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Federal Agency Hosts Nontraditional Public Forum on Miami-To-Orlando Train

Christine DiMattei

Floridians who attend any of the scheduled public forums on a proposed Miami-to-Orlando passenger train will find plenty of people to talk to—but no microphone and no podium.

The Federal Railroad Administration is hosting the eight meetings to gather public comments on the potential impacts of All Aboard Florida. But instead of a traditional public hearing format where people step up to the mic one at a time, the FRA fills a room with experts to chat one-on-one with people about their concerns.

At Wednesday's workshop at the West Palm Beach Marriott, All Aboard Florida opponent Alan Schlosberg of Delray Beach had his mind made up even before he walked through the door.

“I think it’s an absolute disaster, said Schlosberg, 76.  "And I’m really disappointed in a governmental agency that is not allowing any feedback.”

At each of the workshops, a court reporter will document statements from the public.  

On Wednesday, some of the attendees were a bit surprised by the meeting's format. All Aboard Florida supporter Jim Kovalsky, 50, says he's not thrilled with the "open-house" style of the forum.  But he's no fan of traditional public hearings, either.

“Then you just hear people stand up and say the same thing over and over again," says Kovalsky, who lives in Jupiter.  "And unfortunately, while a lot of it is well-intentioned, most of it is misinformed."

The FRA scheduled the workshops to gather more public comment on its 520-page draft environmental impact statement released last month. The forum is divided into about 30 information stations, each one representing a key issue covered in the study.  They include potential marine navigation impacts, safety, traffic and noise pollution. The workshops also include computer simulations of All Aboard Florida trains crossing an intersection and a drawbridge.

The draft study found "minimal environmental impacts" on the northern leg of All Aboard Florida running from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Public workshops in Miami and Fort Lauderdale were held earlier this week.  The remaining five All Aboard Florida forums will be held in cities along the Treasure Coast, Cocoa and Orlando.  

Years ago, after racking her brains trying to find a fun, engaging, creative night gig to subsidize her acting habit, Chris decided to ride her commercial voiceover experience into the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting. She started out with traffic reporting, moved on to news -- and never looked back. Since then, Chris has worked in newsrooms throughout South Florida, producing stories for radio broadcasts and the web.