Vermont Railways wins in court

Railroad track and ties are being readied to put in place at the Vermont Railways site.
Railroad track and ties are being readied to put in place at the Vermont Railways site.

The US District Court handed down a decision in the Vermont Railway vs. Shelburne case last week, finding that federal law permits Vermont Railway to continue development of its rail facility in Shelburne. The railway is moving forward with its plans to build a transmodal facility on its 32-acre site next to the LaPlatte River. At issue in the court proceedings was whether or not the railway legally operated within the parameters of federal preemption when it clear cut land and housed a trucking facility on the site.

On Tuesday, the Selectboard and Town Manager Joe Colangelo met to discuss the litigation with Vermont Railway in an executive session. The Selectboard has made no decisions regarding how the town will proceed in the aftermath of the court decision. Colangelo will meet with town attorney Claudine Safar on Friday to debrief her on the meeting.

Colangelo met with Vermont Railway President David Wulfson on Tuesday to tour the site that is being prepared for the laying of track and paving. “They have made substantial progress at the site,” Colangelo said.

Selden Houghton of Vermont Railway said the majority of the significant earth work at the site is complete. Over the next month, the railroad will complete the rail siding and the foundation for the salt shed. The salt shed is scheduled to be erected in August, with the unloading of the first rail cars anticipated for early fall.

Although the project is advancing, the legal battle is not necessarily over. In Judge William Sessions’ ruling he said the town will “retain certain police powers which protect public health and safety,” but that “the Court agrees that the Town cannot determine whether or how its municipal regulations may apply to the Railway’s proposed project without knowledge of the project’s final plans.”

Because the Railway’s plans have evolved so dramatically over the course of the project, even in the midst of court proceedings, the Railway’s conduct has “prevent[ed] the Town from articulating how it intends to exercise its police powers.” Because Vermont Railway’s plans for the site are still not finalized, in his decision Sessions said the court “reserves judgment on the question of whether the ICCTA preempts the Town’s regulation of the aforementioned activities.”
“The case is not closed,” Colangelo said, “and we will review again once the first salt shed is built.”

Due to the town’s lawsuit, plans for the site have changed dramatically since the work began, including plans for a Barrett Trucking facility at the Shelburne location. The scope, size and location of the project, trucking operation and salt sheds relative to the La Platte River have been limited and changed. In particular, the town has been successful in altering the railway’s and Barrett Trucking’s original plans to skirt regulations and Barrett Trucking’s base of operations to this site.

Barrett Trucking will not have an office at the Shelburne site, but there will be a weighing station.

“We look forward to completing construction and serving our Vermont community from this new facility this coming winter,” said Houghton in a release dated June 29, “and to working with the town to address remaining community concerns.”

Chea Waters Evans contributed to this story.

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