By Chris Boyd
There have been many impassioned messages posted on social media and published in the Shelburne News since the decision by U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions in the case of the town of Shelburne and Vermont Railway over the railroad’s intermodal salt facility and the town’s new ordinance aimed to regulate that facility.
I have seen concerns that fall into several key categories: protection of the water quality of the LaPlatte River and Lake Champlain; commodities stored at the intermodal facility; proximity of the facility to the LaPlatte River; lack of oversight of the facility; and noise at the site.
On Dec. 16, I visited the salt facility to see it firsthand and ask questions to help inform my opinion. I also visited the old location in Burlington’s South End for comparison. The difference is night and day from the way operations used to occur to now.
Regarding protection of water quality, in my opinion the protection of the Lake Champlain water basin today is improved by the groundwater drainage system put in place. These include multiple monitoring wells surrounding the perimeter of the facility and also located in areas within the center of the property.
I’ve seen mention in the news and opinion pieces of extremely high measurements of salt in groundwater. On my visit, I learned that the monitoring well in question is in the center of the facility, nowhere near the edge of the river. The cause for the elevated salt levels? Runoff from the road leading from the sheds to the loading area, draining directly into the well. This glitch was discovered before the second salt storage shed was constructed and the drainage issue was fixed.
What I found most interesting about the monitoring wells was the reason behind them. The wells that were originally drilled near the entrance to the site were done to check for any hazardous materials in the groundwater that predated the salt facility’s construction.
I learned that there were hazardous substances found and the source for these materials was the old Harbor Industries site located directly adjacent to the railroad property. The materials are the same type that have been found in Bennington and sadly, the Town of Shelburne has been aware of their presence. These materials in the end dictated the layout of the intermodal facility. While this was an unexpected redesign for the railroad, it initiated identification of a problem and discussions for a means to resolve the problem.
It also led to the railroad’s decision to include even more wells to monitor the entire area to ensure the watershed is preserved. The monitoring of these wells is also done in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Oversight of this facility was extensive during the permitting and construction phase by many federal and state authorities, and it continues now.
I also learned on this visit that the railroad cars on this site contain no other commodity but salt. This facility’s sole purpose is for the receiving, unloading, and distribution of road salt – sodium chloride. There is NOTHING received at this site that will go BOOM or cause an incident such as the train carrying crude oil that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013.
The railroad says it would like nothing more than to be a good neighbor. They have even been looking into the noise issues that folks have brought up and have installed equipment that will allow for the locomotive to be shut down at night so it does not have to idle. They have been researching what can be done about the pneumatic hammer NEEDED to unload salt from the rail cars.
In forming my opinion, I find it important to look at the facts that are based on truths. I encourage others to read Judge Sessions’ ruling with an open mind. Further legal action IS NOT the right answer. Please let the selectboard know you do not wish to see this issue pursued via legal proceedings any longer.
Chris Boyd is a former Shelburne fire chief and former member of the Shelburne Selectboard.