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By Dorie Cox
Many shipyard owners, towing and repair companies, and other marine businesses are fighting to stop the scheduled closure of downtown Ft. Lauderdale’s New River for 12 days this month.
At press time, 22 business impacted by the Feb. 11-23 maintenance project of the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) railroad bridge had filed a temporary restraining order and injunction to temporarily stop the closure and were scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 27 at the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale.
The judge may decide to temporarily halt the closure and address a future closing later or rule that the closing can proceed as scheduled.
“The real issue is, the railroad is asking the marine industry to bear the entire economic burden,” said Chris Fertig, a partner in the law firm of Fertig & Gramling in Ft. Lauderdale. “The first point is, it’s not really necessary to close navigation for 12 days; there are other ways to perform the repairs. And secondly, we don’t think the Coast Guard followed normal protocols.”
A few of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include Rolly Marine, Cable Marine, Roscioli Yachting, Universal Marine Center, Strike Marine Salvage Sales, Steel Marine Towing and Salvage and Cape Ann Towing. Many are located on a section of the New River named Marina Mile, west of the bridge. Bob Roscioli, CEO of Roscioli Yachting Center, is one of them.
“It will affect our businesses and people don’t understand the financial crisis we will face,” Roscioli said. “This affects more than us, it hurts the marine supply companies that service us as well. And we’ll have to send staff home when there’s no work.
“This area is the repair capital of the world, as well as the boating capital,” he said. “Boats come and go each day and 1,000s of boats up river don’t really realize what is happening. We want conversation about if there are other alternatives. We just want to have that conversation.”
The closure is for maintenance as part of All Aboard Florida, a high-speed passenger rail service to run between Miami and Orlando, using the Brightline train service. Current work on the bridge includes replacement of the machinery and electrical system and minor rehabilitation of the steel.
Work during the navigation closure includes milling the two outer trunnions in place and removal of the trunnion base for repair off-site. The trunnion milling work will be performed 24 hours per day until completed, according to a statement from All Aboard Florida.
The lawsuit against the FEC railway, All Aboard and the USCG argues that the maintenance could be done more in the manner of major work done in 1978. It cites a report that the one-track bridge was replaced with the current two-track bridge in a single 24-hour closure at that time.
Part of the issue is that there has been relatively little time to address concerns about the closure with the U.S. Coast Guard, All Aboard Florida and affected parties, Fertig said.
“We were in contact with the Coast Guard until Dec. 19,” he said. “At that time they didn’t even have the application for the closure. Sometime between Dec. 19 and 27 the application was approved by the Coast Guard.”
Public affairs manager for All Aboard Florida, Ali Soule, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The river is scheduled to close to navigation from 12:01 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, through 12:01 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 23.