Thursday, May 27, 1999


The state Environmental Board's refusal to allow

the OMYA marble company to double its truck traffic

between Middlebury and Florence ought to serve as a

warning to state policy makers that the state's

transportation infrastructure is at the breaking


The key finding of the Environmental Board was

that the addition of 170 truck trips through Brandon

village would "tip the balance" toward the degradation

of the village.

In reaching that conclusion the board weighed

competing values: the aesthetic and historic value of

a beautiful Vermont village versus the demands of

commerce. The board considered the fact that traffic

in Brandon is already heavy but concluded that beyond

a certain point traffic would become too heavy.

This decision was made easier for the board

because of two factors. OMYA had said that, contrary

to previous statements, it might not need all 170

trips it had requested and denial of the expansion

would not jeopardize its existing operations. In

addition, the board found that OMYA had not fully

explored alternative routes for shipping marble.

In reaching its decision the board went further

than the District 9 Environmental Commission. The

district commission did not find that the increased

truck traffic would damage the aesthetics of Brandon

village. The commission ruled only that OMYA had not

done enough to explore alternatives.

The Environmental Board, on the other hand, found

that the aesthetic harm would be significant, as would

harm to the historic value of the village. The board

went into much detail about what it called "annoyance

factors" - the noise, fumes and exhaust that make life

difficult in downtown Brandon. The Brandon Inn, for

example, has had to curtail outdoor dining because of

the traffic on Route 7.

The board's ruling was gratifying in some

respects and troubling in others. It was gratifying

that the board was willing to stand up in defense of

the values associated with the traditional Vermont

village. Making Vermont's villages uninhabitable

corridors for the continuous rumbling of truck traffic

is not acceptable.

The Dean administration has not yet been willing

to grapple with the harm to our villages caused by

traffic. On the one hand, Governor Howard Dean

supported OMYA's application and generally supports

expanded business. On the other hand, the policy of

the Agency of Transportation under his administration

is to avoid building new highways. The result has

been that expanded businesses are forced to confront

an inadequate highway system. The victim has been the

Vermont village, not only in Brandon, but in Woodstock

and elsewhere.

Much emphasis has been placed on the need to keep

Vermont's electronic infrastructure up to date so that

the state can reap the benefit of new high-tech jobs.

But Vermont remains a rural state, and part of our

economy depends on agriculture and on the use of our

natural resources, including marble. For that reason

the physical infrastructure of the state must also be


The Environmental Board's ruling was troubling in

one respect. It is hard to see how its estimation of

"annoyance factors" was other than arbitrary. There

was a great deal of evidence concerning decibel levels

and other annoyances, but the board somehow found that

present annoyance factors were acceptable while

proposed annoyance factors were not.

Ultimately, the board's ruling was based on the

premise that it is possible to overwhelm our villages

with excessive traffic and that Act 250 can be used to

prevent that from happening. It may be that the line

determining what is excessive will always seem

arbitrary. The fact that the line has been drawn in

Brandon ought to wake up the Dean administration to

the fact that much work remains figuring out how to

facilitate commerce without destroying our towns.