Off the Track?- Southeast- Feb. 2003
The rail opponents figure that voters' approval of expensive initiatives to reduce class size and offer free pre-kindergarten classes will put the high cost of building a bullet train into stark relief.
"It has shined a fairly bright light on the high speed rail program," says Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, a founding member of Derail the Bullet Train (DEBT), a political action committee that worked unsuccessfully to gather enough signatures to put the train issue back on the ballot.
The group, which includes Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson and an assortment of homeowners, got its start back in 1996 to oppose a proposed route that would have cut through neighborhoods in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach as part of an earlier high speed rail proposal.
But they soon came to hate the bullet train for other reasons. It's a boondoggle, they say, that won't attract enough riders to justify the expense.
In 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush agreed and pulled the plug on the project. But well-heeled bullet train enthusiast C.C. "Doc" Dockery resurrected the idea via constitutional amendment in 2000. Construction is supposed to begin in November, but a lot has happened in two years, and Klein is certain that voters will choose differently if asked again.
The cost of building the 1,300-mile train linking Tampa, Miami and Orlando -- estimated at between $22 billion and $33 billion -- will seem extravagant when the other bills start coming due, Klein says. He plans to introduce a resolution this legislative session that would put the issue back on the ballot in 2004 in one of two ways -- either by repealing the 2000 amendment or by adding the requirement that it be privately funded.
But if Klein's group is feeling a little smug, Dockery is not worried. He cites a recent study that suggests high speed rail will create more in jobs and economic benefits than it will cost to build. He says state transportation trust funds are already available for the train. And he says the Palm Beach County opponents have made all of these arguments before and failed to convince enough people. The voters, says Dockery, "have heard all this before."
IN THE NEWS
Dania Beach -- City officials are pressing forward with plans to create a community redevelopment district despite concerns from the county about whether the proliferation of such districts in Broward County is starting to take a toll on the tax base. Such districts pool property tax increases for investment in the district.
Fort Lauderdale -- Broward County is considering an ambitious redevelopment project centered around a new county administration building surrounded by shops, restaurants and apartments along Broward Boulevard. The project would require the cooperation of Fort Lauderdale officials.
City officials are considering a proposal to reroute planes taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to accommodate noise complaints from residents of surrounding neighborhoods. One plan calls for aircraft to fly over I-95 until they reach an altitude where they can't be heard from the neighborhoods.
Tests of the water, fish and lake bottom near the site of an old landfill found no evidence of contamination, according to city officials. Some residents of the Wingate neighborhood believe the landfill, which was shut down in 1978, is the cause of health problems in the area.
A federal judge threw out the case against three former Seminole Tribe employees charged with diverting $2.7 million of tribal money into an offshore internet gambling operation. The judge ruled a day after former tribe Chairman James Billie testified that he had approved the scheme. U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas ruled that prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to send the case to the jury given Billie's testimony.
A city building inspector who alleged he was passed over for promotion in favor of less experienced and less qualified white employees has settled his discrimination case against the city for $455,000. Elgin Jones was one of five black city employees found by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to have suffered discrimination in the workplace.
Hollywood -- Coral reefs off Hollywood Beach show signs of damage from fiber-optic cables laid in 1999, according to a study by south Florida marine biologists for telecommunications companies Atlantica and Tyco. The problem has the state Department of Environmental Protection seeking new ways for companies to lay cable.
Pembroke Pines -- On the advice of their attorney, city commissioners have given preliminary approval to an 850-unit condominium and townhouse project west of I-75, despite misgivings about the amount of traffic the development will add to already congested roads.
West Palm Beach -- Harley-Davidson of Palm Beach has broken ground on a dealership at 2907 45th St. The 51,950-sq.-ft. showroom, offices and service facility is scheduled for completion in June.
A BOOST FROM CRUISE PASSENGERS
PORT EVERGLADES -- A 13.5% increase in cruise travelers from 2001 to 2002 contributed to $9.7 million in increased operating revenue, according to year-end figures for Port Everglades. The greatest passenger increase, from 2 million in 2001 to 2.5 million last year, was for multiday cruises. The port's shipping business, however, saw decreases in both petroleum and container shipping. Reduced demand for petroleum shipping, which fell from $19.1 million in revenue in 2001 to $18.7 million last year, was attributed to decreases in air travel following the Sept. 11 attacks. Container shipping decreased by 11%.