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Vermonters Plan March to Protest Unregulated Freight Rail Growth

Communities Oppose Vermont Rail System Plan for Industrial Complex in Shelburne

VermontUnited Contact: David Connery, (802) 777-7048, connerydave@gmail.com

Shelburne, VT: On Sunday, May 1, 2016, a march and rally to halt the construction of a huge industrial freight and trucking complex on the banks of the LaPlatte River nature area will be held in Shelburne.

Dubbed the Reckless Rail Rally, the march will bring people together to raise awareness of the statewide threat from largely unregulated freight rail industry, which is growing at an alarming rate in Vermont and nationally. The rally will begin at 2:00pm with a “casserole” style march (banging pots, pans and the like) down Harbor Road to the Town Green where there will be speakers, food, and music. The rally will end at 3:00pm.

This past winter, Vermont Rail System (VRS) purchased a 32-acre parcel of land bordering conservation land and the LaPlatte River in Shelburne. VRS immediately clear-cut 19 acres, including the rare Valley Clay Plain forest, virtually eliminating any buffer zone to Lake Champlain. VRS has claimed “federal preemption” from needing Act 250 or local permits, a claim that is being challenged in the courts by the Town of Shelburne. According to VRS’s limited description of the project, the development most likely will be the largest depot in the state, and perhaps the third largest salt depot in the U.S., housing 80,000 tons of salt. The salt storage appears to be just the beginning; plans also include transporting heavy construction equipment and fuel oil. 

VRS’s plan has triggered huge citizen opposition. More than 500 people packed into a special Selectboard meeting in February, and since then more than 800 people have signed a petition to protest the development.

“Like many people who live and work in Shelburne, at first I was simply stunned to hear talk that Vermont Rail System was planning to construct massive salt storage sheds, almost the size of football fields on the LaPlatte River,” says Shelburne resident Lisa Espenshade, one of the rally organizers. “That turned to utter dismay when I saw photographs of the old growth forest site clear-cut by VRS without any permits or notification. With all the environmental protections our state has created, how can this happen?”

Derrick Senior, another Shelburne organizer who has been researching this issue extensively since the story exploded in January, sees how far-reaching the issue really goes. “Vermonters need to realize that freight rail in Vermont, both hazardous and non hazardous, is expected to double over the next decade. With 70% of that deemed ‘through freight’ (not for Vermont business), who really benefits here?”

“Vermont should also follow the lead of New York, Maine, and New Hampshire and 28 other states that conduct state inspections,” continues Senior. “They have found hundreds of rail safety violations and impose fines, or stop service, until violations are corrected.”

The rally—organized by grassroots citizen groups VermontUnited, in association with Citizens for Responsible Railroads, and Toxics Action Center—will bring into focus Vermont’s freight rail transportation plan, which has been flying under the media radar, leaving communities unprepared and vulnerable. Expected to double by 2035, freight transportation moves largely unmonitored materials and will use the rail lines in Vermont as superhighways. 

“This rally is happening because the community needs to be heard,” says Roberta Nubile of VermontUnited. “Everyone is welcome and we hope to see lots of students, families, and neighbors.”

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VermontUnited is a grassroots group working to alert citizens that Vermont’s safety and environment are not negotiable. VU has a coalition of community partners, including a 501c3 charity that is graciously serving as the fiscal sponsor. VU’s mission is to unite stakeholders and ensure that the safety, environment, and community of Vermont are never put at risk by lack of oversight and regulations governing rail freight and all associated rail operations in our state. For more information, visit VermontUnited.org.