Vermont Rail hosts open house

Responding to questions that have surrounded its intermodal facility proposed for a parcel west of Harbor Industries, Vermont Railway held an Informational Open House at Comfort Suites in South Burlington on Feb. 11. A small crowd, including several representatives from the town, braved the chill temperatures for the event.

David Wulfson, President of Vermont Railway, said he wanted to get information out to the public. He stressed the railway was not required to hold such an event or share any of the information. The railway had its experts on hand to provide information on the topics of railroad operations, natural resources/stormwater/flood issues, design/construction and traffic/safety.

Wulfson addressed the issue of the proposed location of the facility, saying that he has looked at other locations. However, he cannot move northward of Burlington, since he does not own the railway north of the city.

“Wherever I go, the railroad is right next to the river,” Wulfson said, addressing the concern about proximity to water. He said that, historically, railroads have followed the rivers. He added that the railway treats all the sites the same–with care.

“I care deeply about my town–about my community, but it doesn’t end at the border,” Wulfson, a Shelburne resident of 15 years, said. He said that moving the facility southward would mean that there would be a higher impact on the village. “I don’t want to mess that up,” he said.

The plan for the site is currently for salt sheds. Wulfson said that he very much hopes to handle more than just that. However, he said, he cannot pick-and-choose clients and what they ship to the site and have offloaded. “If it’s a legal commodity … we have to unload it,” he said, adding that it is a bit of a mix of him finding clients and clients seeking him out.

Nineteen acres of land have been cleared for the project. Jeff Nelson, VHB Director of Energy & Environmental Services, said that of that land, half was young growth forest. The other half was mature forest. Nelson said that none of the cleared area had been mapped by the State or assessed by those working on the project as clay plain forest. He added that the state allows clearing less than 40 acres of forest without a permit.

Of the cleared site, about 18 and a half acres are for the planned project. About half-an-acre is a holding area for the topsoil cleared. It will be held there until the company is ready to sell it and ship it out to elsewhere.

Mark Sammut, Project Manager at Wright & Morrissey, addressed the issue of noise. He said that, in informal tests that he had carried out, the decibel level is lower than has been discussed. When he checked, the noise could not be heard at Yacht Haven Drive or at the Waldorf School. He also noted that the noise is a far steadier one–not a beep, beep, beep.

Selden Houghton, Vice President of Vermont Railways, said that the project would use the two existing southbound trains and that there would not be an increase in train traffic.

“The Champlain Flyer commuter train, when it was running, was far more disruptive to Harbor Road,” Houghton said.

Nick Sanders, VHB Senior Traffic Engineer, discussed traffic and safety issues. “To this point, we’ve done a preliminary assessment,” he said.

This first look has lead the project team to believe that a signal does not appear warranted. A southbound right turn lane, however, has been deemed necessary. Sanders said that he has not yet gotten into the issue of emergency services. No formal analysis has yet been conducted.

Sanders said that the project would be shifting traffic south from Flynn Avenue. It would remove it from the local streets of Burlington and put trucks more directly in touch with the state highway.

Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) will be conducting a review of the project when it files for an 1111 permit. The agency uses the permit to manage post-construction stormwater activities of non-VTrans projects that need access to their right-of-way. It seeks to ensure that there is not an increase in peak discharge.

Currently, work on the project is still suspended due to a Notice of Violation issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Town and Vermont Rail System are simultaneously involved in litigation and negotiation.

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