Citizens move to block Middlebury RR project until environmental concerns answered

MIDDLEBURY — A lawyer representing Middlebury residents and property owners has raised questions about the environmental impact of a proposed rail replacement and bridge project in downtown Middlebury and seeks to sideline the $40 million project, which has been in the planning stages for more than a decade.
Lawyer Jim Dumont of Bristol yesterday sent an 18-page letter to Vermont Transportation Secretary Chris Cole asking that the state, the town and the Federal Highway Administration not enter into any contracts to move forward on the replacement of the bridges that go above Merchants Row and Main Street until they find environmentally sound alternatives.
He alleges that those alternatives have not been taken.
“I write to ask that you and the Federal Highway Administration update, supplement and correct the record, and reopen or (in some instances, undertake for the first time) the lawfully required National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act review process before any further planning occurs or construction commences,” Dumont wrote.
“An Environmental Impact Statement, findings by the Secretary of Transportation and the Fish & Wildlife Service that no prudent and feasible alternatives exist, and additional consultation under the NHPA are required. Since prudent and feasible alternatives do exist, ultimately, if the lawfully required procedures are followed, we expect that the project will not receive approval for federal funding.”
The letter also alleges that the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AoT) ruled incorrectly on several major issues concerning the project. In one section of the letter, Dumont wrote, the AoT reported that the project would require or involve:
•  “No substantial planning, resources or expenditures.”
•  No significant alterations in land use.
•  No state rivers or stream permits.
•  No 401 Water Quality Certification or Army Corps of Engineers permit.
•  No stormwater discharge permit.
•  No flood plain encroachment.
•  No impacts on groundwater or surface water.
•  No hazardous, residual or petroleum-related waste in the project area.
•  No adverse impact on historic resources.
•  No “Neighborhood and Community Concerns.”
•  No effect on local business except “temporary construction delays.”
Dumont also alleges that the AoT said there were “No concerns” about endangered species.
“Each one of these assertions is incorrect, as discussed below,” Dumont wrote. “Each one of these impacts would be completely avoided or readily addressed by bridge reconstruction, which would require no Environmental Assessment.”
Cole has not yet responded to the letter. 
The Addison Independent will provide more complete follow-ups in the coming days. For now, see complete letter attached.

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