Town, still split on salt shed, awaits court appeal, new discussions

By MARK KOBZIK

While the clock on appealing a December federal court ruling ticks away, Shelburne residents are split as how they think the town should move forward.

And last week, the possibility for an out-of-court settlement gained traction as the selectboard reached out to Vermont Railway Inc. offering to discuss the matter.

A statement from the board dated Jan. 11 and released by Town Manager Joe Colangelo said: “As a result of further discussion by the Shelburne Selectboard in executive session during the Jan. 9, 2018, selectboard meeting, the four members of the selectboard involved with the Vermont Railway matter have decided to approach Vermont Railway Inc. to discuss the possibility of a non-court-ordered mediation session.”

Apparently the board decided to take this new tack during a closed-door part of its meeting last Tuesday night but it didn’t say so publicly until Thursday.

Colangelo said the new approach did not change anything about the board’s previous decision on Jan. 2 to appeal the latest court ruling using a $20,000 grant from the nonprofit Vermont Natural Resources Council to cover the town’s legal expenses.

The railroad’s lead attorney, Marc Heath, said he isn’t sure formal mediation is the best means for ending the dispute, but the railroad is interested in discussions with town officials.

“Vermont Railway has always been in favor of settling this matter out of court,” Heath said.
As of Wednesday morning, no meeting had been scheduled yet between town and railroad representatives, town officials said.

Work towards a court appeal appeared to be moving forward. When reached Wednesday, Town Attorney Claudine Safar said: “At this minute, an appeal has not yet been filed, but we anticipate it will be filed by the end of the day [Thursday].”
So far the town has spent more than $400,000 fighting Vermont Railway and its development of a salt storage and handling facility just north of the village adjacent to the LaPlatte River. In the process, opinions in the community have become divided over concerns about the development such as noise, water pollution, and aesthetics.

For example, following presentations and tours at the salt sheds on Jan. 6, attendees offered differing opinions. Their reactions ranged from frustration to satisfaction over the answers the railroad officials provided.

Melissa Fletcher lives off Bay Road in a neighborhood that feels the full effects of the railroad as a neighbor. Fletcher attended the salt shed tours that she described as “a good show” while not seriously addressing the issues.

She said her conversations with Selden Houghton, the go-to contact at Vermont Railway and intermodal fleet manager, have been frustrating. Fletcher said she asked questions at the meeting about noise, containment of sodium chloride, and other concerns, and only received what she considered non-answers and promises to fix problems.

Fletcher said she supports continued litigation due to what she perceives to as unwillingness by Vermont Railway to act on neighbors’ concerns. Fletcher was skeptical about the selectboard’s offer to talk directly with the railroad. Fletcher said while she believes court is not the best route, it’s necessary since she believes the railroad continues to ignore residents.

Linda Riell, a regular attendee at selectboard meetings who would like to see the town end the court battle, said she supports Judge William K. Sessions III’ ruling on the town hazardous waste ordinance. The latest go-round in court focused on a newly adopted ordinance that considers salt hazardous and would drastically curtail the railway’s salt operation. The court ruled that the ordinance does not apply to the railroad.

“There is a need to discuss concerns such as noise and the monitoring of test wells, and that will not be addressed if the town continues on its path against the railroad,” Riell wrote in a statement delivered to Shelburne News.

Riell said a problem with ongoing litigation is that it has a very narrow focus and would not likely cover concerns such as noise and impact the salt facility may have on the Laplatte River.

Peg Rosenau of McCabe Circle said those broader issues are real. “Our neighborhood has been particularly impacted by the intensely loud and disruptive vibrational banging that is used to free salt from rail cars. It is affecting our property values, our quality of life, and even our health and wellbeing. We have complained about this repeatedly to Vermont Rail,” she said.

Rosenau said responses from the railroad have been inadequate while the noise hasn’t improved. Answers from Wulfson have ranged from “we’re looking into that” to “you may have to put up with that,” she said.

“I appreciated the effort put into arranging the tour and the opportunity for dialogue, but the big takeaway was that Shelburne residents are entirely at the mercy of Vermont Rail’s goodwill and whim for many zoning considerations that in a typical situation would be protected by local oversight,” Rosenau said.

6 Responses to "Town, still split on salt shed, awaits court appeal, new discussions"

  1. Sean Moran   January 18, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    a continued waste of money and that sits right in the lap of the select board.

    Reply
  2. Lutz Kaelber   January 20, 2018 at 3:14 am

    The right thing to do. The election of two town board members in 2017 resulted in victories of those candidates who stood for pursuing the path of legal remedy instead of accepting the word of the company that everything will turn out fine. The haters of these elected officials try to nullify the results of this election by maligning some of the town board member incessantly without making any substantive arguments. The actual or potential negative impact on the quality of life of the continued operation of this company under current policies, as indicated above, makes the cost of litigation look rather small in comparison.

    Reply
  3. Sean Moran   January 20, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Once again Lutz Kaelber we don’t hate any elected official- you seem not to be able to separate a person with their position- and you teach? Seriously? One has nothing to do with the other. This RR business has dragged on over and over , to defeat, over and over- AND ITS SIMPLY TIME TO STOP WASTING MONEY. How has the salt shed ruined your quality of life? Specify, please. And if you bring up the pollution issue, please include the pollution of the town’s OWN SALT SHED. Over $500,000. in monies spent is NOT small in comparison, unless of course you are Donald Trump. Are you?

    May more centered heads prevail in March.

    Reply
  4. Lutz Kaelber   January 21, 2018 at 2:26 am

    Sean Moran – BANG, BANG, BANG. Read the comments of the people who have to live next to the RR facility, comments which one must be tone-deaf to ignore (or live far from it and not care). You might want to google Vermont Railway and Brandon for an example of such pollution at a different location. The potential for a catastrophic pollution of Lake Champlain has not registered with you either, apparently. Instead, you simply appear to belief any and all representations by Vermont Railway. The salt sheds of RR hold 80,000 tons, compared to the town’s 550 tons (less than 1% of that capacity). You want to say the scope is the same – really? And this does not even address the adverse effects on property values. Given the comments I read routinely, no wonder John Kerr was referring to incivility among a “vile subset of the population.”

    Reply
  5. Sean Moran   January 24, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    Vile subset who devotes hours every week to attend select board meetings, ethics meetings, DRB meetings…..so YOU can sit on your ***** and judge? YOU need to educate YOURSELF and not accept the pablum the board is feeding you.

    Reply
  6. Vivian Jordan   January 24, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Mr. Kaelber – I am happy to publicly state that I am a member of that “vile subset.”

    Did you attend the salt shed open house? It was the perfect opportunity for a reality check – a chance to speak with Mr. Wulfson directly, to walk inside the salt shed, to stand 10 feet away from the process that is making all the ungodly noise. Truth is, my neighbor’s lawnmower is far worse and at a greater distance.

    If you did attend, you heard the history of the property. It’s been in the Wulfson family for decades. In the past they practically begged the town to zone it residential, but the town refused. Once the sheds were up there was one unfortunate spill. It was addressed and the problem resolved. They have inspections and checks four times a year to prevent further issues, all documented.

    By our select board’s own admission, they are unaware of any inspections of our own salt shed. Which makes me think they have no idea if it’s environmentally safe or not.

    The property is – and has been – zoned for industrial use. The town never cared enough about the environment to rezone. Until now. But it’s too late now. That’s the town’s mistake. We, the taxpayers, paid half a million dollars for that mistake. If things with the appeal turn against us, we could end up paying even more. It’s time to stop.

    Reply

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