates:  Monday and Tuesday, October 17 & 18

Time:   10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day

Location: Store 228, Chasewood Plaza,  6330 W. Indiantown Rd., Jupiter, FL 33458

Job applicants can schedule an appointment at the job fair at publix.fullslate.com.

pb-county-job-fair

 

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.

 

 

Sleep Number adds store, but its new bed is online-only

Sleep Number is opening its fourth store in the region Friday. This one, in Jensen Beach, follows three other stores in Palm Beach County.

Sleep Number's newest bed is available online. (Provided)
Sleep Number’s newest bed is available online. (Provided)

But when the company rolls out its next big product, the “it Bed” in the fall, you won’t find it any of the regional stores, or in any other Sleep Number’s 500 locations.

» RELATED: Is there an item you only buy at a store vs online? A mattress?

It will only be sold online.

The company bills the it Bed as high-tech assisted sleep. It will, among other features, track your heart and breathing rates hundreds of times as you sleep. The goal is to better help know how to adjust the adjustable bed.

And if you think adjustable beds and other ways of dealing with issues like snoring are for older people, guess again.

“Snoring is a big issue for many people,” said Pete Bils, Sleep Number’s vice president for sleep research. “It affects not just by age, but also by weight and lifestyle.”

Indian River County won’t appeal All Aboard challenge

Indian River County will not appeal a judge’s decision that it lacks standing to stop the issuance of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to fund All Aboard Florida’s Brightline train service. 2_rails__de__chemin_de__fer1_

Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold said Friday that although the county did not agree with the decision, it has decided not to challenge the June 10 ruling.

“I have decided not to appeal that decision,” Reingold said.

Indian River County had sought a preliminary injunction to block the sale of the bonds by the Florida Development Finance Corp.

 

 

 

 

Waterpark lifts fees on Aug. 11 for Martin residents

For the second time in less than a month, Martin County residents will get free admission into the Sailfish Splash Waterpark in Stuart.

STUART - Images from the Sailfish Splash Waterpark on a recent Wednesday.
STUART – Images from the Sailfish Splash Waterpark on a recent Wednesday.

Martin officials said they are lifting fees for county residents and their minor children on Thursday, August 11.

Martin County offered a similar promotion on July 20, citing the “algae crisis” that has impacted some Treasure Coast waterways.  The event drew 1,200 residents within the first hour. By the end of the day, more than 1,600 residents had entered the waterpark, the county said.

“Due to the huge success and popularity of Sailfish Splash Waterpark’s free admission day for Martin County residents held earlier this month, the Waterpark will host an additional FREE admission day to Martin County residents,” the county said in a news release announcing the Aug. 11 event.

According to the release, park staff will admit Martin County residents (and their minor children) who present a valid photo identification card showing a Martin County address.

“At any point in time, should the Waterpark fill to capacity, staff will defer additional admissions until patrons enjoying the Waterpark depart,” the county said.

Sailfish Splash Waterpark operates from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.