Huge Quarry Sign of Resurgent Marble Industry


Middlebury Site Will Eventually

Create a Lake Deeper Than Champlain

By Ed Barna, correspondent

Middlebury - For anyone flying over the west

side of Vermont, one of the most visible landmarks is

a giant rectangular white patch about a mile southeast

of Middlebury: OMYA's main marble ore quarry.

Perhaps better termed a strip mine, the 200-foot

deep open pit excavation daily supplies 85 truck loads

of material for OMYA's grinding and drying plant 25

miles to the south in Pittsford. When the extraction

operation is concluded - a process that could take

anywhere from 50 to 100 years, according to OMYA

geologist, Donald Burns - the result will be one of

the state's deepest lakes.

Now in its first phase of development, the quarry

will be deepened and extended 1,000 foot to the north

in phase two and again in phase 3. Once abandoned, it

will fill up with water, Burns said, something that is

indicated by water levels in nearby wells.

That means that there will be a body of water

3,000 by 800 feet in size and about 500 feet deep,

Burns said. By comparison, Lake Champlain is listed

at just under 400 feet at its deepest.

The Middlebury operation is one of two highly

visible signs that Vermont's marble industry has

survived the long-term decline in the stone's use for

buildings and monuments, and will continue to be a

significant economic presence. The other indication

is the OMYA facilities in the Florence section of

Pittsford, which is actually the old White Pigment

plant plus a newer plant built by Pluess Staufer

Industries, Inc. (Pluess Staufer is the Swiss owner

of OMYA and from 1976 to 1993 was the owner of Vermont

Marble Company.)

In the past decades, OMYA has repeatedly added

buildings to the Florence facility, whose nearly

100-foot drying towers with their steam plumes have

become one of the major landmarks across the valley

for motorists on Route 7. The Town of Pittsford

valued the property and equipment at $71,142,800 this

year, and OMYA accounted for 1,205,8700 in local tax


Burns said the key to the continuing viability of

the Vermont Marble industry is the new grinding

technology that Pluess Staufer bought. The extremely

fine marble dust that the Florence plant generates,

and sends out by rail as either powder or as liquid

slurry, is in effect one of the country's most useful

substances: Calcium carbonate.

Probably everyone in Vermont has at some point

used a product with OMYA calcium carbonate in it,

Burns said. Because it is non toxic, and even of

nutritional value, it appears in food products and

over-the-counter medicines as an "extender" or

"filler," he said - that is, a cheaper material that

can substitute for more expensive ones.

In plastics, it can take the place of some of

resins, Burns said, pointing to the dashboard of his

own pick-up truck as a probably example. In paint, it

can replace some of the costly titantium dioxide

pigment, and in paper, it helps create the whiter,

white of glossy publications, he said.

But meeting the demand for calcium carbonate

requires a steady supply of raw material. Burns said

the rock in the Middlebury Quarry varies in quality,

so off-color or low-grade material is blended with the

best ore to increase the life span of the deposits.

Likewise, up to 20 truck loads per day of ore

from the smaller Smoke Rise Quarry in Brandon gets

fixed in with the Middlebury ore, Burns said. Smoke

Rise is expected to run out of economically mineable

ore by the end of 1995, so the company is now trying

to re-activate four smaller quarries in Florence as

single pit operations, he said.

Marble deposits are common on the west side of

the Green Mountains, which was once the bottom of an

ancient ocean. Over millions of years, the calcium

rich bodies of countless microscopic organisms rained

down on the ocean floor, then in later geological

periods were metamorphosed to marble.

Commercial operations are only practical where

the geological landscape stresses folded the marble

layer over on itself, creating thick deposits, Burns

said. Many of the small, abandoned quarries that dot

the landscape from Middlebury to Dorset represent

failed hopes, the 19th century owners not having

modern core drillings to guide their explorations, he


But for the foreseeable future, there is no

danger of OMYA's supply running low, Burns said. The

so-called Hogback quarries in Florence were chosen

among many possibilities because the site was secluded

and only half a mile from the grinding plant, thus

reducing truck traffic, he said.

Burns said OMYA intends to make the Smoke Rise

Quarry a model for reclamation efforts to allay the

fears of towns faced with a proposal for quarrying.

Topsoil and non-marble-bearing material have been

carefully set aside so the site will soon become farm

fields and campsites for a nearby commercial

campground together with a very deep pond.