(July 27, 1998)

By Bruce Edwards

Herald Staff

The Dean administration has put a high priority

on helping OMYA Inc. obtain the state permits

necessary for its planned $160 million expansion.

"We are going to intervene on behalf of OMYA in

the Act 250 process," Governor Howard B. Dean said in

an interview last week.

Dean said the state Agency of Commerce and

Community Development has asked the District 9

Environmental Commission to "ease up on the conditions

of the (Act 250) permit."

In addition, Dean said the Agency of Natural

Resources is treating OMYA's wastewater discharge

permit application for its plant expansion as a top

priority as well.

The District 9 Environmental Commission recently

issued OMYA an Act 250 permit that limited the number

of daily truck trips from its Middlebury quarry to its

Florence processing plant to a maximum of 113 trips a

day - far below the 170 trips a day the company had

sought approval for.

In its decision, the commission cited the adverse

aesthetic impact the increase in truck traffic along

Route 7 would have on downtown Brandon. The

commission also called into question OMYA's commitment

to exploring rail as an alternative mode of


In a sharply worded letter to Dean in June,

OMYA's John Mitchell threatened to drop the company's

four-year, $160 million expansion in the state, unless

it received the necessary state permits by August 1.

Administration officials said at the time it

would be inappropriate for Dean to interfere in the

regulatory decision-making process. However, since

the Act 250 decision was issued three weeks ago, the

governor's administration has taken a more active role

in trying to assist OMYA's expansion.

In contrast to Mitchell's desire to have him

order the commission issue a permit, Dean said there

was nothing wrong with the administration intervening

on OMYA's behalf as the company asks the commission to

reconsider the limitations placed on the permit.

While saying that he understood the reasoning

behind the decision - given the concerns of Brandon

residents - Dean disagreed with the commission's

conclusion that OMYA had not made a good faith effort

to investigate a rail alternative.

He said OMYA and the state have made, and are

continuing to make, a good faith attempt at coming up

with a plan to build a rail spur that would take some

of the truck traffic off Route 7 through Brandon.

"The problem is it costs $17 million and you

have to go across 2, 1/2 miles of flood plain and

bridge the Otter Creek and these things take a little

time," Dean said. "We're working on it."

Putting $17 million into a rail spur that would

take 180 trucks a day off Route 7 would be well worth

the investment, Dean said, adding that if the permits

can be obtained a rail spur can be built within four


While declining to be specific, he said there

were ways to fund the rail spur that wouldn't

necessarily involve taxpayer money.

Until a rail spur can be built, however, Dean

said the Agency of Commerce has asked that OMYA's

truck trips be increased in the short term.

As far as Brandon is concerned, Dean said his

administration was working on the problem.

"What we say is that we're committed to getting

a rail line up and done as fast as we possibly can to

get not just the trucks that are going to go through

there, but the ones that are there now off their

road," he said. "The end result will be that they'll

be more truck traffic in the next few years and

hopefully then there will be a great detail less."

On another front, the administration is also

backing OMYA's request for a wastewater permit that

would allow the Florence plant to expand.

"Our bottom line is that this is a very good

company for Vermont and we do not intend to allow them

to expand elsewhere," Dean said, referring to OMYA's

threat to divert the $160 million investment to its

plants in Canada and Alabama.

Asked whether OMYA was doing some arm twisting,

Dean said he didn't particularly care for Mitchell's

letter threatening to pull the plug on the planned

expansion. On the other hand, Dean said his decision

to help OMYA was based on what is in the "best

interests of the state and then you sort of separate

the message from the messager."

Although the Act 250 process can sometimes be

slow-going, Dean praised both the District 9 and

District 1 commissions saying both bodies have a track

record of being "thoughtful" and "responsive."

OMYA has resubmitted an Act 250 application with

the District 1 Environmental Commission for a $3

million expansion of its calcium carbonate

manufacturing plant. The company filed an application

for its plant expansion a year ago, but because of

potential problems with its septic system, the company

withdrew its application, putting most of the

expansion on hold.

The commission will also be reviewing the impact

of OMYA's truck traffic. According to the company's

Act 250 application, the Florence plant is expected to

generate a maximum number of one-way truck trips of

between 325 and 357 a day. The figures include

shipments of marble ore finished product and

commercial deliveries. Most of OMYA's finished

product is shipped by rail.

The commission has scheduled a public hearing for

August 13 at 9:30 a.m., at the Asa Bloomer state

office building.