Monday July 8, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Vermont Rail System is waiting on vital information from the village so it can submit to the fire marshal's office an application to build a propane distribution facility on the Vermont side of the railroad tracks.

Brent Brewer, the general manager of the Vermont Rail System and Green Mountain Railroad, told the Rockingham Selectboard at its meeting Tuesday that the rail system needs to know what kind of equipment the local fire departments have and how many full-time and part-time employees they carry before the application can be filed.

Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns previously told the Reformer that Green Mountain Railroad is interested in constructing a propane distribution center and creating a fenced-in area for bulk tank truck access. He told the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees at its meeting on Tuesday, June 11, that GMR plans to set up three 60,000-gallon tanks and a siding, or a short stretch used to store rolling stock, so the trucks will be able to fill up with propane 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said GMR bought property about 1,500 feet from the railroad, in a section formerly known as Steamtown, on June 1.

Brewer said Tuesday there are preliminary plans, but the final plan cannot be unveiled until the fire marshal's office approves it. Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee said the town wants to see the final plan before GMR can expect the town's support.

The Selectboard voted on Tuesday to task Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda with reviewing the options the Rockingham/Bellows Falls municipality has available to ensure safety and with determining to what extent local governments can be involved with cases like these.

Ankuda told the Reformer it all has to do with interstate commerce.

Brewer said on Friday that Stearns and Bellows Falls Fire Chief Bill Weston have already seen the preliminary plans for the facility that would employ eight to 10 people to start with.

Stearns told the Selectboard members he had received a call from someone with the Vermont Rail System on Tuesday. He said he will try to get the information as soon as possible.

However, Stearns also mentioned he learned of a similar situation in which a railroad company took over a property and built a facility before Dead River Company -- the contractor selected to help build the propane distribution facility -- took over its operation and then bought it. The municipal manager said this means Dead River, over time and through exemptions, could take possession of something that completely evaded the regulations of Act 250.

Brewer, who was sitting in the audience, assured Stearns that is not the intent with this project and said there is a facility in Walpole, N.H., that is still owned and operated by a railroad.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.