Port Canaveral's Rail Idea Draws Complaints

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Above: Alex Gorichky of Merritt Island, owner of Local Lines Charters uses the Banana River in his business and is not happy about the route of the port’s rail extension might take. Photo: Craig Rubadoux/Florida Today.

Some Space Coast residents hope to apply the brakes on Port Canaveral’s plan for a new cargo rail line across the Banana River and part of the Kennedy Space Center.

The port wants to take over 17 miles of rail at KSC and extend the track 11 miles to the port, crossing the Banana River and space center wetlands.

The $75 million project could create thousands of jobs in the region, port officials say.

But some who heard the details Tuesday during a hearing at Eastern Florida State College worry the plan will alter their communities and the northern Indian River Lagoon forever. They cited concerns about wetlands destruction that they fear could harm prime fish and wildlife habitat.

“It’s our last stronghold that we have of untouched and unimpacted waters in Banana River,” Charles Levi Jr., 34, a fisherman from Port St. John, said.

The public has until Dec. 19 to comment on potential routes for the proposed rail line, archeological or environmental issues or other concerns.

Federal transportation officials will hold a second hearing tonight at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral.

The Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency with jurisdiction over rail projects, will oversee the environmental study process, which port officials estimate could take 12 to 16 months.

The proposed rail would link with 17 miles of existing rail line at KSC, connecting with a main line of the Florida East Coast Railway.

The rail would begin near the port’s North Cargo Area, cross the Banana River along one of two proposed routes, enter KSC on Merritt Island south of Kars Park, then head north through the east side of KSC. There, the rail would link with NASA’s existing rail line, which crosses the Indian River Lagoon via the Jay-Jay Bridge, then connects with the Florida East Coast main line just north of Titusville.

Taking over maintenance of NASA’s 17 miles of rail would save the space agency $10 million a year in maintenance costs, officials estimate.

The port envisions:

• A single-track rail completed by 2017.

• Three or four trains per week, going up to 10 miles per hour.

• The trains would cary 170 rail cars per week, increasing to 220 within 2½ years.

Opponents cite air, water and noise pollution; wildlife and habitat impacts; reduced property values; and reduced quality of life on North Merritt Island.

“It makes no sense to spend millions of dollars to protect our lagoon and to clean our water in order to contaminate it at the same time,” said Mary Hillberg, vice president of the North Merritt Island Homeowners Association and a member of the North Merritt Island Special Advisory Board.

Others worry about security risks related to the cargo shipments.

Port officials are leaning toward using the existing NASA rail line and extending it to the port as the best option to expand cargo operations, but say alternate routes may be considered.

“Really, this is the beginning of the process,” said Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Walsh. “We’re hoping people take advantage of the fact that it’s being done very transparently.”

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro.

Another hearing

5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday (November 19, 2014): Convention Center, Radisson Resort at the Port, 8701 Astronaut Blvd., Cape Canaveral


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