Tuesday, July 7, 1998
OMYA MAY ABANDON EXPANSION IN VERMONT
By Bruce Edwards
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
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
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
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
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