Shelburne’s fight with Vermont Railway loses steam

The aftermath of last month’s federal District Court decision favoring Vermont Railway Inc. over the Town of Shelburne has been a quiet affair in the town where only a year ago the issue stirred protests and community action.

The Selectboard meeting Tuesday evening was the board’s first since the ruling, but not a single community member attended to discuss the case, which has embroiled the town in legal proceedings since early last year.

At the end of the meeting, the Selectboard, town manager and town attorney went into executive session to discuss the case. The board did not reach any conclusions yet. Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange has said that everyone will be notified of the Town’s future plans after the Selectboard has time to review a report by Town Attorney Claudine Safar at its next meeting on July 25.

Should the Town decide to appeal Judge William K. Sessions III’s June 28 ruling, it would have to be filed within 30 days after the decision. Last year, the town asked the court to agree with its claim that the railroad should have undergone local and state regulatory review of its project to build a road-salt storage and distribution facility off Shelburne Road near the LaPlatte River. Federal law exempts railroads from such scrutiny but the town claimed the railroad’s partner Barrett Trucking played a lead role in the project, therefore triggering routine permit review. The court disagreed and sided with the railroad.

Both the Town Manager and the Selectboard stressed that they have not yet decided whether the town will continue this fight with a court appeal.

The town spent $322,000 on legal costs in the past year and a half as it pressed its case. The figure far surpassed its usual budget for legal expenditures, which has been $30,000 for the past several years, according to Town Manager Joe Colangelo. The town used reserve funds to cover the unplanned costs, he said.

Most importantly, Colangelo said, the town has no regrets about becoming involved in the Court case.

“Shelburne’s reaction to all this has been completely rational,” he said. “Shelburne reacted the way almost any community reacts to something like this.”

With the court decision so fresh in the minds of the community, opponents to Vermont Railway’s facilities in Shelburne are taking time to consider the ruling’s implications, and what options they might have.

Lisa Winkler of the Vermont United citizen organization that actively opposed the salt project throughout the proceedings, said her group hasn’t come together yet to discuss the court decision, but that several options may still be open for them. Since the facility is nearly complete, the most prudent course may be to explore avenues to mitigate future development in the vicinity of the LaPlatte River watershed, she said.

Staff at The Nature Conservancy, which owns protected land near the salt facility’s site, is still reviewing the decision too, according to Eve Frankel from the conservancy’s Montpelier office. “We’re not ruling anything out,” she said. “We haven’t decided next steps yet.”

Shelburne resident Crea Lintilac, of the Lintilac Foudation, said her organization became involved in the court case in order to support the Nature Conservancy, and to defend and protect its resources nearby. The philanthropic foundation prioritizes environmental stewardship in Vermont. While the court’s ruling may end arguments over local land-use review, Lintilac was quick to point out that there is still important work for environmental watchdogs to do.

“The LaPlatte River marsh is a very precious resource,” she said. “It needs protection.”

Shelburne News reporter Lisa Scagliotti contributed to this report. For more on this story click here.

One Response to "Shelburne’s fight with Vermont Railway loses steam"

  1. John B Day   July 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Big difference between opposing the project on environmental and community impact grounds, and investing a third of a million dollars in litigation. Feeling strongly about the first, as I do, does not, by itself, make the second a prudent Town financial investment.


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