Vermont Railway moves forward with Shelburne salt shed

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Vermont Railway moves forward with Shelburne salt shed

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 5:23pm -- tim

by C.B. Hall Vermont Business Magazine Vermont Railway has offered the town of Shelburne the alternative of relocating the railroad's planned salt shed and to a South Burlington location as a means of resolving protests over constructing the facility in Shelburne at a point just north of the village center. The railway (VTR) is expected however to continue clearing the site, armed with a just-issued authorization from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Shelburne selectboard and numerous residents have cried foul over the VTR plans, citing traffic and noise issues and environmental dangers to the LaPlatte River, which runs alongside the site.

In a February 17 letter to Shelburne town manager Joe Colanagelo, Vermont Railway (VTR) president David Wulfson extended the possibility of locating the facility on three contiguous parcels between the Shelburne Road and the parallel VTR line in South Burlington. The combined property carries a list price of $6.15 million, he stated. He did not identify the parcels, but the best available information indicates that they are 68 Nesti Drive, owned by Catamount/Middlebury LLC, and 1785 and 1795 Shelburne Road, both owned by Catamount/South Burlington LLC. The Nesti Drive property was formerly the Freihofer bakery.

Larry Williams is a principal of both owner companies, according to online sources. Williams is also a principal at Redstone, the Burlington-based real estate company, according to its website. He did not respond by press time to requests for comment.

According to South Burlington city records, the three parcels, taken together, cover just over 15 acres, and are assessed at $3.087 million, almost exactly half the list price cited by Wulfson.

Colangelo responded to the letter with an email clarifying that the selectboard wished to discuss, rather, the town's purchase of the 34-acre Shelburne property owned by VTR. VTR began clearing that land for its salt shed facility shortly after purchasing it December 28 for $675,000, but ceased activities there in late January, in the wake of an order to desist from the Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC granted a permit for the continuation of construction-related activity on February 24, however, and VTR simultaneously informed the town that it intended to proceed with site-clearing work, but not actual construction. That, VTR told Colangelo, would begin only in several weeks, allowing time for consultations with the town - for example over possible repositioning of the salt sheds farther from the river – as an alternative to “a more adversarial litigation strategy.”

The town and VTR have sued each other over the salt shed, where road salt shipped in by rail would be transloaded to trucks for delivery to road departments around the state. The town is seeking an injunction to force local review of the project. VTR contends the construction is not subject to local regulation, and is seeking a court ruling to that effect. The case is pending in federal district court.

In an interview February 24, Colangelo told VBM that a closed-door meeting between the selectboard and VTR representatives on February 2 considered the question of the town purchasing the Shelburne property, and that Wulfson's investigation of alternative sites arose from that meeting. In his February 17 letter, Wulfson said his company “has no interest in selling [the Shelburne site] or finding a new site,” but had looked into alternative properties by way of accommodating the town's wishes.

Shelburne, he stated, would have “to shoulder the additional financial burden relocation to South Burlington would create,”including the purchase price, engineering and permitting costs, the cost of demolishing an existing building on the site, closing fees and legal fees that VTR's parent company “might incur in the event there is opposition to our proposed use of the site.” He noted that the parcels are much closer to neighbors – including homes along South Burlington's South Beach Road, and a Holiday Inn – than the Shelburne location.

The selectboard's interest in buying the Shelburne site so as to preclude its development, and the Wulfson letter's concentration on an alternative site – with a whopping bill for Shelburne to pay – suggest that the town and VTR continue to talk past each other.

“I don't hold much hope” for the South Burlington alternative, Wulfson told VBM.

Colangelo declined to evaluate the merits of Wulfson's feeler, and said the selectboard had made no official response to it. He expected that the board would return to the whole issue of the VTR development only after Town Meeting Day, when two new members will be elected to the body. In the meantime, the earth-moving will proceed.

Photo of Shelburne salt shed site by C.B. Hall.