Count amateur archaeologists among those who oppose All Aboard Florida. In a 44-page lawsuit filed by Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee, a nonprofit archaeology group, the group alleges that the U.S. Department of Transportation illegally approved funding for the privately run high-speed rail project, which is projected to run 32 express passenger trains a day from Miami through Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to Orlando. The lawsuit says it’s illegal, because the environmental impact the trains would bring has yet to be fully determined.
The lawsuit, filed in Indian River County, asks a federal court to void the Transportation Department's approval of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds. The bonds will be used to replace an as-of-yet approved Federal Railroad Administration loan.
According to documents filed with the IRS, the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee is chaired by Randy Old, an army vet and banker who has lived in the Far East and Jordan. It's unclear from the group's website whether any of the board members have scientific experience in archaeology.
Current plans call for All Aboard trains to travel through Indian River County at more than 100 miles an hour. This would be detrimental to not only people’s lives via traffic headaches and train noise but it would also disturb two excavation sites, the archaeology group alleges.
At one of the sites, excavators dug up human ancient skeletal remains, along with mammoths, mastodons, giant saber tooth tigers, sloths the size of bears, and other Late Ice Age animals. The ancient man was nicknamed “Vero Man” by scientists.
In 1913, the Indian River Farms Co. was cutting through the Main Relief Canal in Vero Beach when workers kept inadvertently digging up fossilized bones in the canal. Geologists were called in to study the fossils. Two years later, Vero Man’s bones were found intact within the canal walls.
With the lawsuit, Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee is looking to protect these excavation areas. According to the lawsuit, the areas lie in or are “adjacent to the railroad right-of-way.”
Some scientists have said they want to continue studying Vero Man, who, according to archaeologists, is very likely a prehistoric person who lived in the area roughly 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, though there is debate over whether the remains are of a man or a woman.
Over the years, 120 species of animal remains have been unearthed in the area. There were so many fossils discovered, the area became a roadside attraction dubbed “Tarzan Park.”
The lawsuit also mentions the same concerns other All Aboard Florida opponents have brought up, such as the noise pollution and potential traffic issues.
Last April, Congressman Patrick Murphy sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott about looking into installing "quiet zones" along the route to eliminate the need for the trains to blare their horns every time they pass through a crossing. But installing these quiet zones can prove to be costly, with local governments paying $150,000 to $250,000 per rail crossing.
The lawsuit says that federal officials OK'ed the tax-exempt bonds for All Aboard Florida before reviews and studies could be completed by the National Environmental Historic Preservation Act.
“Neither the defendants nor any other federal agency has consulted with Indian River County under Section 106 or invited Indian River County to join the consultation process that Section 106 requires,” the complaint reads.
Meanwhile, it was just announced that a public hearing on the tax exempt bonds has been scheduled for April 20 in Tallahassee.