Shelburne And Vermont Railway Battle In Court, And Court Of Public Opinion

Mar 8, 2016

The Town of Shelburne and Vermont Railway issued two very different press releases Monday about the same court decision. Both sides claimed victory on what was essentially a non-decision. And in an email to the press, the chairman of the Shelburne Select Board accused Vermont Railway of lying.

At issue is a salt storage and transfer facility that Vermont Railway plans to build in Shelburne to replace its existing facility in Burlington. Road salt brought in by rail would be stored in large salt sheds and distributed throughout northern Vermont by truck. The railroad company is claiming federal preemption, saying it is regulated by federal rules and does not need to abide by state and local building regulations.

Shelburne sued Vermont Railway, saying the railroad company should have to abide by state environmental regulations and the town's permitting process. Monday's hearing addressed a "motion for preliminary injunction" to suspend work on the project until the court rules on the rail company's preemption claim. The court decided more evidence is needed to decide the injunction issue.

Shelburne's press release on Monday's ruling starts, "At today’s Federal Court hearing, the Court held that it was premature for Vermont Railway to assert preemption. The Court further held that even if preemption were applicable that the exceptions to preemption might very well come into play under in this matter."

Meanwhile, Vermont Railway's press release begins, "U.S. District Judge William Sessions rejected the Town of Shelburne’s request for a preliminary injunction on the construction of Vermont Railway’s new Shelburne Transload Facility in federal court today."

Shelburne Select Board Chairman Gary von Stange took issue with the Vermont Railway release, writing in an email to press outlets, "That assertion is not only misleading, it is false. What happened in Court today was that the Court rejected Vermont Railway's attempt to convince the Court to rule on the motion for a preliminary injunction from a legal perspective without the introduction of evidence ... The Court did not rule on the motion for a preliminary injunction. Instead, the Court determined that discovery was necessary, demonstrating that the determination of preemption was fact-based. Accordingly, and as proof that Vermont Railway's Press Release is simply false, the Court will schedule an evidentiary hearing on the motion in approximately sixty days."

The town's press release goes on to state the court is particularly interested in determining if the railway preemption can be extended to the trucking side of the salt transfer operation.

"The Court expressed great interest in the relationship between Vermont Railway and Barrett Trucking," the Shelburne press release states. It goes on to say the court ordered discovery regarding: 

  • whether preemption is applicable
  • if applicable, what exceptions would be relevant
  • if applicable, whether preemption would extend to Barrett Trucking or be limited to Vermont Railway

Discovery by the two sides was ordered be exchanged within 10 days. A hearing for a permanent injunction is expected to be held in May.