The US District Court trial pitting the town of Shelburne against Vermont Railway ended on Friday, May 20. Judge William K. Sessions gave lawyers for both parties ten days to submit any further legal memoranda they want considered in the case. After he receives all that information he will make his decision on whether or not Vermont Railway operated within the law when they began the process of building salt shed facilities last year. The town believes that Vermont Railway abused the federal preemption status allowed the railway; the rail company maintains that they operated within the law.
Claudine Safar, an attorney with Monaghan Safar Ducham in Burlington, is representing the town in this case. She said that she anticipates a quick decision from the judge after the ten-day period ends. Throughout the trial, she said, “There were a lot of surprises,” the biggest one being that Vermont Railway was still submitting changes in plans until the last minute.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “Usually you have something you’re arguing about, and you have a sense of the project. We literally got changes in plans before the last couple days of trial…it’s hard to mount a case against a target that keeps moving.”
Selden Houghton, assistant vice president with Vermont Railway, said via email, “Vermont Rail repeatedly reached out to town officials in an effort to work out our differences outside of the courtroom. We would have much preferred to work together with the town to address any concerns than to have spent so much time in hearings. We will continue to move forward with construction pending a decision from the Court and remain confident that this professionally engineered facility is appropriately sited.”
Safar said she is concerned that the plans Vermont Railway presented in court during the trial are still not considered final plans. She said, “They’re also on the record during the trial stating that the plans did not constitute a final plan set.”
The town’s position is that without final plans, there is no assurance that the railway will effectively address environmental, traffic, noise, and other concerns.
Houghton said that Vermont Railway is committed to the citizens and town of Shelburne. “This facility will help serve Shelburne and the State of Vermont with efficient and economical freight service and adequate supplies of road salt for the winter months. We are gratified by the many residents of Shelburne and others who have given us support and positive feedback as they learned more about our project.”
No matter the outcome, Safar said, Shelburne has benefitted already from the trial. One point of contention during the initial conflict between the town and the railway was a Barrett Trucking facility that the town contends does not fall within the railway’s federal preemption status. Those buildings are no longer included in Vermont Railways plans.
“The site plans went from including buildings that were clearly for the use of Barrett Trucking to eliminating those buildings altogether, and eliminating Barrett Trucking’s operations altogether,” Safar said. “It’s a win for the town already that Barrett Trucking moved. It affected a change in the plan that probably wouldn’t have happened absent the suit.”