All Aboard Florida is clear to pursue $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for its Miami to Orlando passenger rail project following two county commission votes Tuesday — one a slam dunk, a second that took more than two hours and attracted speakers from Miami to Cocoa .
The Miami-Dade and Brevard county commissions both agreed to increase caps on the amount of private activity bonds that can be issued in their counties through agreements with the Florida Department Finance Corp. , which will act as conduit issuer for All Aboard Florida.
But the 11-0 landslide in Miami-Dade and the narrow 3-2 vote in Brevard underscore the divide the project has created between southern counties and those to the north that will see their Florida East Coast Railway corridors double-tracked but get no train stations.
The Brevard vote was “critical” to the All Aboard Florida opposition, said K.C. Traylor , a Palm City resident and founder of Not All Aboard Florida, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. Brevard and Miami-Dade were the only counties required to raise their caps for the bond request.
“This is a vote that impacts every single one of us,” Traylor told Brevard commissioners. “Residents elected you to protect their interests and quality of life.”
More than 40 people signed up to speak in Brevard County . About half were in favor of All Aboard, and many of them had traveled more than 100 miles from Miami-Dade County to attend the meeting.
“People talking about opportunities for them aren’t even from around here,” said Melbourne resident Terri Fullerton . “It’s not running by their house. I resent them coming here and telling us what to do.”
Still, high-profile Brevard residents voiced support for the project, including Ron Jon Surf Shop President Debbie Harvey and Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish .
Although the U.S. Department of Transportation must still approve All Aboard Florida’s application to issue the private activity bonds, which are bought by investors at no risk to taxpayers, company officials seem confident they will get the green light.
There is a public hearing required under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act before the All Aboard Florida’s application is approved. All Aboard Florida officials said Tuesday they weren’t sure when or where that would be held.
All Aboard Florida is seeking the bonds to supplement or replace a $1.6 billion Federal Railroad Administration loan it had previously applied for. The taxpayer-subsidized loan drew criticism from opponents who keyed in on it as a way to derail the project.
“When people say they have concerns about financial viability, they should want this bond process to play out,” said Husein Cumber , executive vice president for corporate development at Florida East Coast Industries , All Aboard Florida’s parent company. “We will issue the bonds no matter what, but we feel it’s important that Brevard have a seat at the table.”
Cumber said if Brevard had voted against the bond cap increase to $375 million , All Aboard Florida would have moved forward with private activity bonds for other counties and sought another kind of financing for construction in Brevard .
In exchange for the approval in Brevard , All Aboard Florida agreed to pay for the maintenance of its railroad crossings for eight years, pay $500,000 in matching funds toward safety upgrades to allow for quiet zones, and give the county $375,000 — an amount equal to a fee paid to the Florida Development Finance Corp. for acting as conduit issuer of the bonds. The corporation also agreed to pay the $375,000 fee it receives to Brevard County .
All Aboard Florida was also added as a third-party beneficiary to Brevard’s crossing agreement with Florida East Coast Railway .
Brevard commissioners Trudie Infantini and Chuck Nelson voted against Tuesday’s bond resolution. Nelson said he was uncomfortable voting for an agreement that was still under negotiation Monday afternoon.
Many All Aboard Florida proponents at the meeting are hoping Brevard County will get a stop in the future. All Aboard Florida, which plans to run 32 trains per day, will have stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach , in addition to Orlando and Miami .
Rockledge resident Rudolph Tucker , who wore an All Aboard Florida sticker to Tuesday’s meeting, wasn’t aware there was no stop planned in Brevard , but said he still supported the project.
“Anything coming from Orlando is going to bring jobs,” he said.