Wednesday, July 16, 2003 - 11:44:42 AM EST

Rail plan detour for Olin hailed
Wilmington reloading site's petition derailed
Wilmington reloading site's petition derailed


WILMINGTON The company proposing to build a railroad reloading center at the contaminated Olin Chemical site has withdrawn its petition for a federal exemption to move forward, a step cautiously hailed as a victory for the town and citizens groups.

New Jersey-based New England Transrail LLC filed last month for an exemption with the federal Surface Transportation Board to acquire Olin Chemicals' 51 Eames St. site and use existing rail lines to operate a controversial rail reloading center.

The exemption would allow the company to bypass standard regulations in order to expedite the acquisition. New England Transrail was expected to also file separately to construct and operate a new half-mile line that would be linked to the Boston & Maine line segments.

The company withdrew its notice seeking exemption on July 11.

"This is great news for the town of Wilmington, and it's a major victory for this community," said Selectmen Chairman Michael McCoy.

Wilmington officials and citizens have vehemently opposed the proposed use, arguing it will exacerbate problems in the contaminated area. Materials proposed to be transported by rail to and from the center, and warehoused there, include chemicals as well as contaminated soil and construction and demolition debris.

The town had filed both its own request for a stay on the effective date of the exemption and a report by environmental consultant GeoInsight Inc. supporting a case against the planned use. The Concerned Citizens Network, a grass-roots citizens group, also filed objections and fired off 150 letters against the plan to the federal board. In addition, the town's effort to derail the plan has been supported by Woburn officials and by U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and John Tierney.

Town officials and environmental advocates, often polarized on issues in the past, laud each other for working together to present a united front against New England Transrail.

"It was a community effort. I am overjoyed by the decision," said Kathleen Barry, president of the Concerned Citizens Network.

But the fight is likely ongoing, officials warn, and the withdrawal does not appear to be in response to the community's concerns.

"It's not over yet," said Town Manager Michael Caira.

The Surface Transportation Board had already approved New England Transrail's exemption before to the withdrawal and prior to considering any of the town's filings against the plan, Caira said. Requests for a stay filed by both Wilmington and Woburn were also denied.

In a letter to the federal board, Paul Jacobi, an attorney for New England Transrail, said the company withdrew the petition because the B&M Railroad found an error in the notice of exemption which needs to be corrected. Jacobi indicated that the notice will be refiled when there is "a further agreement" between New England Transrail and B&M railroad.

Jacobi did not return a message from The Sun yesterday.

"Because the petition has been withdrawn, there is no battle immediately looming," said Town Counsel Paul DeRensis. "But I suspect they are out there. We have to stay vigilant."

Olin Chemical has been negotiating to sell its property since 2000. The company is working to remediate chemical contamination left behind by other companies that operated at the site between 1953 and 1980 and by Olin, which used the site between 1980 and 1986. Olin is also conducting ongoing tests to determine whether N-nitrosodimethylamine has migrated from its property. The chemical, a probable human carcinogen, was recently detected in the Maple Meadow Brook aquifer.

Even if the plan resurfaces, the town has sent a strong message, DeRensis said.

"If they are going to go forward again with this, the town is ready, willing and committed to opposing them," he said.