Update: Grafton & Upton Railroad Says Town Started 'A Nuclear War'

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The Grafton & Upton Railroad continues construction at 42 Westborough Road despite a halt of the tank delivery by a U.S. District Judge.
The Grafton & Upton Railroad continues construction at 42 Westborough Road despite a halt of the tank delivery by a U.S. District Judge. Photo Credit: Richard Price

GRAFTON, Mass.— The delivery of four 120 foot propane tanks into Grafton has been delayed by order of the U.S. District Court, with a hearing scheduled for Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m..

Worcester Superior Court had granted a temporary restraining order, then handed the case to the federal courts per the request of John A. Mauricos, attorney for the railroad. A federal judge will decide the fate of the giant tanks.

This development came Thursday afternoon in a federal courthouse when the Town of Grafton issued a cease and desist order to the Grafton & Upton Railroad to halt the construction of a propane storage facility at the North Grafton depot, an order which was ignored, the town said.

The mammoth tanks were scheduled to be delivered this week and next.

"We are in litigation with the town and have no further comment," Jon Delli Priscoli, the owner of the Grafton & Upton Railroad said Thursday morning.

The town was caught by surprise during Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting when Delli Priscoli announced the first of four propane tanks, currently sitting in Fall River, would be delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

At 11:33 a.m. Wednesday, the town issued a cease-and-desist order of final delivery of the tank to the Westborough Road site, saying that federal preemption of railroad business has not been proven.

Delli Priscoli claimed enough documentation and meetings have been held to determine the preemption status.  “We are comfortable with our position and are proceeding as planned,” he said.

According to court documents, Assistant Town Administrator Kevin Mizikar said that Delli Priscoli went to the the Municipal Center after being served, walked into his office and said the town “started a nuclear war, that he intends to win, that all bets were off, and that he intends on burying towns that were not working with him.”

The suit filed in court by the town said that the Grafton & Upton Railroad did not file any construction permits with any departments at the Municipal Center, that the lots where Delli Priscoli is building are zoned by the town as residential, and that the property is located in the water supply protection overlay district and  is in a residentially zoned area with an elementary school,homes, and parks.

In a press release on Friday morning, the town said they have asked the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that oversees regulatory issues with railroads, to address whether the Grafton & Upton Railroad project is preempted from local and state laws.

Delli Priscoli appears unfazed by the recent development.  On Friday morning, a reporter for the Grafton Daily Voice witnessed construction continuing at the Westborough Road site where the tanks are intended to rest.

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Comments (34)

Which US District Court? Worcester, Boston, or Springfield?

grommit--The reports I have seen have indicated Worcester US District, which would seem to make sense. If you're planning to attend, it would probably be wise to call the Court to check the schedule. These things often tend to get moved around (sometimes at the last minute) to accomodate schedule conflicts from the parties, their attorneys and, most importantly, the judge.

Is the Federal Dept. of Homeland Security talking to this guy? It seems to me, based on reports, that he has made some very threatening comments to our town. If similar comments ("nuclear war", "bury the town") were made, even in jest, by an airline passenger, that person would be immediately detained for further evaluation. I'm not sure that this guy should be running a federally licensed railroad, let alone an enormous propane facility in the middle of a residential area.

I have only two words for Mr Priscoli........... F--- OFF!

Folks, I work for the company that owns Gulf Oil & of course we consistently monitor our own tank-age. I've been reading " 50-year old & used " tanks in this thread. Disturbing if it can be shown to be true. Can anyone point me to a web-thread that shows this? Thanks...

Various articles in Herald News, but here's one:

"They had been stored at the site for half a century, used to supply backup heating to customers. But during the past six or so years, New England Gas Co. had no use for the supplies as natural gas became more plentiful and New England winters less harsh."

Read more: http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x1922375461/Huge-New-England-Gas-Co-propane-tanks-to-hit-the-road-Tuesday#ixzz2FE9lxnu6

There's something missing in all these articles. It's obvious that the G&U was working with the town and the State's fire marshal's office, so this could not have been a surprise to the town. In fact, I heard about this propane transfer station from the town administrator in Upton a long time ago. I know this is not a surprise for our town government.
Anyways, there is a part to this story that is missing. And that part is why did the town not address this issue in a more meaningful way, earlier on, before this businessman invested so much into this project?
Something is not adding up here, except for the concern over public safety and the age (50 years) of the propane tanks or something else in law, that has not yet been revealed.

Let's recap... A man with no respect or consideration for the town of Grafton is bringing in 50 year old rusty propane tanks that a city has been unable to get rid of for decades. He is building a propane business under the disguise of a railroad company in order to avoid all safety regulations and has now threatened town administration or anyone who gets in his way.

Mr. Delli Priscoli, GO AWAY. You are not wanted here and we don't care about your business, just like you don't care about the safety of our town! Who would set up a dangerously explosive gas transfer station within hundreds of yards of an elementary school? Mr. Delli Priscoli will.

Do you have any respect for human life? How can you knowingly put children and residents in harms way? Your actions are despicable and you should be run right out of our town and others.

Looking at all the facts presented, the following issues show up:

The project was kept in secrecy until the last minute, according to the media.

The comments "going nuclear and burying towns" shows a lack of professional communication. Maybe the G&U needs to hire a public relations person instead of forging ahead with the "Damn you all" attitude.

When CSX expanded the Westboro yard, and also expanded the yard in Worcester, they cooperated 100% with the locals, including the fire department and other groups. And the State was involved. None of the "we are a railroad, your rules don't apply, tough!" attitude seen with the CSX work.

I get the impression the G&U has kept the Town of Grafton out of the loop, either on purpose or by mistake.

Considering the same issues and infighting were, and are still being seen with the Town of Upton, one has to assume that when the line is opened (?) to Hopedale and Milford, more infighting and legal wranging will occur.

As the saying goes, there are 2 sides to every story....

Worcester, MA

Hey Luther do you forget the fact the CSX was thinking of Eminent Domain for a few of the proprties with their expansion?

I know that all acquisitions were made with out using Eminent Domain. But CSX to had the thought of doing it which shows they did have the we are a railroad attitude.

I think this is going to cost the town a lot of money, of witch the town lawyer will collect a bundle. I certainly hope the town got more than one legal opinion. This is big business not town politics. Who is going to pay for the upcoming litigation? What is the possible benefit to town? and What is the possible penalty? Can the town be held liable for any legal errors?

This is federally regulated and I do think the town has bitten off more than it can chew.

Good for the Town in it's attempt to make sure that what is being done there is being done within the rights of the railroad. This guy does not care one bit about the town or the neighbors only lining his pockets. This is not an issue of being business friendly it's about public safety and making sure what he is doing is within his rights. Propane today what's next, hazardous materials?? This guy has a history in town of saying one thing and then doing another, ie Hassanamesit Subdivision. I would not trust this guy as far as I could throw him, which isn't far! He's a bully and likes bullying people/towns around!

How do four 125 foot tanks that hold 320,000 gallons of LPG qualify as railroad operations? Or even as a temporary transfer station? It is a bulk storage facility - plain and simple. For crying out loud, they look like 4 solid rocket boosters.

Good blast the town...I don't blame this guy one bit, furthermore once he is done winning this case...I will guarranty he will recoop every last cent from the town for delays etc... also good for him also but bad for most of us cuz there go the taxes again. The Officials (not including the Police and Fire) have a habit of pushing people around under the guise of the public's best interest. Many of these people still suffering the effects of a rough time in high school, grade school, etc... pushed around and not voted a superlative.
The only issue I am concerned about is the age of the tanks, I would bet the guy had them inspected.
Gonna go to my fallout shelter for a bit....hahaha

Jo Jo,
You have no idea how correct you are about the bullies! Time for a changing of the guard.

quite honestly....i think Jo Jo the Clown has a nice ring to it!!!

Doesn't Mater... go back to sleep

Seriously? Alright guys lets not worry about anything! Jojojohnson says everything's fine! Who cares about zoning laws, permits, or protocol. Lol.

The presumed fact that this amount of toxic and explosive material can be stored in plain sight and within immediate proximity to homes, a school, a high-risk bio lab, parks and a library without explicit town approval is disgusting. If the tanks are cleared, why can't they be put underground to assuage safety concerns? A commenter noted that gas is transported to gas stations regularly, but storage for a station is underground and far less than the bulk facility contemplated here. I for one would propose and support whatever the town can and will do to prevent this from happening. If it does, then there should be: (i) immediate licensing fees enacted by the town for storage and transportation of hazardous materials, (ii) a separate tax rate for hazardous-zoned locations ($100 per $1000 of valuation), and a full safety and evacuation plan funded by the owner and updated at least annually or any time there are changes to the facility. In short, the Town has within its power to make this venture financially untenable even if it is approved to move forward. Act on it!

I would like to see the Feds who control every aspect of this project to present in a town meeting forum that all the necessary inspections and permits have or will be completed. I would like the person in charge of the inspection of these 50 plus year old tanks to get up and tell the people of Grafton that they are safe and how much longer can they last.

I'm with you, Harpoon. At the town meeting presentation a couple of weeks ago, the only Federal representative present was the guy from the Surface Transportation Board (STB), although other Feds had promised to attend. On someone's earlier post it was suggested that the EPA was there. I think they confused the reps from Mass DEP as being EPA people. The Mass DEP spokesperson, while expressing concern about the project, indicated that the state agency may have no authority over the project due to the presumed claim of pre-emption. The only indication of any form of Federal oversight of this project was the acknowledgement that the STB had issued a license to G&U RR to operate a railroad. I did not get any sense that the propane transfer facility had any Federal licensing or approval requirements, other than the fact that a local or state attempt to regulate the facility COULD bring a claim of pre-emption that COULD or COULD-NOT be upheld by the STB or by a Federal Court.

So I believe there has been a complete lack of governmental oversight of this proposed project. If the STB or Federal Court upholds Priscolli's presumption that the Feds have ultimate authority, then the appropriate Federal Agencies should be engaged to ensure that the public safety and other concerns have been appropriately addressed. All of my nearby neighbors who are potentially impacted by this project, as well as other concerned Grafton citizens should please contact (right now) their Federal legislative representatives--Rep. Jim McGovern, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Scott Brown and Sen-Elect Elizabeth Warren, to make them aware of the threats to our safety, damage to our property values and damage to the Grafton Community that will result if the Federal agencies charged with evaluating such projects do not promptly engage to stop this "runaway train". And we pray that they may also propose, support and pass legislation that clarifies the extent to which state and local laws and regulations may be ignored by a licensed railroad under the pre-emption concept, so that we and other communities don't have to fight this fight over and over again.

Re: Construction at the site
Again, was the building inspector notified of this work, even as a courtesy ?

He may have been too busy chasing illegal back yard chickens

I attended a meeting with town staff, including the building inspector, on November 8th - the first half hour was spent discussing the railroad's draft report to the state fire marshall.

Based on your comments you appear to support the Railroad's plans... but do you care at all about public safety? Answer this, has the State Fire Marshall approved the Railroad's safety plan. If not, the RR should cease any construction.

Also please knock off the remarks about any resident or official who is questioning the RR's rights to put an extremely dangerous facility in close proximity to houses, schools or water supplies is anti-business. We all support many things such as our family, our friends, our sports teams... but we can criticize and yes, stop them from doing something... but still support them. Many people here have been very forthright stating they are big supporters of the railroad industry but think this was a wrong move.

Give people a little more credit.

This is the same person who purchased the former Edaville Railroad down in Carver, MA, and proceeded to sell off most of the property for a real estate development, and also 'pillaged and burned' most of what was left of the former tourist attraction, from what I've read in the media.

He took over the Cape Cod Central RR a while ago, forcing out the former manager, and was forced out again due to "issues".

Is the wood pellet operation in Upton owned by the Railroad also? I recall a number of articles regarding that operation, mostly negative.


At this point I think it's question of public safety, not of pro or anti-business interests. 380,000 gallons of propane would make a big bang if even part of it got loose...and in these post 9/11 days that's a legitimate concern. The facility may be designed with multiple layers of protection, but it sounds as if the Fire Marshall has yet to throughly review the documentation. And the fact that the owner continues construction in spite of an order to stop and has allegedly threatened the town with "nuclear war" isn't helping his own cause.

BTW, the owner briefly had an interest in the Cape Cod Central in Hyannis, but they parted company after what was described as a bitter falling-out.

He claims to want to be a good neighbor, yet reacts vindictively when questioned or opposed. It was stated that he said he will "bury" towns that don't cooperate. A good neighbor? Perhaps not.

For the record, I'm not anti-business, I love railroads and think there should be more subsidies and incentives for them to grow. But not at the expense of local neighborhoods, especially when the "growth" is done under the alleged cover of federal regulations and with the refusal to listen to local concerns.


I consider myself to be a bit of a railfan as well, and when I moved to town, I thought it was great that the G&U is still in operation and reinventing itself rather than having slipped into total abandonment or "rail-banked" status like so many others.

I also want to see railroads grow and do well, and I want to see the G&U grow and strengthen Grafton's economy. Not at the expense of our safety, though. Also, I don't know what kind of damage and impact would be caused just by transporting those tanks around the local roads.

I think all of this could have been avoided if Deli Priscolli had simply hired a Public Relations specialist to build confidence and comfort in the project over the past few months.

Perhaps he felt that he had no chance of getting anything through if he engaged the town early on with the propane tanks? I don't know...

I am so glad that our Town is doing its due diligence with regard to this potentially dangerous issue. Mr. Priscoli has no respect for the Town of Grafton's valid concerns and obviously no respect for authority. The arrogance exhibited by Priscoli in telling the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night that a tank of that size was being delivered the next day is mind-numbing. Thanks to all those involved in putting our citizens' safety first.

And I quote: "The Grafton & Upton Railroad continues construction at 42 Westborough Road despite a halt of the tank delivery by a U.S. District Judge. Photo Credit: Richard Price." This guy's commercial land development ethics are nill - he appears to not respect authority, and thinks he can do whatever he wants.....Nice neighbor!

Fact is, the construction of footings and / or trenching work does require a permit, according to MA Building Code. Yet, the work continues ?

The restraining order was only for the delivery of the tanks. It did not pertain to construction.

With the expected & obvious flurry of various media on this issue, I haven't yet had time to digest the full read of the restraining order. But I DO believe that you are correct. Good point...

These are 50 year old used propane tanks. That has me very concerned, because my 20 lb propane tank is only certified by our government for safety for 10 years. 50 years is too big of a leap of law for me to be comfortable with the safety margin. With all the expansion and contraction on the welded joints from the filling and release of pressurized propane gas, at some point these tanks can fatigue.
I'm not opposed to the R.R. plans. That we can't stop. But I am concerned for public safety because of the age of the tanks to be used, and the town does have jurisdiction over public safety.