FRENCH VILLAGERS BLOCK ROAD IN EFFORT TO STOP OMYA QUARRY
Friday, January 24, 1997
By Bruce Edwards
Opponents of a massive new OMYA marble quarry in
the south of France have stepped up their protest,
blocking access to the road that leads to the quarry
site in the village of Vingrau.
Opponents are in the 11th week of an
around-the-clock blockade of the road that leads to
OMYA's property, according to Geoffrey Chapman, a
village resident and a member of the Committee for the
Defense of Vingrau.
Chapman said the blockade was trigger by a court
ruling in November that affirmed OMYA's right to build
the quarry. The ruling by the Conseil d'Etat,
France's highest court, reversed a lower court ruling
that canceled a 1991 permit for the project.
It is one of the several legal battles being
fought over permits for the quarry that the company
first proposed in 1989. OMYA, a division of
Pluess-Staufer AG of Switzerland, is the world's
largest producer of ground calcium carbonate. Its
U.S. headquarters are located in Proctor.
Located near the Spanish border in the
Pyrenees-Orientales region, Vingrau has waged a battle
for several years to stop construction of the
mile-long and 1,000-foot-wide quarry.
Opponents claim that the project, which would be
built on a bluff over looking the village, would
destroy the vineyards, damage tourism and threaten an
endangered species of plant and the rare Bonelli's
Company officials have maintained that the quarry
will not damage the environment.
They also argue that at stake are 200 jobs that
would be lost unless the new quarry can be built. The
Vingrau quarry would replace an older nearby marble
quarry that is at the end of its life cycle.
Opponents won what they thought was a major
victory in July when a court in Bordeaux denied a
construction permit for a rock-crushing plant at the
site of the proposed quarry.
However, Chapman said, opponents fear the most
recent ruling by the high court in Paris may make the
lower court ruling moot.
Still, he said, opponents have not given up on
their efforts to stop the project.
He said during the day a half-dozen or more
protesters stand vigil on the road to prevent OMYA
from moving construction equipment to the quarry site.
At night there are two or three people who stand
guard, he said.
A blockade in October 1995 ended in a violent
confrontation between demonstrators and police.
Several people were injured when police forcibly
Chapman said he believes the local authorities
and OMYA want to avoid a similar incident that
resulted in negative publicity.
"The Prefect - he wants to avoid bringing in the
police," he said. "He wants to avoid the bad
publicity so he's trying to wear people down."
Company officials in France and Switzerland did
not return several phone calls seeking comment.