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New owner of Westboro Rail Yard vows to improve safety, delay offloading propane

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2020 11:38:32 PM
Modified: 10/31/2020 11:38:30 PM

WEST LEBANON — The Canadian company that recently purchased Rymes Propane & Oil won’t offload fuel alongside the train tracks in West Lebanon this winter and has promised to work with city officials to address long-held safety concerns, according to Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos.

Superior Plus, which paid $159 million to acquire Rymes and its 18 retail locations this summer, is assessing the environmental and safety conditions of the Westboro Rail Yard, Christopoulos said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“Their plan right now, at face value, is to take the next year or so to work on bringing the system back to where it should be in terms of safety features, operations features and working actively with the city to ensure that our concerns are heard,” he said.

Rymes has operated an offloading facility at the downtown West Lebanon rail yard for about a decade, to the dismay of city officials who worry the operation is hampering redevelopment in the neighborhood.

For instance, Twin Pines Housing Trust in 2017 was forced to scale down plans for an apartment complex near Main Street after the project failed to obtain grant funding because of the site’s proximity to the Westboro Rail Yard and propane tanks stored there.

That same year, city leaders and Lebanon’s Statehouse delegation undertook a lobbying effort to mitigate the possibility of an explosion from within the rail yard, which Christopoulos told city councilors could prove “potentially fatal” for 492 people living within a 1,560-foot radius.

Those efforts fell flat and calls to mound, or bury above ground, two unused storage tanks that would hold almost 100,000 gallons of propane went largely unheeded.

However, Christopoulos said Tuesday that he’s more optimistic that Rymes’ successor will prove to be a better partner.

He said he spoke with representatives at Superior’s New York offices last week about the site.

“It was a really good conversation, and largely we agreed that prior to them engaging in any operations that they would really sit down with us and kind of hear us out,” Christopoulos said.

Phone messages and emails sent to Superior’s corporate offices asking for comment last week were not returned.

The company is based in Alberta and Ontario, Canada, with extensive operations in the mortheast U.S., including New Hampshire distributors in North Haverhill, Littleton and Dover.

Rymes earned about $20 million in 2019, has about 3 million gallons of storage capacity, a fleet of 350 vehicles and roughly 370 employees, according to a news release announcing its sale. By comparison, Superior earned more than $300 million in 2019.

Rymes did not reapply for a new operating permit after its previous one for the site expired in May, and the property is now mainly used as parking, Christopoulos said.

To reactivate the facility, he said, Superior would have to file a new risk management plan mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011.

The fire chief added that the company’s environmental inspectors toured the site and came to the conclusion that it “needs some work before it should be operated again.”

The company also may have to reach a deal with the New England Central Railroad, which leases the tracks from the state.

While the Executive Council last week approved a three-month lease that allows Superior to continue operating in West Lebanon, state officials say they hope to soon put forward a new 10-year agreement with the railroad, which would then sublease part of the rail yard to the propane company.

However, the seemingly good news about Superior’s intentions for the rail yard was paired this week with continued frustration among those seeking to clean up the property and someday see it turned into a park.

Lebanon continues to await cleanup of several dilapidated buildings in the historic rail yard. Budget constraints pushed back demolition of the bunkhouse, roundhouse, sandhouse and chimney within the state-owned property to a still undetermined date.

City Manager Shaun Mulholland said Tuesday that he last heard about the project in July when state transportation officials sent an email saying “all state general funded construction projects have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.”

“I’ve been in touch with our delegation, asking them to find out what’s going to happen with the appropriation that is there that has been frozen and whether or not the state’s budget is going to close up and we’re going to lose that opportunity for that funding,” he said. “It took quite a bit to get this put in the state’s budget.”

New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan told the Executive Council last month that her department is continuing its environmental review of the site before moving forward with the demolition.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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