On June 23, 2014 — with the stroke of a pen — the Canaveral Port Authority inked a contract with UAE-owned GulfTainer USA guaranteeing barge-by-rail (Phase 2) service by June 1, 2015 and direct cargo rail service (Phase 3) by Dec. 1, 2017. Click here to view and download a complete copy of the contract.
There's just one problem.
To date, according to an email received from Dennis Watson of the Surface Transportation Board on May 7, the CPA hasn't even started the formal permitting process.
The CPA executed this contract — guaranteeing operating Phase 2 and Phase 3 cargo rail — fully 10 months prior to any sort of public meeting to discuss the idea. Scoping meetings held late last year were not sponsored by the CPA; rather a requirement for the Environmental Impact Statement process set by the STB.
The first — and to date only — meeting sponsored by the CPA on April 30, quickly devolved into a train wreck for port CEO John Walsh as he addressed an angry crowd of 300 fishermen, outdoorsmen, environmentalist and home owners.
Although Walsh and the CPA seem to be getting a lot of coverage in the mainstream media about “exploring” these barge-to-rail and commercial rail projects, the contract tells a different story.
CPA entered into a binding agreement with GTUSA guaranteeing completed barge to rail and commercial rail — prior to even asking for an environmental impact statement from the STB.
According to the contract, it is not a question of if CPA can hew a commercial railway through the Banana River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and nearly 100 acres of submerged and critical wetlands but how quickly they can get it done.
Without public input.
Without even attempting to gauge public support.
At this time, it is unclear what penalties would be incurred by the CPA if commercial rail were shut down (and in turn the taxpaying public they represent). While there appear to be no specific penalties addressing a failure to complete the Phase 2 and Phase 3 rail projects, there is a litigation clause that would allow GulfTainer to sue the Canaveral Port Authority for not holding up its end of the lease agreement for damages as well as legal fees.
The contract also indicates that in addition to operating any rail lines, Port Canaveral would also provide trucking services to the FEC railway at rates competitive to those found in competing ports like Jacksonville and Miami.
So all of this leaves us with a couple of questions pertaining to the port’s embattled commercial rail plan.
Why did CEO John Walsh wait 10 months after signing an agreement guaranteeing rail would be in place to finally start talking to the public?
In the agreement Walsh also started laying the groundwork so that if and when CPA fills the submerged acreage to the north of the cargo facility, GTUSA gets first shot at it.
How did the CPA determine that the voting public in its five districts supported this plan?
What happens if the public does not agree with this proposal for rail across the river and the proposal gets shot down?
Doesn’t an existing contract — in place with time-certain assurances — indicate that this is a done deal without any public input or approval?
How could the CPA and CEO John Walsh enter into an agreement that would completely change the landscape of our rivers, wetlands and a National Wildlife Refuge without first asking for public approval?
There are a number of different resources to help you get informed and involved in this project.
For the most up-to-date information (Port Canaveral's claim, not mine), visit the STB-sponsored website, www.portcanaveralraileis.com. To read and sign former Port Commissioner Sue Ford’s petition, visit www.stopportcanaveralrailextension.com. You can also join and follow No Fill, No Kill, Capt. Alex Gorichky’s grassroots opposition movement on Facebook.
And of course, visit here for frequent updates.