FRIDAY, MAY 28,1999

The right balance

If one conflict has defined Vermont's recent past, it is how the state should grow. The question's latest manifestation involves trucks driving through historic town centers.

The Environmental Board's decision this week on the traffic from the OMYA quarry in Middlebury is an excellent interpretation of the laws on this issue. Unfortunately, however, it does not bring Vermont any closer to resolving the conflict.
That will not be accomplished by criticizing the decision, nor the permit process, nor the small businesses suffering from OMYA's trucks. The answer must come in increased initiative by the Dean ad-ministration.

Communities from Bennington to Woodstock are struggling with the traffic that typically accompanies manufacturing growth. With Vermont's limited interstate system, these trucks often drive through town centers - eroding quality of life and interfering with local commerce and tourism.

The OMYA case exemplifies this collision of competing legitimate interests. The company is a good employer; its truckers have an outstanding safety record; and Vermont needs to encourage businesses that add value to local raw materials.

Yet OMYA seeks to run 18-wheelers through Brandon every 2 minutes - though existing traffic is hurting businesses, though today's truck volumes are eroding the quality of life in a downtown that is almost entirely a historic district, though truck noise makes streetside conversa-tion nearly impossible, and though buildings in Brandon must be washed every two weeks due to truck dust and exhaust.

The Environmental Board took OMYA's side, increasing its traffic to 230 truck trips a day, six days a week. The company sought 340 trips, but if the board had adhered strictly to the law, it could justifiably have awarded no increase at all. Act 250 is designed to prevent undue damage to historic assets and the environment, and that's hap-pening in Brandon.

Gov. Howard Dean said he was "very, very disappointed" with the decision, and no wonder. It means the Environmental Board is not going to bail him out. His administration remains responsible for re-solving this problem, in Brandon and across the state.

In OMYA's case, the board offered suggestions: The company has not proven it needs all those trips immediately, nor has OMYA ex-hausted alternatives to using U.S.7. To his credit, Dean's Transporta-tion Agency is working to bring a rail spur to OMYA's quarry.

It's time to work harder. Meanwhile, alternative routes for OMYA trucks are worth considering; at some times of day, the company ac-counts for 46 percent of Brandon's truck tract.

Even if OMYA's problem is solved, the larger quandary will remain:
How can Vermont find the right balance between moving goods and preserving towns' integrity?

This state must not be forced to choose between manufacturing and tourism, between roads and a decent quality of life. It must have all of them.