Steven Antinozzi, known as Rocco to his Shelburne neighbors, came upon an obstacle course of sorts on his way to work Jan. 26. Vermont Rail System blocked access to travel and parking with cement blocks on Railroad Lane in Shelburne in response to a notice of zoning violation sent to them last week by Town Manager Joe Colangelo.
This violation stems from the clear cutting of land newly purchased by Vermont Rail System to build a transfer station west of Harbour Industries along Route 7. Colangelo said the project could be the single most impactful event that Shelburne has ever seen.
Vermont Rail System asserts federal preemption which means the project is not subject to municipal review.
President of Vermont Rail System David Wulfson of Shelburne said he would not comment on the closing of Railroad Lane. In an email he wrote, “No comment. Sorry Shelburne has chosen litigation.”
Shelburne filed a Motion of Preliminary Injunction in Environmental Court to have Vermont Rail System cease work on the project on Jan. 25.
Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange said the closure of Railroad Lane and cement blocks in the parking lot that many residents and area businesses depend upon is a clear sign Wulfson does not care about his community. “Closing this road adds valuable response time for fire and police to reach Shelburne Community and Waldorf schools,” he said.
Antinozzi said safe pedestrian travel on Harbor Road, especially for school children has been a focus for some time with the town and has resulted in the construction of new sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals and speed warning signs.
“Pedestrian and bike travel through the train station area is a common part of many students trip to school and helps direct them away from the much higher traffic on Route 7 and the very busy intersection of Route 7 and Falls Road and Harbor Road,” Antinozzi said. “It would be a great loss to Shelburne to have it compromised.”
Town Manager Joe Colangelo addressed the Vermont Rail System situation in Shelburne in an op-ed to the Shelburne News dated Jan. 26.
Like a locomotive with a full head of steam, Vermont Rail System is chugging ahead with plans to develop an intermodal facility behind Harbour Industries. This facility will primarily be used to store and distribute considerable quantities of salt. It will be operated in conjunction with Barrett Trucking. Other activities expected to occur on site include heavy equipment transfer, fleet fueling, and an administrative office building for Barrett. The full magnitude of this project and its impacts on public safety, traffic patterns, noise, and the natural environment are unknown because Vermont Rail Systems is asserting that this facility and all of its activities enjoy the protection of federal-preemption from local land use regulations.
I have four main areas of concern regarding how this project might impact Shelburne. First, the entrance to this facility from Route 7 is not compatible with an increase in heavy truck traffic and, accordingly, if the project continues on its current trajectory a public safety hazard will be created as large trucks attempt to enter and exit this facility. Second, the project will magnify existing traffic congestion issues on Route 7 placing more stress on local arteries such as Webster, Bay, and Harbor Roads, as well as Spear Street.
Third, as stated by Shelburne’s Natural Resources and Conservation Commission, the proposed facility will have severe impact on sensitive natural resources. Further, given that considerable quantities of contaminants such as salt and fuel will be stockpiled at this facility, it will likely exacerbate water quality problems in the LaPlatte River and Lake Champlain. The special treatment Vermont Rail System could receive is particularly galling since as part of the mandated cleanup of Lake Champlain, federal and state regulations will necessitate expensive capital improvements to Shelburne’s wastewater treatment plants and impaired waterways. Fourth, noise generated at the facility may have consequences to surrounding neighborhoods. Sounds from machinery will reach levels of over 100 decibels for an unknown length of time and at unidentified hours of the day.
There are other issues of concern, too; for example, the Town of Shelburne owns a 30’ recreational trail easement on the property that should be protected in order to continue the connectedness of Shelburne’s extensive trail network. This particular site is also known to be archeologically significant.
These impacts are too much for the town to contemplate without asserting rights of its own. Last week the town of Shelburne issued Vermont Rail System a Notice of Violation for violating Shelburne’s zoning by-laws. Their response was to gate-off the parking lot behind the fire station which will reduce Shelburne’s police and fire response capabilities to places such as the Shelburne Community School. On Monday, Shelburne filed a Motion of Preliminary Injunction in Environmental Court to have Vermont Rail System cease work on the project. As of this writing a hearing before a judge has not been scheduled but is expected soon.
The spirit behind federal-preemption is to provide this country with an efficient rail network. It is not to substantially change the character of local communities. Vermont Rail System is arguably overstepping their authority and I encourage Shelburne to fight for more transparency. On a national level, you can look to the Flint water crisis as an example of what can happen when important projects lack transparency, proper regulatory review, and meaningful oversight. Shelburne must demand accountability before the train leaves the station.
Joe Colangelo, Town Manager
Please note: James Mack of the Shelburne Police Department confirmed after this was published that the location referred to is not Railroad Lane. Railroad Lane is on the north side of Harbor Road, and just west of the railroad tracks. The location that has been closed and now reopened is 71 Harbor Road, which is the rail station and parking lot.