Intermodal facility noise creating ruckus in Shelburne

Salt cars that can hold 100 tons of road salt wait to be unloaded at Vermont Railway’s Intermodal facility. Photos by Boston Neary

Noise from the Vermont Railway intermodal facility has become a focus of conversation, even making its way onto a recent Selectboard agenda. “I have received a noticeable uptick in emails and phone calls from people expressing concerns about noises coming from the intermodal facility,” Town Manager Joe Colangelo said.

In a letter addressed to Colangelo dated dated Jan. 18 and posted to the Town website, second-grade teacher Christopher Diehl-Noble from the Lake Champlain Waldorf School shared his experiences.

Diehl-Noble has worked as a teacher at LCWS for 21 years. During that time, he has made extensive use of the forest on the school’s property and that owned by the Nature Conservancy. This resource has played a significant role in his students’ experiences.

Trucks drive under a covered structure in order to receive salt from the conveyor belt. Large trucks can carry around 20 tons of road salt.

“We have seen and heard many wild animals in this refuge and have been able to enjoy sitting in silence to allow the natural sounds of the forest to surround us. In addition to providing a venue for investigation and play, this has been a significant source of inspiration for creative writing and art classes.

“Since the opening of the intermodal facility, just across the LaPlatte River from our usual outdoor classroom, we have heard loud metallic grinding, scraping sounds that have changed the entire quality of the experience, both for us, and presumably the wildlife whose home this is. The sound is not easily predictable in when it occurs, its duration, or frequency, which makes it all the more difficult. It is deeply disturbing and has forced us more than once to leave the area.

“The facility is compromising the quality of the habitat, and my students and I are unfortunately front row observers of the effects the complex is having on the environment,” Diehl-Noble said.
Other nearby residents, asked to share their thoughts on the facility, had similar complaints. Bay Road resident Mike Olson also has had close-up experience with the noise. “The facility is directly behind us in the woods off of the Laplatte. Our experience has been a dramatic increase in noise since the facility has been in operation. Not only is the noise very loud, there are also vibrations that accompany the banging and scraping all of which can be heard and felt from inside our house.

An electric motor drives a hydraulic pump and vibrator. The vibrator helps salt flow in winter and is one source of loud noise.

“It’s sad to look out over what was once a very serene Vermont countryside only to hear this extreme industrial noise coming from the woods. I call it the monster in the woods. I can’t imagine what it sounds like for folks who live even closer than we do. Not to mention what this kind of disruption does to the wildlife. It’s just a poor location and I feel in summary that Vermont Railway really set this up under the cover of darkness,” Olson said.

Resident Dave Connery also has concerns. His home is about ¾ to one mile from the facility. He worries about what the impact of the noise will be during the warmer months when residents would like to have the windows of their homes open.

“It’s a lot of noise,” Connery said. He added that if there had been the opportunity for a full Development Review Board (DRB) review, this would not be happening.

Concerns have been raised over days and times of facility operation. Selden Houghton, Vice President of Vermont Railway, said that the usual business hours for the unloading of railcars during the week are from 7am to 8pm. On Saturdays, it is 7:30am to 6pm.

“When Sunday unloading is scheduled, we will work to limit operations to the period between 7:30am and 3pm,” Houghton said.

Salt is being released from a rail car into an underground holding area before it moves onto the conveyor belt.

The railway, Houghton said, has taken steps to address noise and is continuing to examine other possible steps. “We greatly reduced the banging noise that was coming from dump truck tail gates after dumping salt in the shed. This noise was a common theme we were hearing initially, and we were able to identify it and reduce it thanks to the constructive feedback we received. We continue to explore new tools and methods to reduce noise associated with the unloading of the rail cars,” Houghton said, adding that the railway is currently looking at sound absorbing materials to further limit the noise coming from the vibrator used to assist in the unloading of the railcars.

As for the exact volume of noise, Houghton said, “We have done sound measurements both on- and off-site. All measurements we have taken have been well within acceptable limits.”
While noise has been an issue at the forefront in recent discussions of concerns about the intermodal facility, other issues persist as well. Resident Lisa Winkler spoke of some of her concerns.

“We have no idea, never mind control, over what is transported, stored, loaded, leaked. It is being built on an impaired waterway that flows into the sixth largest freshwater lake in the country. And, if Barrett turns out to be the main financier and operator, this all would have been avoided through Act 250, Act 64, DRB, etc. It might still be built, but in a very different way. How do we put back the clay forest and floodplains and habitats? As someone said, federal preemption is the Trojan horse of our day.”

Residents can contact Town Manager Joe Colangelo or a Selectboard member with any concerns about the intermodal facility.

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