Chief of the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department, Chris Davis, attended the Vermont Rail Council Meeting in Montpelier on Dec. 16.
The Vermont Rail Council is the group of railroad and Vermont Agency of Transportation representatives who work on rail related policy and planning. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Davis asked the meeting chair, Christopher Cole, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and council members if they would comment on the present practice of storing propane in large quantities (one million gallons or more) on rail sidings in towns around the state with minimal prior warning in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency application and before any emergency planning or preparedness had been done.
Davis mentioned to the council that he had contacted Vermont Emergency Management, Vermont Hazardous Materials Team, and the Chittenden County Emergency Planning officer to see if an emergency response plan for this activity in Charlotte had been filed, and none existed.
Cole said his office had researched the issue and all applicable federal reporting and notification requirements had been followed. He encouraged Davis to work with the railroad on the planning and to identify needs such as training or equipment, and encouraged him to contact his office, Vermont Emergency Management or the Hazardous Response Team for additional information or support.
In response to the Town of Charlotte’s letter of concern forwarded to VT Rail System, the EPA and Secretary Cole, VT Hazardous Materials Response Team Chief Todd Cosgrove arranged a meeting with the regional EPA officers, the Rail Program Director for the VT Agency of Transportation, and Vermont OSHA to review the EPA permit application for propane storage.
“We learned in this meeting that any industry, or railroad, wishing to store hazardous materials in a community needs to submit this type of application to the EPA and a copy gets forwarded to the local fire department and the State Hazardous Materials office,” Davis said.
The industry or railroad has up to 90 days to submit this permit after the hazardous chemicals are already in storage in the community, Davis said. “We also learned that other than insuring that these applications are properly filled out and submitted as required, the EPA defers to the Federal Railway Administration rules for storage of hazardous materials on rail sidings.”
Davis was encouraged to meet with railroad representatives and the local county emergency planning group to work out the details of an emergency response plan and any identified resources, training or equipment to deal with the hazardous materials being stored in a community.
“We will do this in early January,” Davis said.
The good news for Charlotte is that the propane cars had been moved away by Dec. 10, Davis said. The EPA permit to store propane on the railroad siding near the center of town is valid for five years so the propane rail cars can return at any time.
“We will be working on appropriate emergency response plans to deal with this practice should it continue,” Davis said. “We will also be continuing to research the regulations that allow railroads and their customers to store these types of hazardous materials in large quantities in communities with minimal security and safety measures in place.”
This practice for community-based business and industries is heavily regulated, but the Federal Railway Administration regulations that apply to the movement and storage of hazardous materials on railroad tracks and sidings are far less stringent, Davis said. Presently Vermont agencies are taking the approach that the Federal regulations supersede state regulations in these matters, he said.
“We came out of the meeting with a much better understanding of how the various regulations are applied, and who is responsible for the emergency planning,” Davis said.