County rejects offer from Brightline/Virgin Trains USA

Indian River County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject a multi-million dollar offer from Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, to have the county drop their lawsuit opposing the company’s plans to bring a high-speed train through Vero Beach.

In another act of defiance, the board turned around and voted 4-1 to pony-up another $1 million to continue their legal battle with Virgin Trains USA.

“This isn’t about whether we have a 50-50 chance of winning our lawsuit, or a 10 percent chance,” Bob Solari, the board’s chair said before casting his ‘may’s vote. “This is a matter of life or death. This is about a moral obligation to do what’s best for our community.”

Vice-Chair Susan Adams, and commissioners Joseph Flescher Tim Zorc also voted to reject the proposed Virgin Trains USA agreement. Commissioner Peter O’Bryan cast the sole vote in favor.

Virgin Trains USA was offering to pay for all railroad infrastructure improvements, including erecting safety fencing, and paying for the majority of upkeep and maintenance – an offer that would have saved the county at estimated $ 8.2 million during the next 14 years, according to county.

Dylan Reingold, the county’s attorney, warned commissioners that Virgin Trains USA had made it clear that if their offer was rejected, “it would be taken off the table,” and the county would bear the full cost of the project if Virgin Trains USA wins in court.

Virgin Trains USA officials expressed disappointment in Tuesday’s vote.

“Over the past year we’ve been focused on developing a more constructive and cooperative relationship with the Treasure Coast in Hope’s of bringing all parties together,” Ben Porritt, Virgin Trains USA vice-president of corporate affairs said in a written statement.

“We appreciate the work of Martin County and CARE to bring this to a resolution and while disappointed in this vote, our project will continue moving forward.”

The county’s lawsuit against Virgin Trains USA will be heard in federal court on Tuesday, Nov. 27. The county has been fighting Virgin Trains USA’s expansion efforts for the past five years.

Indian River County has already spent $7.2 million on the legal battle. Several commissioners, including O’Bryan and Zorc expressed concern about the amount of money the county has already spent.

They also noted that several other municipalities, that once opposed Virgin Trains USA, have in recent months dropped their opposition. Martin County Commissioners on Tuesday, voted 4-1 to accept their offer from Virgin Trains USA, leaving Indian River County as the lone voice of opposition.

Virgin Trains USA during the past four years, has won eight other lawsuits filed by Treasure Coast communities initially opposed to their expansion plans.

Commissioners vowed that they would appeal if they lose their upcoming lawsuit.

County Administrator Jason Brown said the Commission will most likely have to dip into the county’s general fund for the additional $1 million they approved for their continuing legal battle.

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