Burlington Free Press
Editorial Page Editor:
July 14, 1998
Good news, bad news
The wise defendant does not insult the jury before delibera-tions begin. Yet OMYA executive John Mitchell did not re-strain himself in a recent letter to the governor, made public,
which heaped scorn on Vermont's permit process. The letter's tone is troubling, hardly reflecting the partnership businesses ought to enjoy with the state. But Gov. Howard Dean is right to disregard Mitchell's divisive stance and focus instead on OMYA's real needs. There are jobs at stake.
In general, OMYA is a good corporate citizen in Vermont. With a quarry in Middlebiury and a presence in other towns, its principle operation is a grinding plant in florence. Total employment exceeds 200, property taxes statewide are $2.5 million, and
every year OMYA buys $36 million from other Vermont firms.
In sum OMYA takes Ver-mont's raw material, adds value and sells it to the world. This is the kind of employer the state should encourage.
Yet Mitchells letter to Dean describes the opposite: "I ap-peal to you, as we have done everything one can do to get our permits. We have paid lawyers, experts, consultants and analysts until hell won't have it." He declares state "government is indifferent to his desire to
spend $160 million more" on a plant expansion.
Not quite. OMYA filed its permit application May 22, 1997; because of the complexity, regulators split the case in two. Part one received approval within six months. Part two was waiting on a wastewater problem; once that was resolved, the Act 250 permit came in a month. As for indifference, three of Dean's cabinet members are personally involved with OMYA's situation.
Moreover, the parties concerned with OMYA's Act~250 permit are not environmentalists or no-growth types. They are businesses and towns concerned about doubling the number of OMYA's 75,000-pound trucks battering their streets all day. As in other parts of Vermont, carrying commercial freight through villages creates conflict.
The good news is that OMYA may have an alternative, a three-mile link to existing rail lines. The company, the state and the rail-road could all share the $17 million cost, because all three benefit. Indeed as people discuss in state hearings how to spend the addi-tional $40 million in federal transportation money now headed to Vermont, expanding rail freight ought to rank high in priority.
The middling news is that the Act 250 permit permits some of the additional trucks, but not all - a reasonable balance between the competing legitimate interests of OMYA and the other parties.
The bad news is that QMYA says that's not good enough. Dean's job now is to persist with the rail solution, since that would alleviate truck traffic and help OMYA grow. His staff is pushing hard in that direction.
If that effort fails, it will certainly be a loss to Vermont. But it will be the result of good faith, not indifference.