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 […]

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.

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.

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.

Gow Fields Opens the Lakeland Mayoral Race

The next few months will bring us another race for Lakeland mayor. Currently squaring off are city commissioners Gow Fields and Jim Verplanck. We’re reaching out to both men to speak to the community. We’re in it for the whole race, and hope to have many conversations with both candidates during the campaign. First up is Gow Fields. Last Tuesday, we spoke a little about this emerging medium, CSX, and what he’d do with a magic wand.

Senator Dockery’s Letter to Govenor Crist on the Eve of His Announcement

On Tuesday night, Senator Paula Dockery wrote Governor Charlie Crist. The letter was in anticipation of the Govenor’s planned announcement concerning the CSX ILC/Orlando Commuter Rail Project. Lakeland Local presents the full letter inside…

The Almost Charmingly Relentless Bad Faith Of The Orlando Sentinel’s Editorial Page

The Sentinel editorial page was at it again recently, stomping feet and calling people who object to corporate giveaways and freight train disruption in their downtown cores “haters” and other such silliness.

We sure are selfish over here. After all, these freight trains and this looming industrial corridor really aren’t that big of a deal. Don’t we understand that CSX provides a valuable frieight service, for which we should all be thankful? And, I mean, these Orlando folks have just wanted commuter rail for so long. It’s been such a high priority. It’s so important for mobility. And did I mention the freight traffic really isn’t that big a deal? Surely, if they could, those Orlando folks would keep it because it’s really a minor issue, right?

Hmmm. From the Sentinel, A1, Oct. 15, 2002, Part 3 of a 4-part series called Breaking the Gridlock.

Headline: Rerouting Trains Could Ease Backups; But Diverting Them From Orlando’s Center Would Come At A Steep Price

“Twinkies and beer, it turns out, do a remarkably good job of blocking traffic. Of course, anything packed in a mile-long freight train stops traffic. Just ask Central Florida drivers. About a dozen times a day, their trips through Winter Park, Orlando and other parts or urban Orange County are halted by engines and freight cars rumbling across the region’s urban midsection.

CSX Plans 10,000-Foot Siding Just West Of Downtown Lakeland

There has been unofficial talk recently that CSX already has plans and a contract to doubletrack through downtown Lakeland.

CSX spokesoman Gary Sease says this is not true. However, CSX does have fairly imminent plans for a 10,000-foot siding, which will amount to doubletracking, just west of downtown. Here is Sease’s full statement on that, which he provided over a couple of emails in response to an request from me.

Let’s Play “Rename The CSX Deal, Win A Prize”

Tracks PinholeThe Orlando Sentinel tells me that the Orlando cabal held a pep rally with some of the Sentinel’s editors and reporters yesterday to talk about their plans for winning approval of state funding for CSX’s Florida business plan, errr, commuter rail.

They seem to have momentum on their side, but it seemed that way last year, too. So we’ll see.

But no matter what happens, this is great: “Central Florida rail backers through MetroPlan Orlando have met privately with their counterparts in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and South Florida over the last six months to get all four regions on the same page behind Central Florida’s plan.

For starters, expect backers to launch a new marketing campaign for the project dropping the “Central” from Central Florida Commuter Rail and calling it something other than commuter rail.”

Thoughts on a Pair of Planning Meetings

TrafficTuesday night there were a pair of meetings where area residents discussed long range community planning.

At the one I attended, Lakeland Vision brought together over 100 concerned residents to discuss Lakeland growth priorities. The Ledger described the other as supporting a study: “…called the Gateway Selected Area Study, is part of an effort to look at the expected growth impact of the planned CSX freight terminal in South Winter Haven and the expected spinoff industrial, commercial and residential development.”

In Lakeland, citizens expressed that the top growth priority should be before the development comes: “Growth will be well-planned and managed to ensure that public infrastructure investments can keep up with the needs of a growing population.”

At the other meeting, they were addressing the growth impact of the CSX rail yard. However, some government officials seemed a bit confused why they were conducting the study:

Where (I Think) The CSX/ILC Deal Stands

CSX Railroad Crossing LightsIt’s important to understand that for Lakeland, as far as I can tell, the CSX deal presents a single potential problem in three parts. That problem is the possible creation of an expanded, multi-track, industrial rail corridor – and all the disruption that would bring – running through the downtown core, where city taxpayers have spent millions to create elegant, livable spaces….

Corporate Socialism News, Part 2: CSX Global Warming Edition

There were two noteworthy developments over the last few days in the Central Florida CSX saga, one widely reported – the Department of Community Affairs’ approval of the Winter Haven rail hub – and the less widely noted designation of a new point man to handle the “public private partnerships” here in Florida and in Massachusetts.

I’m going to touch on the second item first, because it’s brief and funny – at least to me.

The new guy’s name is Louis Renjel. Unsurprisingly, I’d never heard of him. But I did notice something in CSX’s little press release: From 1999 to 2003, Renjel worked with U.S. Senator James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, first as legislative assistant and then as deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

So what, you ask? Well, Inhofe is perhaps the most prominent and forceful denier of global warming in the U.S. Senate, which, as you can imagine, was awfully significant back when he was chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee prior to the 2006 Democratic takeover. Inhofe in 2003 called the threat of catastrophic global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” He reiterated that stance forcefully in this 2005 press release.

Okay, Part 2 Will Wait Till Monday

So I got busy with work and whatnot and couldn’t produce “Corporate Socialism News, Part 2” today. Plus, I suddenly got overwhelmed with content. At first, I was just going to make a crack about the abject horror of J.D. Alexander controlling the state budget this year. (Talk about a one-man stimulus plan. Literally, a stimulus plan for one man. On the other hand, maybe Lakeland High will get we’ll that long-awaited domed stadium for the Dreadnaughts to play in, err, under. Go Naughts tonight, by the way, big game.)

But, as it turns out, there’s all sorts of corporate socialism news to root through. So I’ll do that and publish something Monday, when some of you might actually read. In the meantime, check out Florida Mortgage Blog’s very solid, very fair account of the ILC approval. (Note to Bob, this is how to do it.)

And on top of that, Kevin Sandridge, the blogger behind the blog, is like me, a Liz Phair fan (smart, saucy, racy rock singer, for those of you who don’t know), or so his Facebook page tells me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Anyway, speaking of music, I’m off to Skipper’s Smokehouse to see James McMurtry in concert tonight. It’s my 37th birthday tomorrow, and the other half of the sinister Townsend axis permitted me to blow off First Friday and take in some music. Doesn’t mean the rest of you can.

Why Is The State Paying CSX Based On 2005-06 Land Values?

RailsVery brief point to ponder, and I’ll come back to it later.

No one seems to know exactly how much the state is paying CSX and for what in the rail realignment deal. It all depends on how you define it. But figures I’ve heard range from $491 million to almost $700 million. All of those numbers are bound up in one way or another with the value of the 61 miles of land and track the state plans to buy from CSX. That value was tabulated in 2005 or 2006 as the secret negotiations unfolded.

So let me ask you: Is your house worth as much now as it was in late 2005?

Maybe our friend Jane Healy, late of the Orlando Sentinel editorial page, can explain to us why state taxpayers, at the bottom of a historically severe recession, should pay CSX based on 2005-06 land values in 2008 or 2009. Jane?

Time to renegotiate this sucker?