Waterway Guide, authority on cruising America's coastal waterways since 1947, is urging boaters to participate in the U.S. Coast Guard comment period -- giving the USCG their views on how railway bridges across South Florida waterways will affect them if and when All Aboard Florida becomes a reality.
Those views must be in writing and must go directly to the U.S. Coast Guard, not to the magazine or anywhere else, according to the publication's news editor, Mike Ahart.
The All Aboard Florida (AAF) passenger rail service, as proposed, would add 32 trains to Florida East Coast Railway tracks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m every day, between Cocoa and Miami. Ahart claims the train service would severely affect vessel traffic at the following:
- The bridge across the St. Lucie River at Stuart (closed vertical clearance: 7 feet -- also part of the Okeechobee Waterway Route).
- The busy New River in Fort Lauderdale (closed vertical clearance: 4 feet --see related story).
- The bridge across the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, off the Intracoastal Waterway at Mile 1005, (closed vertical clearance: 4 feet).
Ahart points out that these bridges are normally in the open position except when a train is approaching or crossing. But with the increased train traffic, he says, openings would happen only a few times per hour and could be dangerously brief.
Freight trains currently use the tracks, and each lowering of a bridge closes the waterway for up to 20 minutes. Under the new passenger service plan, the freight trains would continue to use these bridges as well, to make a total of 42 to 46 trains a day -- in fact, due to the connection of the company with Port Everglades and its expansion to accommodate Post-Panamax ships, freight on the tracks is expected to increase.
Said Ahart, "These bridges also have frequent problems -- the FEC bridge in Stuart is frequently closed for repairs, and I once waited nearly an hour at the FEC bridge on the New River in Fort Lauderdale due to a malfunction."
Though this issue predominantly affects businesses, local boaters and cruisers in the general vicinity of the bridges, access to the Okeechobee Waterway and marinas and facilities upstream from these bridges will be hampered for all boaters, the magazine says.
Ahart reminds readers of a recent catastrophic boat fire in an anchorage just south of the Stuart railroad bridge. If 42 to 46 closings had been in force then, emergency response would have been severely impaired at that location, too.
Another concern: Cruisers who normally spend time (and money) in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart claim they will be reluctant to make those stops in an All Aboard Florida future.
The Coast Guard notice and request for survey information does not mention All Aboard Florida specifically, or any details on possible increased traffic and bridge delays, but the connection is clear. Shown when you open the link is the notice and details of the survey questions, but Ahart insists the actual survey must be downloaded and mailed, emailed or dropped off according to exact instructions. What he's saying is, don't use a copy/print of the Waterway Guide story or this story. Here it is below for those unable to print out the survey:
All interested parties are notified that the commander, Seventh Coast Guard District, is conducting navigational surveys of three waterways impacted by rail traffic. We are soliciting written comments through this notice and will be accepting written comments regarding the reasonable needs of marine traffic at the following locations at the date and time indicated:
WATERWAY/LOCATION AND COMMENT COLLECTION DATE/TIME:
A. Waterway: New River, mile 1.82, Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Broward Co., FL (Lat: 26 o0706.64N, Long: 080 o0843.56W). Comment collection: Oct. 1, 2014, from 7-9 p.m., at Embassy Suites, 1100 SE 17th St, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316.
B. Waterway:LoxahatcheeRiver,mile1.23,Jupiter,PalmBeachCo.,FL(Lat:26 o5651.50N, Long: 080o0525.10W). Comment collection: Oct, 2, 2014, from 7-9 p.m., at Embassy Suites, 4350 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410.
C. Waterway:St.LucieRiver,mile7.11,OkeechobeeWaterway(OWW),Stuart,Martin Co., FL (Lat: 27 o 1213.02N, Long: 080 o 1536.79W). Comment collection: Oct, 3, 2014, from 7-9 p.m. at Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort, 555 NE Ocean Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996.
In order to ensure the reasonable needs of navigation are being met by current bridge operation regulations, the U.S. Coast Guard is gathering written information from mariners to help determine if a change in federal bridge operating regulations should be considered.
Interested parties are encouraged to complete the enclosed navigation survey and return it to the Seventh Coast Guard District offices to be included in the official record. Information helpful to this effort includes current and future use of the waterway (especially through movable bridges), the kind and type of vessels used, frequency of use, navigational hazards such as currents, obstructions, and those hazards that may not be evident from charts and published materials.
SOLICITATION OF COMMENTS:
In an effort to meet maritime needs, interested parties are requested to express their navigability concerns in writing. Comments will be received for the record at the Office of the Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District, Brickell Plaza Federal Building, 909 Southeast 1st Ave,, Suite 432, Miami, Florida 33131-3050. Comments mailed on or before Nov, 1, 2014, will be made part of the official record. Written comments can also be received via email at: USCGD7DPBPublicComment@uscg.mil. Written comments will also be received at the locations and dates listed above.
Survey questions in a nutshell:
- User information (name, address, phone).
- Type of waterway user (pleasure, commercial; licensed, unlicensed).
- Vessel info, including bridge clearance requirements.
- Waterways used (New River, St. Lucie RIver, Loxahatchee).
- Do you use the main channel?
- When do you transit these waterways? (season, frequency, time of day)
- Other comments.
Pay particular attention to the on-or-before-Nov.1-deadline in order to make your comment part of the public record.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith