May 25, 2023
STUART—Citing Brightline’s expansion over the Okeechobee Waterway—Florida’s only cross-state passage by vessel—impacting individual boaters and maritime businesses across the state, industry associations from both coasts joined the legal fight demanding an equitable resolution.
The Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast (MIATC) and the Marine Industries Association of Southwest Florida & Tampa Bay (SWFMIA) added their names to the growing list of plaintiffs that filed suit against the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE).
The suit (Case 2:23-cv-14122) filed in U.S. District Court seeks an injunction to prevent FEC from changing the current operation of the rail bridge—from the default open position accommodating boaters to a closed position serving the rail company—at the intersection of the Okeechobee Waterway and the St. Lucie River in Stuart. The suit also calls on the USCG and ACOE to uphold their mandated roles to ensure reasonable and safe navigation of the waterway.
“A vital aspect of our mission as an association is to protect the interests of boaters—commercial and recreational alike—and no interest is more fundamental and worthy of protection than safe and unobstructed navigation of our waterways,” says Tom Whittington, president of MIATC. “We’re honored to join this principled stance with our colleagues on the west coast of Florida.”
The single-track rail bridge—which is 96 years old—is narrow and only allows the passage of small boats in either direction. Larger recreation and commercial vessels must pass one at a time. When closed, vertical clearance maxes out at 6 feet. Such structural limitations led to the longstanding practice of keeping the bridge in the open position and closing it to accommodate train traffic.
The expansion of Brightline—which contracted with FEC to enable 32 passenger trains daily crossing the bridge—will reportedly result in keeping the bridge closed for 45 minutes every hour.
“If implemented, the closures will add significant time and uncertainty for those making the trip across the state,” says John Good of SWFMIA. “The bottleneck at the bridge will mean longer wait times and real safety concerns as recreational and commercial boat traffic stacks up on either side waiting to pass.”
Together, MIATC and SWFMIA represent more than 370 marine businesses.
Dan Romence of Indiantown Marine Center—lead spokesman for the plaintiffs—applauded the associations for joining the suit.
“We’re grateful for the leadership of these two formidable associations and welcome their organizations to this vital effort to protect the interests of boaters across all of South Florida,” says Romence. “The momentum is continuing to build, which is precisely what it will take to protect our basic rights to access the water for work or pleasure. We invite more of the public to join us in this important battle.”
In addition to the two associations, the plaintiffs include Indiantown Marine Center, LLC, MarineMax. Inc., Mobro Marine, Inc., Beyel Brothers, Inc., McCulley Marine Services, Inc., Ferreira Construction Co. Inc., DL Milling Family, LLC, Atlantic & Gulf Dredging & Marine, LLC, Willis Custom Yachts, LLC, AC Meridian Marina, LLC, Indico Properties, Inc. (aka Indiantown Marina), HMY Yacht Sales, Inc., and Simply Yachts, LLC.
About the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast
Chartered in 1974, the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast (MIATC) is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to promoting, protecting, and growing local marine businesses. Often operating in affiliation with its state partner, Marine Industries Association of Florida, MIATC advocates for clean waterways, navigable passageways and ocean access, and policies that support marine businesses and the boating public.
About the Marine Industries Association of Southwest Florida & Tampa Bay
Established in 1973, Marine Industries Association of Southwest Florida & Tampa Bay represents more than 250 marine businesses along Florida’s west coast and plays an active role in governmental and legislative matters. The association works to increase awareness of the economic impact of boating and strengthen the industry’s political voice.
Contact Justin Beard, Executive Director of the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, at email@example.com or 772-692-7599.