Department of Environmental Conservation holds public hearing on VT Railway permit

Last week’s public hearing on the VT Railway stormwater permit was attended by over 60 townspeople as well as The Nature Conservancy, which owns land next to the transload facility.
Last week’s public hearing on the VT Railway stormwater permit was attended by over 60 townspeople as well as The Nature Conservancy, which owns land next to the transload facility.

Over 60 people were in attendance on Oct. 13 to offer comments at a public hearing, held at Shelburne Town Hall, on Vermont Railway’s application for a Multi-Sector General Permit. The audience feedback provided was intensely not in favor of the Department of Environmental Conservation granting the permit.

“[This is] an opportunity for the public to provide comment,” DEC environmental analyst Kevin Burke said. He and fellow environmental analyst Helen Carr led Thursday’s hearing, which was a chance to collect public comments.

The MSGP covers discharge from industrial activity, such as that planned for the site on Catamount Road. The permit applies to activity, not to construction. It requires that facilities examine all their sources of pollution, and they are required to monitor and minimize pollutants.

That monitoring, which would be conducted by those chosen by Vermont Railway rather than a State-selected third party, was among the concerns of those in attendance at Thursday’s hearing. Some in the crowd felt that the situation would be too much like the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.

Several of those in attendance disputed which company name should be on the permit. Many in the room voiced their opinion that Barrett Trucking, not Vermont Railway, would be the more appropriate applicant.

Concerns about environmental impact, historic property preservation, and inaccurate information presented on the application were frequent themes of the comments made by attendees. The length of the permit was also an issue. If approved, the permit would be good for five years.

“Five years can make a very big difference in terms of the pollutants that reach the river,” meeting attendee Gail Albert said.

The Nature Conservancy, which is an adjacent landowner to the site, had representatives at the hearing who expressed concerns about contamination. Attorney David Gregg pointed to a “plume of contamination” under the adjoining Harbour Industries’ site, and wondered about potential subsurface migration of contaminants.
Watershed Consulting Associates hydrologist Andres Torizzo, who spoke on behalf of The Nature Conservancy, also had reservations about contaminants. He said that he had some serious concerns about the project, fearing that it would likely violate water quality standards and affect endangered species.

“The analysis they have prepared [regarding chloride] is very simplistic,” Torizzo said. He explained that a plume of chloride would be released into a tributary of the LaPlatte River. Torizzo expects that there would be a higher amount of chloride than predicted by the railway.

Torizzo said that there has also been no analysis for phosphorous loading off the site. There are concerns about the chemical in Lake Champlain, and municipalities must manage total maximum daily loads that have been established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

By The Nature Conservancy’s assessment, much of the transload facility site is located within the river corridor. This, Torizzo said, raises the concern of bank erosion that could lead to collapse and the possibility of a rail car ending up in the river.

Town attorney Claudine Safar also urged against the permit. She too pointed to concerns that endangered species may be adversely affected. The permit, Safar said, has strict standards regarding endangered species. She said she has not seen compliance with this section.

Safar’s colleague Anthea Dexter-Cooper raised another concern: historic preservation. She said that there has been no review under the National Historic Preservation Act, which was designed to protect historical and archaeological sites.

When asked about how many such permits have been denied by the DEC, Burke said that an authorization is generally issued if the application is deemed complete. The public comment period closed on Oct. 14. Those comments will be taken under consideration. It remains unclear when a decision will be made regarding the permit. There is the right to appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court within 30 days of the decision.

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