Town appeals federal court ruling in RR case

By MIKE DONOGHUE and LISA SCAGLIOTTI

The Town of Shelburne has formally filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, taking the two-year-old battle with Vermont Railway Inc. to the next level of legal review.

The town is appealing a decision issued Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in Burlington concerning a new local ordinance regulating hazardous materials storage, handling and distribution.

Senior Federal Judge William K. Sessions III ruled the ordinance does not apply to the railroad’s facility in Shelburne used to store and distribute road salt that arrives by railcar and is trucked to municipal and state highway garages in Northern Vermont.

The town agreed to file the appeal after receiving a pledge of $20,000 from the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization based in Montpelier.

The check was received by Shelburne recently and Town Attorney Claudine Safar filed the appeal last Friday. The selectboard, which voted 3-1 to appeal, has told residents the town will not spend any tax dollars on the appeal.

With strong opinions on both sides, the court case has already cost Shelburne taxpayers more than $400,000. Town attorneys have agreed to cap their pay for handling the appeal at $20,000.

VNRC said it is interested in the case as it pertains to environmental impacts of the salt facility, located off U.S. 7, north of the village and close by the LaPlatte River. The group is also involved in petitioning the state to tighten environmental controls governing the LaPlatte wetland area.

It is not clear how the appeal will affect possible out-of-court discussions between town and railroad officials.

On Jan. 11, the selectboard announced that it had asked the railroad to meet for discussions that could potentially lead to a mediated solution to the case.

Railroad officials said they have always been willing to talk with the town but they may not want to employ mediation.

At its meeting Tuesday evening, the selectboard met in executive session to discuss this new approach in its strategy. When the board returned to public session, it said it had not made any decisions in the matter.

Board member Colleen Parker offered a brief summary: “There are ongoing conversations between the selectboard and Vermont Railway consistent with the public statement made at the beginning of the month,” she said, referring to the board’s overture to work with the railroad separate from the court process.

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