Residents of Upton, Mass., want to clarify the legality of a chemical transfer facility, concerned that the facility's owners are not playing by the rules.
The facility in question, the 38-acre EnviroBulk terminal bordering the Grafton & Upton Railroad at 25 Maple Ave., is leased to the railroad by its owner, Upton Development Group, and subleased by the railroad to Dana Transport and Clean Harbors, companies that specialize in bulk chemical handling and transport. At this transloading facility, hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals are pumped from rail cars to truck trailers and may eventually be stored long-term
on the property. The facility is also host to a wood pellet packaging plant that unloads pellets from rail cars, bags them, and stores them in several silos before distribution to customers.
The site's geography makes residents' concerns more clear. Less than a mile from the site are homes, several schools, a senior housing development, and wells that provide most of the town's water supply. Development of the facility, which also borders wetlands and state forest, has led to a noticeable decrease in ecosystem health as indicated by the disappearance of bioindicators. "There used to be deer, fox, rabbits, and birds on the property," writes one resident, "but they cut down every single tree and now there is only dirt and fly ash blowing around ... all is barren and toxic."
Chemicals being handled on the property include nitric acid, a strong corrosive often used with ammonia to produce fertilizers; ethanol, used as a motor fuel additive; methyl cyanide, a solvent used with industrial chemicals; and toluene, which is used as a powerful solvent. All of the above are characterized as volatile and pose a risk to public health in case of accidental release or exposure. One incident at the facility in early April forced the evacuation of a local school.
In addition, Upton's by-laws permit no more than 10,000 gallons of product to be stored in a commercial zone at any time. However, multiple rail cars can often be seen on the Upton property, each capable of holding about 25,000 to 35,000 gallons of material.
Dana Transport has no permit to operate on the property but follows a federal preemption that allows railroads to bypass state and local laws in the name of interstate commerce. This preemption has allowed Clean Harbors and Dana Transport to be exempt from town regulations that would require special permits, an approval of the site plan by the town planning board, and adherence to town regulations concerning storage capacity and management of dust and noise pollution.
A fact-finding committee established by the town of Upton's Board of Selectmen determined that no probable cause exists to refer this debate to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation that has sole responsibility for deciding preemption cases nationally. In response, a group of town residents raised funds and filed a declaratory order with the STB in August to clarify the legality of this facility. A declaratory order differs from a lawsuit; it is a request for a ruling on a specific case.
With more development slated for the site, the ruling of the Surface Transportation Board could be a pivitol point for this small community. Will the town be allowed to enforce zoning laws if it so chooses, or will this site be exempted from local and state regulations? For more information, please visit the Milford Daily News
Photo: Google Maps 2013