Roughly 100 protestors banged pots and pans and formed a procession in the rain Sunday at a “Reckless Rail Rally” in Shelburne.
They called on state officials to challenge the federal preemption that has allowed Vermont Rail System to clear-cut trees and start construction on a rail yard and salt sheds in Shelburne without local or state environmental permits. Speakers made the case that it’s more than a one-town issue and said that Vermont needs to wake up to the danger of “freight hazmat.”
The days when there was something romantic about trains are over, Lydia Clemmons of Charlotte told the crowd. “We’re in a new era, an ugly era, the era of big rail.”
A member of the group Citizens for Responsible Railroads, Clemmons said Vermont needs to address the threat of rail accidents and toxic material spills that have occurred in other states and in Canada. In 2013, a runaway train carrying petroleum crude oil exploded and killed 47 people in Québec. Clemmons said that if there is an accident in Vermont, it won’t just be a tragedy, it will be an outrage.
“We cannot as a state pretend we didn’t know this was coming,” said Clemmons, who got involved in the issue after Vermont Rail System stockpiled freight cars on tracks near her home in Charlotte.
The Shelburne project will include a rail spur, two large salt sheds and parking for a fleet of trucks. It will replace a similar facility in Burlington’s South End, where City Market/Onion River Co-op plans to build a second store.
The project should go through the same review as any other development, said Mike Schramm of Shelburne, who marched in the rally with his wife, Erika Schramm and their two young sons. If it meets the hurdles and wins a permit, “Then so be it,” he said.
Shelburne resident Lisa Espenshade also questioned the preemption and said it was “deeply depressing” that the salt shed project could proceed with no Act 250 review.
The crowd marched from Shelburne Community School to the Shelburne Town Hall, chanting “What do you do when your town’s under attack? Fight back.” At the town hall, the clanging of pots and pans in their “casserole” demonstration was so loud that police asked them not to bring the cacophony out into the hall — the 911 dispatchers were having trouble hearing. The rally was organized by a Shelburne grassroots organization, Vermont United; Citizens for Responsible Railroads and Toxics Action Center.
Gary von Stange, chairman of the Shelburne selectboard, vowed to keep on battling the rail facility. “We not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight for our children and our children’s children. There is no compromising when it comes to safety.”
He added: “This project has not divided our town, it has united us,” he said.