Letter to the editor: Rail bridges project continues to raise questions

I am writing in response to some articles written in recent weeks with regards to the Middlebury Railroad project. First I read in another Letter to the Editor that part of the project plan is to take excavated contaminated soil and pile it at another location near Wright Park before it ultimately gets taken to the site for managing such soil. If this is in fact part of the plan, I am completely repulsed by it.
I used to live not far from there, in the Woodbridge Condos. Also in that area are the Pine Meadows apartments and the Otter Creek. Unless there is a surefire way (which I don’t think is likely) to keep the contaminants in that soil from contaminating more soil and water, this is an insane idea. That soil should be transported directly from the site of removal to the location for treating or storing.
I work for the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. As part of our recent expansion project we had to deal with contaminated soil from the old garage we demolished and old gas tanks left over from when there was a gas station at the corner of Washington Street and Route 7. We had to remove a very large amount of contaminated soil and had it transported directly to a treatment facility.
Now for the article in the January 11th Independent: If I remember correctly, the town of Middlebury put the choice of replacing the old bridges with new ones or a tunnel was to a vote by the town’s residents. I cannot recall if I was a resident at the time, but I would have gone for the tunnel, as the majority of participating voters did. Therefore, it only makes sense that the tunnel option has been pursued so vigorously. Of course none of us knew the cost of the project was going to reach its current level.
Like a number of other people, I have had my concerns about the project as it has developed. My primary concern until this past summer has been the safety of everyone utilizing the old rail bridges. That concern has since been appeased.
My next concern has been for the safety of the surrounding environment and historic buildings. While steps have been taken to improve upon these issues, I continue to have concerns. In particular, I continue to have reservations about draining water from the rail bed (which will continue to be contaminated) into the Otter Creek. Will we ever learn to stop poisoning the natural environment around us?
Then there is the compensation issue. It’s understandable that the Rail Company that uses our line will need compensation for their inconveniences in 2020. However, I feel it is just as understandable for the downtown businesses that will be most directly impacted by that summer’s construction to receive some sort of support as well. I find the fact that this responsibility is resting on the town of Middlebury and surrounding entities is particularly loathsome.
We did not ask for the size rail project that is currently being thrust upon us. So why should it only be our community trying to save our downtown businesses?
All this being said, I would not recommend scrapping the current plan in hopes for a better deal later. I don’t think the current situation in Washington D.C. would provide for this if we started over. It would likely be better for those Middlebury representatives most involved in the rail project to continue advocating for the best outcome Middlebury can get. This also means not letting the bigger dogs run amok over Middlebury’s interests.
I do wonder if the hardship of 2020 construction would be eased a bit if the tunnel idea were dropped in favor of two new bridges. As nice as it would be to have more usable green space in town, the alternative might be more feasible at this time.
Ian Ross

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