Friday, January 24, 1997

By Bruce Edwards

Herald Staff

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

removed protestors.

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.