By Mary Thurwachter
After voting not to sign on to a crossing agreement with Florida East Coast Railway and All Aboard Florida in February, the Lantana Town Council changed its mind a month later, affirming the agreement at its March 13 meeting.
Other municipalities that have signed are Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. Now that Lantana has agreed to sign, the only holdouts are Jupiter and Tequesta.
All Aboard Florida, an express passenger rail service that eventually will connect Miami to Orlando, is a sister company to Florida East Coast Railway.
Neil Schiller, the attorney representing the railway, said that All Aboard Florida, as a third-party beneficiary, will pay costs for initial improvements made on the crossings to accommodate the new trains. Lantana and other municipalities that sign the agreement will pick up costs after that.
The town already has a crossing agreement with Florida East Coast Railway, which owns the property where the crossings are located (one at West Ocean Avenue and the other at Finlandia Boulevard and West Central Boulevard).
Schiller said All Aboard Florida is supporting efforts to create quiet zones in the construction phase of the project.
Failure to sign the agreement would have meant All Aboard Florida would write the town a bill for the improvements that were made for the crossings.
Council members made it clear they did not want to sign, but felt they had to do it.
“It’s feeling close to blackmail,” said Council member Malcolm Balfour. “But I am reluctantly going to change my vote to affirmative.”
Council member Lynn Moorhouse, who along with Council member Tom Deringer voted in favor of the agreement during the Feb. 13 meeting, said his vote “was kind of a no-brainer. We’re going have to pay anyway. I don’t have to like it to know it’s in the best interest of the town.”
Without signing, Moorhouse said, “We’re going to have to take a half million of the voters’ money out of reserves.”
Mayor Dave Stewart, who like Balfour and Council member Phil Aridas ended up changing his vote to a “yes,” told Schiller: “You’re wanting us to pay for something we get nothing from.”
The express train will not make stops in Lantana.
Schiller said that wasn’t entirely true, since residents of the town would use the train to go to Miami or, eventually, to Orlando.
“It’s an opportunity to take cars off the road,” he said.
“The good news is the eight- to 10-year maintenance schedule for that upgrade [to the crossings] gets reset,” Schiller said.
The mayor said even though he wasn’t happy about the agreement he would vote for it for the town.
“It’s like dealing with Tony Soprano,” Stewart said. “If you don’t sign it, you’re dead.”
By Mary Thurwachter