Say Again: Gov. Lex Luthor Will Find a Reason to Keep SunRail/CSX

[box type=”shadow”]Editor’s Note: I’m on a month long “sabbatical” and for some reason Billy Townsend is in on the shores of Lake Erie, but he was able to send a message to suggest we rerun his column from February 17. Good idea.[/box] I think, generally, that creating and developing a publicly-owned rail line in the […]

Tonight’s Must Attend – High Speed Rail Open House

Want to make eyes flutter and hearts skip with a single word? Buttonhole your favorite commissioner, developer, city planner or legacy media reporter. Sidle up close, check around for cameras and whisper: “rail.” Have a strong drink or a defibrillator at the ready. You’re in for a roller coaster of a story. The history of […]

Connecting the Region Through the Movement of People

CSX Railroad Crossing LightsContinuing the discussion on transportation in the Central Florida region, q conference has been set for February 23rd. Hosted by the Central Florida Development Council, Inc. of Polk County, the conference will feature keynote speaker Pat McCrory. The former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina was credited with spearheading a 25-year plan to expand bus and light rail in the city.

I Guess Harassing Railroads Runs In The Family

I spent a not-small-enough portion of my Thanksgiving break rummaging through ancient, partially dry-rotted legal files stored in a small trailer on my aunt’s property in Palatka, my hometown. Among the dregs of my great grandfather and great aunt’s legal career, I was looking for files related to my Cross Creek Trial/Palatka Klan project that I wrote about here a few weeks ago. [Insert now shameless plug: check out the site “Blogging the Cross Creek Trial”.]

This was researching with accountability. You never knew which file would fall open to reveal superroaches, otherwise known as palmetto bugs, large enough to bark. I think the CDC could trace the balky throat I brought home and have carried around this week directly to the toxic air inside the trailer.

Anyway, one of the files I found both relates to my Cross Creek project, and, in a way, to that other endlessly rewarding family project–annoying predatory railroad companies. And I want to note it today in honor if the deeply entertaining special rail session of the Florida Legislature currently underway.

Be a patriot, JD: Divest from your CSX-related holdings

As I was driving home last night, I heard a WUSF report in which Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, waxed patriotic about how it’s our duty to support our troops by approving Sunrail. Yes, really. The idea is that the 3,000 daily riders of SunRail will help us wean ourselves from foreign oil, thus making it less likely that our soldiers will need to fight in the Middle East. I wish I could find a link because the actual statement, in his trembling voice, is moving.

Given Alexander’s obvious deep feeling for the common good of our state and soldiers and his solemn belief that the CSX/SunRail deal is so vital to both, I expect an announcement any day that he’s divesting his vast personal business interests in this deal. See them detailed here. Of course, it’s just a coincidence that the Winter Haven rail hub CSX will build as part of this deal with $23 million or so of your money will serve JD’s personal business interests and those of his partners. With a deal this important to our future, this important to our troops, I’m sure that JD will want to remove any taint that might surround it. That’s what a patriot does.

Weak SunRail Sauce

I clearly don’t know the back story to any of the most recent negotiations – or whatever they are. But the letters to Sunrail backers from the Federal Transit Authority and from CSX discussing the new developments are chock full of nothing. They commit to nothing and really hint at nothing.

Take a look for yourselves on the extended entry:

From the Department of CSX Actions No One Could Have Predicted

Some schlub wrote this not long ago:

In this economy, CSX will not lightly walk away from more than $600 million in cash and system improvements, liability or no.

A commenter expressed some skepticism and asked what I based that on. Oh, well, just a hunch.

From The Orlando Sentinel:

Last week, in a development first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Dyer, Mica and others negotiated an extension to a proposed contract with CSX, the Jacksonville train company that owns the tracks that SunRail would use.

CSX Deal: Relic of a [For Now] Bygone Era

In this economy, CSX will not lightly walk away from more than $600 million in cash and system improvements, liability or no. FDOT probably still wants to hand that money over to the company. In fact, it’s already done so to some degree in the form of ongoing overpass improvements in north central Florida. Buddy Dyer is out begging for $20,000 in legal expense money so lawyers can try to figure out a way around the senate. Democracy in action. (Funny that with all the money spent on John Thrasher and other uber lobbyists during the session, Dyer is reduced to panhandling for this. You would think GrayRobinson would just pick it up for him.) Anyway, this isn’t over. But it’s worth taking a moment for some post mortem thoughts before this deal reveals itself as the undead zombie vampire that we fear it might be.

Pay No Attention to That Indefinite Delay for Building the Hub

Hey, you remember when some schmuck wrote this?:

And finally, I now think that if the freight realignment deal goes down, and CSX gets no public money for the hub, it won’t get built – at least for a number of years. I base that sense partly on some completely unreliable third-hand scuttlebut I’ve heard and partly on common sense. The stuff and vehicle-based economy that drove the push for this hub has crashed and faces long-term structural hurdles to returning to what it was in 2005. At the same time, Florida’s explosive population growth, which also drove the rationale for the hub, has halted.

I’m willing to put my – meager – money where my mouth is. Anybody who wants to bet a $1 on the fate of the hub if the realignment deal goes down, drop me a line.

[Emphasis mine]

Let’s mosey on over to Tom Palmer’s blog for a bit of news:

Orlando Mayor: “The Forces of Evil [That’s Us] Have Won” in CSX Deal

The CSX deal absorbed a giant defeat on the floor of the Florida Senate this evening. See story here. How big? Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared: “The forces of evil have won.”

Now, this isn’t done. There’s one more day. Anything can happen. But just think about that line from Dyer for a second. “The forces of evil.” Really? Dude, it’s single crappy rail line made possible by a massive, destructive corporate giveaway to CSX. We are not talking about waterboarding here. Get a grip.

The Heartland Parkway, CSX, and Mapping The Interests of JD Alexander and Company

On Dec. 8, 2006, Winter Haven City Manager David Greene wrote a letter to then FDOT secretary Denver Stutler. It is a marvelously straightforward statement of the relationship between the proposed Heartland Parkway and the CSX deal, which I’ve always seen as the great untold story of both issues. Between them, these two proposals call for roughly $10 billion in public spending to reorganize where and how freight and people move in Central Florida.

When you look closely at the effort to build this wall of money, and at who it might benefit other than CSX, more often than not you see state Sen. JD Alexander, members and alumni of Orlando’s GrayRobinson law firm, and a consistent cast of supporting characters and property owners, who between them own many properties that surround the hub or line the proposed parkway route.

Dockery’s Bal…, er, Courage Wins Respect, Even From Opponents

It’s a big day for the CSX deal, though today’s hearing won’t settle the issue either way. It’s probably more vital for the supporters than opponents. But one way or another, this battle will unfold right up until they drop the hankie to end the session. Win or lose, though, neutral observers and even formerly harsh critics are finally giving Sen. Paula Dockery her due for the courageous and skillful fight she’s waged on behalf of the people of the city and state she represents.

The St. Pete Times “Buzz” political blog named her “Winner of the Week” last week. And yesterday, in a remarkable column titled “Sunrail foe kicking our butts,” Orlando Sentinel writer Mike Thomas praised Dockery’s game – and thumped his own editorial page – while reiterating his support for the deal. You may remember Thomas as the guy who wrote last year that “Our Dan Webster can beat up their Paula Dockery.”

Lakeland Chamber Backs The CSX Deal Without Knowing What The Lakeland Language Is

This is all CSX, Jacob Stuart, Buddy Dyer, and the rest of the Orlando cabal need.

Their pet freight deal is already teetering on the edge of collapse, and now the Lakeland Chamber has decided, for some reason, to pick this particular moment to urgently back CSX and literally beg its members to pepper legislators with expressions of support. Well, you know what that means: Break out the champagne, my fellow deal opponents. If you’ve lived here for a while, you know that every Lakeland political imbroglio has its Chamber stage, the point at which the Chamber rushes in on the losing side….

J.D. Makes His Move After a Terrible Day for the CSX Deal

Update: Sentinel says the budget language is much ado about nothing, quoting Alexander and others. We’ll see.

Wow. Intrigue and shenanigans everywhere in the CSX deal on Monday. First and foremost, Senate Democratic leaders finally woke up to realize that a $600 million subsidy for a major corporation at a time of school closings makes for a pretty potent issue with which to club certain Republicans controlling the state purse strings. Later language to move the deal forward magically appeared in the Senate budget, which is controlled by J.D. Alexander.

CSX Deal: Nitty Gritty Time and the Unbarking Dog, errr, ILC

On Friday, the Orlando Sentinel’s impeccably fair Dan Tracy (no snark intended) wrote a good state-of-play story on the CSX deal. I’d quibble with a couple of things in the story, but they’re not worth going into here. Overall, it’s quite well-reported, and the conclusions are sound. Bottom line: The deal is in trouble, and the Orlando big guys know it.

“It’s not a sure bet that we are going to [succeed],” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer acknowledged. “It’s still more likely than not, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent.”

Gaming Out the CSX Deal’s Rerouting Language

Following last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Lakeland-specific rerouting language now exists in both the House and Senate bills authorizing the CSX deal. But the Senate language is far less sweeping in its time frames and goals than the House language. Even so, Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas told me via email, that the watered down Senate language is good enough, and the city is “…’positioned’ to support the initiative w/ approval of the subject amendments legislatively.” Obviously, that statement leaves a lot of ambiguity, probably because uncertainty continues to surround what’s going to happen. Issue number one is that a key senator, Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, says even the watered down Senate version will be DOA in his committe next week.

On the extended entry, I’ve provided a side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate language. Come take a look. And I’ll game out the likely scenarios as I see them.

DOT and Orlando Legislators Reward Lakeland Government’s Diplomacy With The Hand

I guess you mostly have to feel sorry for Lakeland city government officials, who apparently have worked hard behind the scenes with Florida’s Department of Transportation and Orlando-area legislators to get language calling, without qualification, for the elimination of CSX deal freight traffic within 8 years into the legislation authorizing the deal. The only way to eliminate such traffic, short of a magic wand, is to reroute it out of the downtown core. This would have benefits for Tampa Bay by moving some freight off of the east-west line linking Tampa and Orlando through Lakeland. City officials, as I understand it, have been counting on regional help from Bay area power players to cut a deal to this effect.

Put aside for a second whether such statuatory language would have any meaning – I don’t think it would -and just consider the question of including it and mandating a rerouting around Lakeland’s core. On that question, the city suffered two big setbacks in recent days.