Vermont Rail System files complaint against Shelburne

About 19-acres of land on Route 7 is being cleared by Vermont Rail System to make way for a new transfer station. Photo taken by Melissa Fletcher of Shelburne

In his seven years on Shelburne’s Selectboard, Chair Gary von Stange has never seen anyone do anything like this to impact public safety, he said referring to Vermont Rail System’s closure of Railroad Lane in response to a notice of zoning violation from the town.

Von Stange made this comment to a packed room at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Selectboard. More than 100 residents filled the space to express their concerns about the proposed intermodal facility, or transfer station, on land owned along Route 7 by Vermont Rail System.

Also on hand for the discussion, which was part of a preview of the 2016 legislative session, were Shelburne representatives, Chittenden County senators and the director of Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

Selectboard member Toni Supple described the gating off of Railroad Lane as mean-spirited and small-minded. She expressed dismay that Vermont Rail System President David Wulfson, a Shelburne resident, could act like this toward his own community.

“The way it’s escalating, it’s not good,” Selectboard member Tim Pudvar said. “It’s not good for them. It’s not good for us.”

Vermont Rail System’s curious response to a notice of zoning violation in Shelburne

Monday, Jan. 25, the town filed a motion for preliminary injunction, stating that the actions being undertaken on the property are already changing the state of the property in a permanent and irremediable way such that there is a significant threat of irreparable harm to the town and its residents if the railway is allowed to continue with the unbridled construction.

Wulfson’s response to the motion was to file his own motion against the town. This came just before Tuesday night’s meeting. Von Stange said Vermont Rail System filed a complaint in US District Court seeking declaratory judgement, meaning they are asking for a removal of the town’s motion for preliminary injunction. Wulfson is seeking a declaration that federal law preempts Shelburne’s ability to assert local land actions, von Stange said. “They are seeking injunctive relief against the town to prevent us from applying local rules and regulations,” he said.

Transfer station plans arose quickly and with little warning, Town Manager Joe Colangelo said. In the Selectboard meeting Colangelo stated Wulfson had vaguely mentioned something in September. Since that meeting Colangelo said Wulfson and his attorney Eric Benson met with him regarding the project in June, not September.

“No plans were shown as I recall,” Colangelo said. “It was understood that Vermont Rail System was exploring some sort of intermodal facility for salt distribution at the property in question. No timeline. No indication of size or scope. The meeting ended with Wulfson hinting to pay attention to the news. Within a week or a few weeks of this meeting it was announced that City Market was moving to the current rail yard.”

Shelburne’s proposed transfer station is slated to 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 to the Selectboard in early January of the buildings and salt sheds that are slated to be torn down on the southeast corner of Briggs Street and Flynn Avenue in Burlington to make way for the new and improved City Market.

Colangelo said as soon as he was aware the project was a go, he added it to the agenda for the Jan. 5 meeting. There, Wulfson addressed the Selectboard regarding the project. During that presentation and at another meeting a week later, Wulfson presented vague answers as to the scope and expected impacts of the project. He told the board that federal pre-emptions applied and that he would work to minimize negative impacts.

Residents, representative, senators, VLCT director Karen Horn, Colangelo and members of the board spoke at the Selectboard meeting Jan. 26. The concerns of increased traffic, environmental degradation, noise pollution, impediment to emergency services response time and other potential negative impacts were discussed. Von Stange said gating off Railroad Lane caused an expected increase in emergency response time of approximately five minutes to Shelburne schools.

Sen. Michael Sirotkin inquired if the state had been involved with the issue. Colangelo said that there has been some brief conversation with the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We are looking to the state for assistance,” von Stange said. “We don’t want to ratchet it up. We want to solve it.”

A general desire from residents was that the town stand firm in protecting the character of the village. The potential of setting up a fund to help with legal costs, if needed, was brought up, an idea that von Stange said the town is exploring.

Von Stange said negotiations and litigation are not mutually exclusive. “This town is meeting this issue head-on,” he said. “It’s my belief, to date, we’ve not received cooperation from Vermont Railways.”

The next Selectboard meeting will be on Feb. 9. It will be dedicated to the issue of the proposed intermodal facility and may be held at a different venue in order to accommodate an even larger crowd.

MORE: Vermont Rail System plans worry town officials

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.

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