A CSX Comment

Posts I make here contain an easy method for readers to comment. Sometimes I respond or add to those comments. That give-and-take is part of the nature of hyperlocal blogs.

I received a comment this morning I think needs better exposure. Kevin Cook is Lakeland’s Director of Communications:

I work in City government and I would like to clarify a couple of the issues that you brought forward regarding CSX. The first meeting was held at the Chamber of Commerce and it involved the City, CSX officials, Chamber representatives and reps from the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA). The City holds many meetings with land developers and other officials regarding issues that will impact our community and the public is rarely invited to any first initial meeting. Please understand that the rail hub being discussed is in Winter Haven and the rail that runs through downtown Lakeland will be impacted but the real effects of the impact were not known until the meeting this past week. It is easy to say the public should be invited but the reality is – there had to be a first meeting with a limited audience so candid conversation could take place. I really don’t know what we can do as a City but ask for track improvements and improved crossing mechanisms so the trains will go by faster and not have to blow their waring horns when they pass through Lakeland. As I learn new developments regarding the CSX issue, I will post them.

Thanks for making the effort to address the CSX issue. I appreciate the information. I do have a couple of thoughts in response:

First, I’ll offer you an unedited forum on this subject. This space is yours anytime you’d like to write a post.

Regarding development, last week developers spoke with residents at the Lakeland chapter of the Florida Bipartisan Civic Affairs Group. Both developers and audience members wholeheartedly agreed that the public needs to be involved right off the bat. It would save a lot of poor public perception of many projects. I believe that is also true in this case; a situation where our city and business leaders appear less proactive than officials in other affected cities.

Even if all the city can ultimately do is “ask for track improvements and improved crossing mechanisms” it’s important the city publicly explore every option. Seeing the process can only help residents better understand the situation.

I don’t see how “the real effects of the impact were not known until the meeting this past week.” They’re still not known. We’ve heard various reports for weeks. Lakeland hasn’t made a study. We still don’t know the full impact of this project because the prime player, CSX, hasn’t finalized plans:

“We have done a closer look at that,” explained Sease after the meeting. “(Lakeland) would see five additional trains per 24 hours. We do anticipate there would be growth over time. But that’s the number we feel reasonably confident about.” — The Lakeland Ledger (Italics mine.)

Finally, It is easy to say the public should be invited. Business that affects the public deserves a public forum. Most members of the meeting publicly stated privacy wasn’t needed. Yet, the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce refused to allow even a media representative. What message did that send to the citizens of Lakeland?