WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 1999
In spite of the barbs
No one enjoys dancing with a porcupine - but that is what Gov. Howard Dean must do, as he tries to resolve the con-flict between town centers and the heavy trucks of OMYA.
That company has not been shy with its barbs, especially now that it has sued the state for daring to have environmental laws. OMYA officials might consider how prickly they want to be, if they sincerely want Vermont's help.
OMYA, a Swiss company with a marble quarry in Middlebury and a stone crushing facility in Florence, is good employer that plans to grow. That argues for respectful treatment.
But these plans conflict with other legitimate interests. OMYA wants to increase its truck trips to one every 2.5 min-utes, when the traffic level is damaging historic town centers and hurting existing businesses.
Last month the Environ-mental Board granted much of that increase. OMYA's re-sponse, a suit, continued an un-savory pattern:
OMYA's top executive in Vermont wrote Gov. Howard Dean an uncivil letter last year, saying, "We have paid lawyers, consultants and analysts till hell wont have it." The same execu-tive gave a speech in which he
said of the state Supreme Court, "They are dumb or they are liars."
OMYA's new suit says its constitutional rights have been vio-lated and challenges the state's authority to regulate traffic on a federal road.
Here's another point of view: All those consultants have not proven OMYA needs so many truck trips, nor have they suffi-ciently explored alternative routes. Calling judges names is not exactly endearing citizenship. And the suit is absurd, because the state has authority to protect the welfare of its residents. Other-wise every speed limit on U.S.7 would be unconstitutional.
Just because OMYA executives indulge in inflammatory rheto-ric and conduct, however, does not absolve the state from addres-sing the company's concerns. Vermont is struggling to find a bal-ance between moving goods and protecting downtowns, between supporting truck commerce and supporting village commerce.
Dean has not helped matters. He whacked the Environmental Board, though actually it was too generous to OMYA. He has not provided leadership to resolving truck conflicts in towns across
l.awsuit aside, OMYAs present permit is enough for the short term. Long-term, all interests would best be served by moving the heavy freight onto rails - a complex task the Dean administration is working on.
Other solutions range from improving enforcement of truck safety regulations (which might deter trucks' passing through) to building bypasses (which have environmental and economic nega-tives of their own) to many steps in between.
Regardless, a lawsuit is a porcupine's tactic: more confronta-tional that constructive, more deterrent than winsome. OMYA might want to consider restraining its barbs, before it drives its dancing partner away.