Rutland Herald

Tuesday, July 7, 1998


By Bruce Edwards

Herald Staff

OMYA Inc. is threatening to "abandon" plans to

investigate $160 million in Vermont unless the state

comes through with permits by August 1 that would

allow the company to expand its calcium carbonate


In a recent letter to Governor Howard B. Dean,

the head of OMYA's U.S. parent company appealed to

Dean to intercede on the company's behalf so it can

increase production at its Florence plant.

"If we are forced to commit the $160,000,000 to

Canada and Alabama instead of Vermont, it will be at

least two decades before we need to even consider a

similar investment in Vermont. Our spending here will

be a fraction of that number and will be maintenance

only, " John M. Mitchell, president of Pluess-Staufer

Industries, said in his June letter to Dean.

OMYA's frustration is two-fold: The company is

awaiting a decision on an Act 250 permit application

that would allow it to double the number of trucks

hauling marble ore along Route 7 from its Middlebury

quarry to its plant in Florence; the company has also

been stymied in trying to expand the Florence plant

because of its inability to obtain a wastewater

discharge permit.

Mitchell's frustration was apparent then when he

told Dean in his letter that the company had done

everything in its power to secure the permits for the

plant expansion, but to no avail.

"I appeal 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. We have held meetings, conducted tours,

advised politicians, and endured bureaucrats until we

are numb. Mind you this is the thirteenth amendment

to an existing permit for a plant that has been here

for 20 years. If we do not have a track record of

being a good citizen and cooperator with the process,

then no one does."

Mitchell also reminded Dean that he called him

last year to "beg" for help in securing the necessary

permits. With no permits forthcoming, Mitchell said

the company was forced to divert $25 million in

investment intended for Vermont to its plant in


OMYA's need to double the number trucks from

Middlebury to Florence has raised concerns because of

the increasing number of larger trucks using Route 7 -

the two-lane highway that is the major north-south

artery on the western side of the state.

Some Brandon residents in particular have raised

objections to OMYA's plans to increase the number of

round trips from 85 to 170 a day, arguing that

doubling the number of large trucks rumbling through

the center of town would make a bad situation each


Susan Allen, Dean's press secretary, said Monday

that it would be inappropriate for the governor to

intervene in the regulatory process. However, Allen

also said the state is working with OMYA to come up

with a solution.

"The governor takes the letter seriously and

does have two of his cabinet officials working

directly on the project," she said. "But again, he

cannot intervene in Act 250."

Secretary of Transportation Glenn Gershaneck said

that it was his understanding that the District 9

Environmental Commission was close to issuing a

conditional Act 250 permit that addresses the

company's request to increase the number of truck


In the long term, Gershaneck said the AOT was

continuing to work with OMYA on a rail alternative

that would divert some of the company's truck traffic

off Route 7.

"We are unified in wanting to come up with a

legitimate and appropriate permit for the region and

for the company. Nobody wants to see that money go

elsewhere," Gershaneck said. "We would consider it

very, very damaging to have that improvement go

somewhere else."

Contacted Monday at the company's headquarters in

Proctor, Mitchell said he remained hopeful that the

company would receive its permits. He said Dean's

office had responded to his letter. Asked whether he

was satisfied with Dean's answer, Mitchell said he

"was not interested in bulletins from the front, I'm

interested in getting permits."

Mitchell also disclosed that the company last

week resubmitted an application for a wastewater

discharge permit.

The $160 million investment is not expected to

result in the hiring of new workers. The company

noted in its Act 250 permit application that because

the plant is highly automated the expansion would not

result in the hiring of additional workers.

While declining Monday to comment on the

company's future hiring, Mitchell said he believed the

investment would result in additional hiring by the

company's suppliers.

Rep. Andrew Synder, D-Pittsford, whose district

includes the Florence plant, called Mitchell's letter

unfortunate. Synder said while no one questions

OMYA's economic contribution to the community,

Mitchell's letter could not come at a worse time when

state and local officials are working hard to find a

solution to the company's problems.

"I'd much prefer to see them work as a

cooperative business partner to the community than to

try to bully both the state and the local communities

in order for them to get their way," Synder said. "I

think it's terribly unfortunate."

According to Synder, the Pittsford Select Board

recently sent a letter to Dean supporting OMYA's


Approximately one-third of the town's tax

revenues come from OMYA's Florence plant and property.

From the perspective of David O'Brien, the

executive director of the Rutland Economic Development

Corp., the transportation problems encountered by OMYA

are a result of many years of neglect by the state.

"The problem with the patient here is the lack

of investment in infrastructure over a long period of

time," O'Brien said. "It is coming home to roost."

He said it was unfair to put the burden on OMYA

when the state has failed to make the necessary

improvements to Route 7 to support commerce.

In making his case to Dean, Mitchell wrote that

over the last 20 years OMYA had invested $326 million

in the state, pays 30 towns a total of $2.5 million in

property taxes each year, employs 200 people with a

payroll in excess of $15 million; and pumps $36

million a year into the local economy buying goods and

services from over 150 suppliers.

Mitchell ended his letter to Dean saying it was

mind boggling to him that "everyone in state

government to whom I turn tells me how they cannot do

anything to help but no one ever tells me what they

can do to help."

"Your own assistant does not return my calls and

when I finally do get through to her she tells me what

you cannot do. How many calls do you get from people

willing to invest $40 million in a year in our state

for each of the next four years? I dare say not many.

"There must be a way to impress on the people

whom you appoint to office that the object is to issue

the permit, not to fail to issue the permit."

OMYA is the U.S. subsidiary of Pluess-Staufer AG,

a Swiss-based industrial minerals, chemicals and

pharmaceuticals company.