A ruling from U.S. District Court in Burlington on Monday put the brakes on the town of Shelburne’s plans to have the new hazardous materials ordinance go into effect Oct. 7.
Judge William K. Sessions III issued a temporary restraining order preventing the town from enforcing the new law through Oct. 20.
“The impact of the Storage Ordinance could likely lead to a complete shutdown of the Railway’s transloading facility,” the court wrote in its order.
Vermont Railway Inc. told the court it cannot comply with the new restrictions on handling the road salt at its new facility in Shelburne, which holds up to 80,000 tons of road salt to be used in the region to treat roads in wintertime.
The ordinance covers the storage, handling, and distribution of hazardous materials, which would include the salt at the railway’s storage and distribution facility just west of U.S. 7 north of Shelburne Village. The Selectboard adopted the ordinance in August, just weeks after the court ruled against the town which had hoped to subject the facility to local and state review processes. The court maintains that federal statutes exempt the railroad from local review.
Because the ordinance would apply to many commercial operations in Shelburne, and after hearing many concerns about the ordinance, the Selectboard set Oct. 7 as the date for it to go into effect.
The extra time, however, would not make a difference with the impact to the railroad. If the ordinance was to be enforced, the facility would be in violation and subject to daily fines of up to $10,000 and the town could force it to remove the salt from the property, essentially closing the facility.
Sessions said he considered that potential “irreparable harm” to the railroad and the prospect of such harm supported his move to have the town delay enacting the ordinance as intended.
Lawyers for the town were agreeable to the delay and favored having a full hearing on the issue in a few weeks. The Selectboard met Tuesday night in executive session to discuss the ruling but did not make any public comment about its next steps.
The court may extend the restraining order for an additional two weeks after Oct. 20, according to court documents. That seemed likely based on the courtroom discussion prior to Sessions announcing his decision for the restraining order.
Sessions and lawyers for the town and railroad discussed their schedules regarding setting a date for a full hearing on the matter in late October or early November.
Sessions instructed both sides in the meantime to prepare their arguments for and against the ordinance as it applies to the railroad’s facility. Sessions told the parties he would devote just two full days of court time to the next hearing.