GRAFTON, Mass. — A crowd of about 140 residents filled the high school auditorium Thursday night to get updated on the legal fight between the town and the Grafton & Upton Railroad regarding a propane transfer station being built next to a neighborhood.
During the two-hour meeting, there were many questions but few complete answers on an issue that will be decided after a federal judge hears the case Jan. 14.
In the meantime, concerned neighbors expressed their fears at the meeting.
Jacqueline Brosnihan, 80 N. Main St., was worried about a tank explosion in the neighborhood. "Do you all have a plan to protect the residents?" she asked.
Michael Everett, of North Grafton, expressed a similar fear if the town is overwhelmed by a propane fire. "Does the Grafton Fire Department have adequate resources if a fire occurs in this facility?" he asked.
Matt Flynn had questions about how a nearby water source will be protected from the construction and potential contamination.
The issue is whether Jon Delli Priscolli, the owner of the Grafton & Upton Railroad, is exempt from state and town laws as he builds a propane transfer terminal a short distance from homes and an elementary school. The town said the station is not exempt while Priscolli said it is since it is part of his railroad business.
Priscolli wants to build the propane station to sell to wholesale distributors, who will bring their trucks into the yard.
Before the session began, David Ross, chairman of the Grafton Board of Selectmen, said because the town is in litigation with the railroad, some answers might not be complete.
“There are certain things this board cannot comment on,” he said. “We’re more than willing to listen to your concerns, we will take notes on them, but there may be some things where we need to plead the fifth.”
He opened the meeting by saying: “In order to preserve the water supply and zoning, we are taking every action to prevent the tanks from coming into town. However, pre-emption is determined by a federal court and if the facility is allowed to be constructed, the town will work to make this the safest possible facility.”
The germane issue to the town’s case is whether the proposed Westborough Road railroad propane transfer station being planned by Grafton & Upton Railroad is entitled to pre-emption status, which would make unnecessary the traditional local and state permit and zoning processes.
The town, which received a cease and desist order in December to temporarily halt the delivery of four, 120-foot tanks in the residential zoned area, said the railroad has not provided enough evidence that it is not subject to local jurisdiction.
Priscolli has argued the railroad is subject to federal oversight but not state and local laws.
Tim McInerney, the town administrator, said the town and its attorney are putting their case together with a broad-based approach.
“We have notified everyone we possibly could from the DEP, fire marshal's office, homeland security, everyone you could imagine,” he said.
He said the town has asked for additional documents from the opposing counsel which, in a preliminary injunction hearing, Judge Timothy Hillman ordered the railroad to share. McInerney said the process to get what they need has been slow.
“We recently asked for full documentation from the Grafton & Upton Railroad regarding plans and drawings, which we have not received to date,” he said.
The trial is set for Jan. 14 and is scheduled to last four to six days, McInerney said.