CSX & The Angry Mob

Lakeland Ledger reporter Diane Lacey Allen spoke to the fine folks who attended the secret private meeting between CSX and Lakeland business leaders and the Lakeland City manager.

We spoke of biases in journalism the other day. Can you spot a bias in her lead:

When CSX representatives rolled into Lakeland on Thursday, they didn’t meet with an angry mob shouting that more train traffic would ruin upcoming downtown residential projects.

When CSX representatives rolled into Lakeland, they also didn’t get an opportunity to speak openly to the public, or the media. Calm, concerned citizens of our fair community didn’t get a chance to hear what CSX plans. Respectful media members didn’t get the chance to hear who said what, and why questions were asked or held.

I respect the Ledger. They have a duty to question the very business leaders whose revenues they need to stay in business. It’s a fine line, and some reporters can walk it well. I don’t know Diane Lacey Allen well enough to judge her actions.

However, that paragraph implies “If the public had been invited to that meeting they would have been unruly.” That’s a sad statement about Lakeland residents. We respect transparency in regard to the dealings made by our government and business leaders. That’s the best way to treat your citizens and your customers. And your readers.


Diane Lacey Allen’s article casually mentioned something she points out in her blog, Swanshots

One thing that didn’t come out of the meeting between Lakeland leaders and CSX on Thursday was an impact study. So far the city has not asked for one. It has also not done its own. There remain many questions, some that will be answered by future economic trains. But the closed-door meeting did not prompt a scientific study of what more trains will mean to downtown development.

We shouldn’t expect a secret private softball game of business leaders and CSX would turn into an impact study. Of course they didn’t ask for one. Impact studies are expensive and bring up all kinds of touchy issues. Who would want that?

You do. But, you weren’t invited.


On the other hand, we also have an out-of-town newspaper with a local presence. Tampa Tribune reporter, Billy Townsend (who I have met) has been on this story from the beginning. His lead:

There’s not too much to report from the big, closed CSX-Lakeland business community/city management meeting. Rick Hood, the CSX official in charge of the Winter Haven rail hub site, was at the meeting, which was held at the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce.

Read his short post, which makes four good points in about six paragraphs (italics mine):

• “CSX has agreed to take part in a “task force” aimed at mitigating the impacts of increased train traffic on downtown” Who else will be on that task force?

• “backed-up vehicle traffic waiting for a train to pass” slowed down those takinga tour of downtown. (See Alanis Morissette)

• “this is the first time government staffers from Winter Haven and Lakeland have spoken to one another about this issue” That is sad, don’t you think?

• “Meetings from now on will likely be noticed to the public, Munson said.” Why wasn’t the first one? Oh, right. The public was specifically not invited to that one.

In another CSX column Billy Townsend also posted some opinions on the CSX project from State Senator, and USF Lakeland friend, J. D. Alexander, John Ryan, “an environmental activist and Polk County planning commissioner,” and Charles Lee of Audubon of Florida. Take a minute to read that post, and note the information pulled from an earlier CSX story:

But Ryan, the Polk planning commissioner, warns that the public – through state or local governments – can expect to pay big money for upgrades to all those roads and whatever additional infrastructure the rail center requires.

How so? Well, Charles Lee had an answer, and it has to do with Senate Bill 2804:

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s current “Financial Feasibility” test, which requires that proposed new turnpike segments produce 50% of their bond debt service in 12 years and 100% payment of bond debt by the 22nd year of toll road operation is about to be swept aside.

SB 2804 would ELIMINATE ENTIRELY the “12 year/50%” part of the test, and would extend the 22 year threshold to 30 years.

(Note: SB 2804 has a provision not favored by Citizens for a Scenic Florida. Read their SB 2804 Q&A to see why.

Also, I’ve only pulled quotes from Billy Townsend’s posts. Please take the time to read the whole columns for yourself.


Finally, the third reporter covering this story is another person I’ve met, The Lakeland Ledger’s Tom Palmer. He had an article in Tuesday’s paper. It seems the county is going to make a study on the CSX Hub. It seems the facility isn’t too far from one of the commissioners:

County Commissioner Jean Reed, who has been involved in growth issues in the area for years and who lives not far from the site, pushed for the study. She raised the issue during a commission work session in February, arguing the project’s impact is going to be larger than many people realize.

The quote from Commissioner Jean Reed is prophetic: “It’s going to come fast and catch us unaware,” she said.

Billy Townsend noticed an important point in Tom Palmer’s article:

But the truly important aspect of the story came right at the end. An official with the Central Florida Regional Planning Council said it is still possible for local officials to trigger what’s called the “development of regional impact” process, which is used to help plan large, intense projects. CSX and the city of Winter Haven have avoided that process, which often takes years, by splitting the project in two, so that the key first phase falls below the DRI threshold for acreage. The state signed off on that decision.

Well, wasn’t that sweet? Create a threshold and then ignore it.

I know this is a complicated story. It ties in the Heartland Parkway, the CSX Hub, and the barely mentioned Central Florida Commuter Rail. We’re just getting started.

Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “CSX & The Angry Mob

  1. There is a group of property owners adjourning the proposed site who are very concerned that this heavy industrial complex is a threat to the area’s way of life. They are also in the opinion that the way this has been executed by the City of Winter Haven in order to skirt around a major, time consuming review will leave the City vulnerable to future civil liability. If the City is fortunate, the County will intervene and force a DRI. This is the only way proper planning and development can be achieved.

  2. There is a group of property owners adjourning the proposed site who are very concerned that this heavy industrial complex is a threat to the area’s way of life. They are also in the opinion that the way this has been executed by the City of Winter Haven in order to skirt around a major, time consuming review will leave the City vulnerable to future civil liability. If the City is fortunate, the County will intervene and force a DRI. This is the only way proper planning and development can be achieved.

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