Vermont Rail System President David Wulfson, along with his lawyer, spoke to the Selectboard last week to announce the purchase of land west of Harbour Industries on Shelburne Road where salt, lumber and tanker storage will begin in the spring. He was invited to speak by Town Manager Joe Colangelo.
The visit was purely out of respect, Wulfson said as he was inundated with questions. Wulfson, of Shelburne, and his family have owned Vermont Rail System since the 1960s and it is not his intention to upset his community, he said. But he was under no obligation to present his plans to the public.
Shelburne’s new intermodal facility, or transfer station, will now take over some of the rail operations that have been conducted in Burlington’s South End. “We need to expand and renew that facility and there simply is not enough room there,” Wulfson said of the buildings and salt sheds that are slated to be torn down on the southeast corner of Briggs Street and Flynn Avenue to make way for the new and improved City Market.
This will be a regional facility built to primarily store and provide salt to city and town salt sheds and “Johnny Landscapers,” Wulfson said.
Project vetting through Shelburne’s Development Review Board will not take place because Vermont Rail System is federally preempted from local zoning laws. Impact studies and building permits are not required.
The board’s concerns centered around traffic, noise and environmental impacts this new transfer station will bring to Shelburne. Rail-to-truck transfers make up 80 percent of Vermont Rail System’s business, Wulfson said.
Neighborhoods near Webster Road, Harvest Lane and Yacht Haven Drive will suffer the brunt of the impact from the added everyday operation noise at the facility, Colangelo said.
Two salt sheds will be erected in the spring to store about 80,000 tons of salt. About 40,000 tons are stored in Burlington now and that facility is at capacity, Wulfson said. “In the past five years, there have been two years where we have run out of salt. We have been asked to increase storage so this doesn’t happen.”
When asked about negative impacts to the Shelburne community as a result of the increased truck traffic, Wulfson said he would deal with it when the time comes. “You’ll just have to take my word on that,” he said. “If there is anything we can do that does not adversely affect our project, we will do.”
Colangelo said, “We simply have no idea what the impacts will be or what mitigation will help. It won’t be until this time next year that we will know the full impact.”
Peter Young, Vermont Rail Systems attorney, was on hand to explain to the Selectboard why the project would not be shepherded by the town in the usual way. Federal law allows preemption of the local and state permitting process for railroads to avoid a patchwork system constructed by the different rules in each town along the rail system.
Selectboard chair Gary von Stange asked Wulfson if he could estimate the number of truck trips to be expected in and out of the new facility.
“I do, but I am not at liberty to talk about it,” Wulfson said.
Von Stange said, “This is our village center. It’s a critical part of the town. It’s nice. We are trying to figure out the impact. We do understand your rights and preemption, but we need to give people notice about what’s going to happen here.”
Wulfson said his company is not exempt from all rules. They do have to abide by state electric and plumbing codes, and storm water runoff has been addressed. “We are not out there, willy-nilly, doing whatever we want,” he said.
Colangelo said as soon as he learned of the project he wanted to inform the public. “Knowing there would not be a public process, I wanted to get the information out as soon as possible. It’s been a clear goal of ours to be as open and transparent as possible so that people in town can be fully informed.”
As for the possibility of oil or other hazardous materials stored in tankers on the site, Colangelo said, “The train is already running near homes, so that is already a concern for us. This project alone is not going to make that any different.”
Contact Lynn Monty at 985-3091 or Lynn@WindRidgePublishing.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VermontSongbird.