Sunday, October 14, 2012

South Coast Rail Permitting Given March Deadline

SOURCE:  By Marc Larocque - Taunton Gazette Staff Reporter

A March deadline for the permitting of the proposed South Coast Rail was announced during a meeting of the Southeastern Massachusetts Commuter Rail Task Force on Wednesday.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said that March 2013 is the date that Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration plans to have the permit application process completed. The permits go through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our desire is to ensure this project is permitted by March of this coming year,” Davey said. “Write that down. That’s March 13. 2-0-1-3. ... But there’s a lot of work to do between then and now.”

Davey also reaffirmed the Patrick administration’s commitment to the project and the preferred alternative, which would go through a train station in Stoughton, bringing the train down through Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford.

“This is a priority for the administration,” Davey said about the project, which proponents claim will be an economic boon for the southeastern Massachusetts region, and an environmental benefit in terms of getting single occupancy vehicles off the streets.

Davey reminded the task force of a meeting that Patrick had last month with EPA leadership to convey “a sense of urgency” about the permitting process.

During the meeting, several task force members expressed concerns about the EPA having a serious consideration for the environmental impact of the project. And there was also some concern expressed about having enough time for public review and public input related to an environmental impact study that is being submitted to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the permitting process.

Davey said the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers would be considering all the information and would look at alternatives for the project, even though the administration strongly disagrees with any alternative except the Stoughton route. South Coast Rail Project Manager Jean Fox assured task force members that she would work to make sure there is adequate time to review the lengthy environmental impact study.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, who attended the meeting, made a statement that Massachusetts lawmakers would support funding the Stoughton route through the filing of transportation bonds, but added that any other alternative could throw the project “off the tracks politically.” Pacheco said that the local delegation would be working to put together a statement on behalf of legislators who support the preferred alternative to send to the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers as they go through due diligence work.

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