Middlebury spur draws heavy criticism in Salisbury
By KRISTEN McCARTHY
MIDDLEBURY -- Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) officials were greeted with a large amount of criticism and negative feedback at a public meeting last Thursday night, Jan. 20. The meeting in Middlebury was held to present several options for moving freight and to gather opinions from community members regarding a potential rail spur that would link OMYA's Middlebury lime quarry to its Florence processing site.
The Middlebury rail spur has been talked about for several years, ever since OMYA sought an Act 250 permit to increase its truck traffic between the Middlebury quarry and the processing plant in Florence. That permit, which was upheld on appeal, limited truck traffic to far less than OMYA sought, largely due to complaints from Brandon residents and the Conservation Law Foundation.
The Thursday evening meeting was part of an ongoing process to examine all of the alternatives for the OMYA freight traffic. The purpose of a project, according to a statement handed out at the meeting, is to "provide for the safe and efficient transportation of freight to and from Middlebury."
Several options were presented, including rail options, truck-to-rail options, and truck options. Some Salisbury residents at the meeting were vocal in their opposition to some of the options, as several would call for rails to cut through the town, or for additional truck routes to reach rail spurs.
"I am shocked and I guess I'm really angry that the AOT is, at the expense of taxpayers and a huge disruption and inconvenience for affected landowners, involved in an action that would both expand and entrench OMYA's operation in Vermont," said Salisbury resident Brennan Michaels. "OMYA has not been in compliance with Vermont laws. I certainly don't support a state agency assisting, with my tax dollars, a multi-national corporation in its desire to expand its operations, for its own benefit, when that corporation is not held to the same standards are the citizens of this state. It makes me very angry."
One concern of residents is the environmental impact of any new freight moving projects. In some of the scenarios, the spur would travel through properties where the Middlebury Area Land Trust holds easements. This would call for the easements to be lifted.
A particular concern of many Salisbury residents was a route that would call for truck travel past the new elementary school. Residents believed this route would be dangerous for students, especially those who walk to school, and would have a noise impact on learning. In addition, the extra freight travel could cause structural damage to the school.
"There's a tremendous amount of concerns that we have in Salisbury," said resident Barrie Bailey. Some of the concerns listed by Bailey were devalued homes, the impact on farm vehicle travel, and the added dangers for pedestrians, bikers and horseback riders, as well as the affect on agritourism.
Other residents echoed her concerns. Salisbury resident Patti Romp noted that Vermont Bicycle Tours would discontinue routes in Salisbury should these plans follow through.
"In a winnowing out process, here it seems pretty clear from what we've heard so far that nobody is real fond of the Salisbury routes," said Salisbury selectboard Chairman Jack Beasley.
AOT officials said at the conclusion of the meeting that they would take all of the comments into consideration, but would need to consider opinions from all sides of the matter. For example, it was noted that there were no Brandon residents present to voice their concerns over truck travel through the town. Visitors were assured that all sides and all impacts would be considered.
"We will determine if they really will meet the needs we want them to," said AOT project manager Susan Scribner. Scribner continued that over the next couple of months, the department would be narrowing down the list of alternatives to get to the best solution.
There will be a four-week comment period during which time community members can send input through the mail to AOT. The period will close on Feb. 19. Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxed to 802-828-5712. For further information, call Susan Scribner at 802-828-3615