The progress, growth and development of Brightline and Costco topped Martin County news in 2023

By | December 20, 2023

MARTIN COUNTY – A milestone for Brightline, a big move for Costco and a David vs. Goliath lawsuit played a major role in shaping Martin County news in 2023.

These stories, and many others, were among the biggest of the year that shaped the lives of Martin County residents.

Here are some of the top local stories that dominated TCPalm coverage of Martin County this year:

Brightline becomes reality

Many thought this would never happen. Martin and Indian River counties have spent millions of dollars trying to prevent this.

But 11 years and $6 billion later, Brightline began operating its higher-speed passenger rail line through the Treasure Coast on September 22.

After beginning service in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in 2018, Brightline’s colorful trains quickly became a fixture on the corridor between downtown Miami and Orlando International Airport, running 32 times a day through rural and residential areas and inner cities such as Stuart.

More: St. Lucie County’s top stories of 2023: Sheriff nomination, Trump trial, Brightline and more

And as critics had warned, it didn’t take long for the railroad to become its first fatality on the Treasure Coast. On its seventh day of full operation, Sept. 28, a 25-year-old homeless man was struck and killed by a northbound Brightline train just north of Midway Road in St. Lucie County, the Sheriff’s Office said.

St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara cited “strong evidence suggesting he may have committed suicide.”

There was also good news from Brightline in 2023. In October, officials announced they had begun a site selection process for a Treasure Coast station in Martin or St. Lucie counties. The new station should be open in early 2028, Brightline said.

Growth and development

In November, a tentative timeline was released for the opening of the long-awaited, much-discussed and long-awaited Costco complex on South Kanner Highway in Stuart. Developers said they expect the store to open in spring 2025, if the weather cooperates.

The 49-acre project — which will include a Costco Wholesale Corp. store, an 18-pump gas station, retail stores, restaurants and 378 apartments — will also have a public corridor between Kanner Highway and Willoughby Boulevard, paid for by developers. and donated to the city.

County commissioners sparked controversy in December when they voted in favor change the definition of “rural lifestyle” land use designation. This could ultimately lead to fewer hectares of agricultural land in the province.

If approved by state officials, the changes would allow development on at least 3,000 acres within 6,000 feet of the city service boundary. Previously, it allowed development on at least 1,000 hectares adjacent to the urban services boundary.

When the “rural lifestyle” designation was first approved by the county in 2022, it led to a lawsuit that was dismissed by the courts but overturned by the State Administrative Commission.

That paved the way for the controversial Development of the Atlantic fields with a golf course and more than 300 homes in Hobe Sound. The changes could pave the way for another major project, Calusa Creek Ranch, a nearly 4,000-acre project consisting of two 18-hole golf courses, 175 single-family homes and 24 golf cottages on SW Kanner Highway and SW Bridge Road.

Also new to the development pipeline in 2023 was Story FL, a proposal for 4,000 homes in southern Martin County. It would sit on 2,700 acres at SW Pratt Whitney and SW Bridge roads and be a walkable community built around canals and open spaces.

Book challenges, moves

Hundreds of books were removed from Treasure Coast school libraries after being challenged.

James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and even Anne Frank were among the authors and subjects removed from Treasure Coast school libraries this year as districts waded through hundreds of book challenges.

In Martin County, more than 80 books were removed after Julie Marshall filed an appeal. The issue was never raised by the school board as the books were removed at the school or district board level. However, hundreds of book supporters crowded the March board meeting and demanded the books be replaced.

Stuart wins landmark lawsuit and could receive millions

Stuart expects to receive more than $100 million as part of a $10.3 billion legal settlement with global chemicals company 3M Co. about water pollution.

Stuart is among about 300 communities nationwide that have sued 3M and other companies over potentially harmful substances used in firefighting foam and other consumer products. Stuart’s case was scheduled to be heard in June but was postponed to allow time for settlement negotiations.

The agreement compensates water suppliers like Stuart for pollution caused by “forever chemicals,” or perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances, known as PFAS. PFAS are also found in nonstick, water and grease resistant products such as clothing and cookware.

The chemicals do not break down naturally in the environment and have been linked to health problems such as cancer and damage to the liver and immune system.

The money will be used for the city’s new water filtration system, officials said.

Mike Mortell, pictured, was mayor and city attorney of Stuart.  He is set to become the city's next permanent manager after being appointed to the interim position in March 2023.Mike Mortell, pictured, was mayor and city attorney of Stuart.  He is set to become the city's next permanent manager after being appointed to the interim position in March 2023.

Mike Mortell, pictured, was mayor and city attorney of Stuart. He is set to become the city’s next permanent manager after being appointed to the interim position in March 2023.

New leaders emerge

Stuart ushered in a new city manager in June with the promotion by Mike Mortellwho had served as interim city manager and before that as city attorney.

Mortell served as interim city manager for 2.5 months following the resignation of David Dyess. He became city attorney in 2013 after serving 10 years as mayor and commissioner on the city commission.

Change also came to Indiantown when the village council selected the former Martin County Administrator Taryn Kryzda became interim village manager in January and made her role permanent in April.

Kryzda was the longest-serving administrator in Martin County before retiring in June. The Provincial Commission promoted her deputy, Don Donaldson to the top position in the province.

Change at the top was also not limited to municipal and provincial government. Martin county schools got a new superintendent after the abrupt resignation of John Millay in February, less than three years in his $170,000 position. Millay gave no reason for his unexpected departure, saying only that it was time to leave.

The school board promoted him to deputy superintendent Michael Maine in April, which earned him a four-year, $235,000 contract.

Trump is on trial in Fort Pierce

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump to begin on August 14 at Alto Lee Adams Sr.  US Courthouse in Fort Pierce at 101 NUS 1. She has since moved it to May 20-31, 2024.U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump to begin on August 14 at Alto Lee Adams Sr.  US Courthouse in Fort Pierce at 101 NUS 1. She has since moved it to May 20-31, 2024.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump to begin on August 14 at Alto Lee Adams Sr. US Courthouse in Fort Pierce at 101 NUS 1. She has since moved it to May 20-31, 2024.

The federal criminal trial of former President Donald Trump began earlier this summer in Fort Pierce, with the first hearing taking place on July 18. Other hearings took place throughout the summer at the Alto Lee Adams Sr. U.S. Courthouse. United States against Donald Trump and Waltine “Walt” Nauta.

Waltine Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, who worked for Trump, are co-defendants.

Trump and his co-defendants are accused of mishandling federal documents discovered at Trump’s Palm Beach County Mar-a-Lago property on August 8, 2022.

Trump has not yet attended a hearing here, but he is expected to appear in Fort Pierce once the trial starts in 2024. The trial is expected to begin May 20, although prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to delay it until after the November hearing. 5 presidential elections.

Staff writers Will Greenlee, Gianna Montesano, Arnie Rosenberg, Nick Slater and Colleen Wixon contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in Treasure Coast Newspapers: Martin County saw changes in land, leaders and more in 2023

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