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Judge rejects challenge, OKs permit for East Coast rail service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An administrative law judge Thursday backed a St. Johns River Water Management District decision to issue a permit for a controversial passenger-rail service that is planned to link Miami and Orlando.

The Indian River Farms Water Control District filed a challenge, arguing that two bridges needed for the All Aboard Florida rail system could obstruct water flow in two canals.

The bridges would be built alongside existing rail bridges to accommodate two tracks, Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter wrote in Thursday's ruling.

The Indian River Farms Water Control District argued, in part, that the new bridges would be too low and could block debris that would cause water to back up and lead to flooding.

But Canter issued a 23-page ruling that rejected the arguments.

"Because the proposed new bridges would be at the same height above the caals as the existing bridges, the potential problem the petitioner (the water control district) is concerned about --- floating debris being trapped by the bridges -- is already a potential problem," Canter wrote. "The petitioner did not claim or present evidence to show that the new bridges would increase the probability that floating debris would be trapped, over and above the current probability for such an event."

Canter's ruling recommended that the St. Johns River Water Management District enter a final order approving what is known as an environmental resource permit for the All Aboard Florida project.

While All Aboard Florida's Brightline service is planned to carry passengers from Miami to Orlando, it has faced opposition from residents and local government on the state's Treasure Coast.

Brightline has announced plans to begin operating a 30-minute route between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline intends to expand the service to Miami in late August. The service will use the Florida East Coast Railway rail corridor.