UPTON, Mass.—The Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency, will hear arguments from the Grafton & Upton Railroad and seven Upton residents before deciding if a wood pellet facility on its property is exempt from state and town laws.
On Jan. 23, the board issued a “declaratory order” to hear the case brought by the residents who claimed on Aug. 1, when they filed the petition, that the bagging, storing, and transloading being conducted by the railroad on their 25 Maple Avenue location is not transportation by a rail carrier as defined by the Interstate Commerce Act. If they succeed, Upton can regulate the operation under their zoning bylaws.
The railroad, owned by Jon Delli Priscoli, in a reply filed on Aug. 21 said there is no controversy or dispute to be resolved because preemption applies in these circumstances, meaning their business is regulated by the federal government.
"This is nothing unexpected,” Delli Priscoli said in response to last week’s ruling. He also said it is procedural for the STB to take this step. In a prior interview with The Daily Voice, he said is confident he will win the decision and is operating within the scope of federal law.
"Myself and my neighbors are happy the STB have agreed to hear our case," said Joseph Hatch, one of the seven who filed the petition with the agency. He could not elaborate because the case is under review.
The railroad's operations are also facing opposition from Grafton town officials, who have asked a U.S. Federal Court judge to determine whether Delli Priscoli's plans to construct a propane transfer terminal fall under federal pre-emption rights. Final arguments in that case are scheduled for Feb. 11.
The STB said in the order they have discretionary authority over the matter and that “questions of preemption are often fact specific determinations, particularly when addressing whether land use restrictions interfere with railroad operations.”
The Grafton & Upton Railroad has until Feb. 25 to reply and comment on the order. The petitioners’ then have until March 11 to respond. The STB did not reveal in the declaratory order when they will make a decision.