Metro-North Fire Strands Thousands in N.Y.C.; Illinoisans’ Photos to Be Sent to Federal Facial Recognition Database

While a Metro-North train passes above, work continues underneath the tracks at the site of a fire in New York on Wednesday.

While a Metro-North train passes above, work continues underneath the tracks at the site of a fire in New York on Wednesday. Seth Wenig / AP Photo


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Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: FEMA wants $35 million back from Florida localities; congressional Republicans really don’t like D.C. ‘budget autonomy’; and Santa Monica’s ‘secret sauce’ to making light rail profitable.

TRANSIT | Reduced Metro-North rail service was restored Wednesday morning in and out of Grand Central Terminal, after a fire erupted Tuesday night under elevated train tracks in upper Manhattan. The blaze broke out at a garden center near E. 118th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem, causing a suspension of train service and stranding thousands of commuters. As of Wednesday morning, trains were running at 30 mph instead of 60 mph, and two of four tracks affected by the inferno remained closed. Long delays are expected, and commuters were advised to avoid the line. [The Associated Press]

REAL ID | The Land of Lincoln is planning to roll out new security features for licenses and identification cards as part of an effort to comply with the federal Real ID law. Among other steps, this will involve photos of license and ID-card applicants getting sent to a facial recognition database. Illinois is one of 27 states not in full compliance with the Real ID Act, which Congress passed in 2005, seeking to make it harder to counterfeit government-issued identification. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this year delayed the deadline for compliance with the act to 2018. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union remain critical of the law. "They talk about this in terms of it being for safety and security, but there is no evidence that it adds any of those things," said an ACLU representative. "But what we do know is that it creates this powerful dynamic that can be used for surveillance.” [Chicago Tribune]

DISASTER RELIEF | The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the county more than $120 million to assist with recovery from Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, Wilma and Katrina between 2004 and 2005, as well as Tropical Storm Fay in 2008. Now it wants a $3.28 million refund citing paperwork errors, and that’s just from Palm Beach County. FEMA holds it’s owed $4.7 million by Boca Raton, $3.8 million by Lake Worth, $351,000 by Palm Beach Gardens, and $90,000 by Jupiter Christian School—$35 million total across 31 local governments, agencies and nonprofits—because their claims either should’ve been covered by insurance, were duplicated or misestimated costs. “It’s ridiculous,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. “Have you ever heard of a statute of limitations?” [The Palm Beach Post]

JAIL | Sheriff Justin Smith told county commissioners earlier this week that homeless and transient inmates are costing the jurisdiction’s jail $5.5 million annually. He also said that the number of homeless inmates has gone up 123 percent from 2011 to 2015. Capt. Timothy Palmer, a division commander of the Larimer County Detention Center, said the jail this year has hit “dangerous” population levels. Its maximum capacity is around 600, and as of Monday, 131 inmates were homeless. “If this trend continues, it will be a handful of years before we exceed what we're designed to handle in the current facility,” Palmer said. Larimer County is located north of Denver and encompasses Fort Collins. Homeless inmates cost the jail about $100 daily, according to Smith. "If we're a magnet for transients, folks need to know this is costing them significantly," the sheriff said. "And that's just on the jail side." [Coloradan]

BUDGET AUTHORITY | The U.S. House Oversight Committee approved a bill that would block the District from spending local tax dollars without congressional approval. Republicans pushing the bill argue D.C.’s “budget autonomy” law is a power grab that would weaken Congress. "This is the most significant abuse of congressional authority since the passage of the Home Rule Act in 1973," said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. She doesn’t expect the Senate to hear the bill, though Republicans could circumvent that problem by inserting identical language into more critical legislation. [The AP via ABC News]

WATER | Nestle’s plan to build a water-bottling plant in Cascade Locks died with Hood River County voters banning commercial water bottling. The company hoped to take advantage of the nearby Columbia River Gorge, but opponents worried about water conservation and changing their community’s image. Cascade Locks faces 19 percent unemployment, which the plant would have made a dent in on top of bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. [The AP via The Brownsville Herald]

BATHROOM LAW | Hackers with the group Anonymous attempted to crash the state’s main government website, in protest of its “bathroom law,” but only managed to take down domains like and The state’s new law bars transgender people from using the restroom for the gender they identify with. “It is not only an operation against the bathroom bill—this is an operation against all the laws against LGBT,” said the hacker claiming responsibility. [The Hill]

RIDERSHIP | The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s $1.5 billion Expo Line light rail extension, from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, opens noon Friday. Taking nine years to build, the line is projected to see ridership double from about 29,000 to 64,000 in the next 15 years. But is the line accessible enough for fares to offset the cost of construction? "It’s definitely not true that every rail investment is worth it," said the author of “Rail Town”. "It's really dependent on something that sounds really straight-forward but is hard to achieve in reality, which is that you have to have enough concentration of people and jobs within a half mile of stations.” [KPCC]

SPORTS | NHL team the Arizona Coyotes’ minor league affiliate is moving to Tucson’s Convention Center. City Council approved a 10-year agreement expected to boost tourism, and a contest to name the American Hockey League franchise will kick off soon. Securing an anchor tenant is a critical “cog in the wheel of Tucson’s downtown renaissance,” said one councilman. [Arizona Daily Star]

TREES | To stave off infestations by an invasive species, the emerald ash borer, Boston’s neighbor is weighing plans to cut down about 150 ash trees. The emerald ash borer is a beetle native to Asia that arrived in the U.S. on shipping pallets and crates. Trees that may be felled are those in poorer health, which tend to be more vulnerable to the insect. Nationwide the species has killed billions of dollars of ash trees, since it was first detected in the Massachusetts town of Dalton in 2012. Somerville has a total of about 900 of the trees. City officials say they’ll eventually replace the ones that get axed. [The Boston Globe]