The new Vermont Railway salt transfer facility off Shelburne Road was bustling with activity on Monday afternoon, as a railway train delivered hundreds of tons of road salt to add to the growing piles in the sheds.
Rail cars lined up on the section of diverted track on the east side of the property, and dumped the 100 tons of salt they were carrying one by one onto a long conveyor belt. The salt then traveled up a steep incline and poured into the bed of a waiting Barrett’s dump truck. The truck drove the salt load into the first shed to add to the preexisting piles, which were mounded up with a bucket loader almost as high as the roof.
The first of the two sheds, which have been the source of much controversy and the catalyst for a lawsuit in Shelburne during the past year, was constructed in September 2016. Vermont Railway Inc. has been busy on the site since the spring, with trains coming by several times a week to help fill the first shed with salt, while construction was started on the second one. The second shed was finished in early June, and is now only awaiting a few finishing touches, such as some paving around its perimeter. The first delivery of salt to the second shed is expected to arrive this week.
“We do the bulk of the filling of the sheds throughout the summer from spring until fall,” explained Selden Houghton, vice president of Vermont Railway Inc. “The idea is to get all the inventory on site before the snow starts flying.”
Filling the sheds is a race against time and weather, a race the company did not win last year. Because the first shed was not built in time to be filled last summer, this will be the first winter that the salt inventory will be stored at the Shelburne site.
Houghton said the company is extremely satisfied with the new facility, which he says gives them more space to work in.
“One of the big advantages of this facility is that we can store the winter’s demand on site,” he said. Vermont Railway previously used a storage facility on Flynn Avenue and Briggs Street in Burlington which was not large enough. As a result, Vermont did not have enough salt stored up to be able to last the winter. Distribution trucks had fill up with supplemented salt directly from the delivering rail cars rather then from the sheds, in an inefficient process, according to Houghton.
The new sheds hold 40,000 tons of salt each, ensuring that the company will have enough to last until spring without being supplemented, Houghton said. Through the winter, Barrett’s trucks will transport salt from the sheds to the rest of the state, where it will be used in winter road maintenance and safety. Houghton said that about 85 percent of the trucks will head north to I-89 and the other 15 percent will travel south down U.S. Route 7 toward Middlebury.
Despite the strong opposition to the new salt facility from the Shelburne community, Houghton said he believes the impact of the operation on local residents will be considerably less in Shelburne than in the railroad’s previous Flynn Avenue location. He defended his company’s choice of the new Shelburne location for the salt operation.
“In Burlington we were in a residential area where we had houses within a few hundred feet of us,” Houghton explained. “This is a huge advantage to that community. Here we have available land that has been associated with the railroad for years. This is where it made sense to go.”
Houghton said that from Vermont Railway’s perspective, the community it serves extends beyond Shelburne or Burlington.
“Our community is the state of Vermont and New England,” Houghton said. “Certainly there are benefits for Shelburne – the Town of Shelburne gets salt from this facility. But really it benefits everybody, because we won’t run out of salt. Our customer is Vermont as a whole, and we’re doing this for the good of the Vermont community.”
That said, Houghton noted that Vermont Railway has made some adjustments to the project plans to accommodate concerns of their new Shelburne neighbors. While the project was being litigated, plans for the location of the second shed were altered to move the structure forward from its original planned location, due to its close proximity to the LaPlatte River.
An upcoming adjustment the company has planned is to adapt an engine for the on-site locomotive they will use to pull the rail cars through the unloading area, so that it will not be idling on site – addressing a concern voiced by many Shelburne residents.
“We hope for a positive relationship,” Houghton said. “We’re always willing to listen to feedback from the town. Anything that we can act upon reasonably and that can be done without impacting our duty as a common carrier, we certainly will take into consideration.”
Shelburne Selectboard discussed Vermont Railway case in executive session. Click here for more.