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Wednesday, July 8, 1998


The letter sent by the head of OMYA's American

operations to Governor Howard Dean last month

expresses exasperation with the permit process in

Vermont and also a lack of understanding about how the

process works.

OMYA has sought permits for an expansion to its

marble operations at its plant in Florence and its

quarry in Middlebury. But John M. Mitchell, president

of Pluess-Staufer Industries, the U.S. branch of OMYA,

said the plant would take its $160 million expansion

elsewhere if the company didn't get the permits it


That is a serious threat, though Mitchell said it

was not a threat. And it is a sign of why the state

needs to pay attention to the infrastructure that

allows its economy to grow.

In fact, the Dean administration was baffled

about what night have provoked Mitchell's ire in as

much the Agencies of Commerce and Community

Development and of Transportation have been working

with OMYA to resolve its difficulties. It is possible

that Mitchell's letter was written for the benefit of

his own bosses at OMYA.

The main concern about OMYA's expansion has been

the increased truck traffic on Route 7 from Middlebury

to Florence. It is now widely understood that the

section of Route 7 south of Middlebury is not an

adequate roadway. Doubling the number of trucks

traveling through Brandon has been a subject to which

the District 9 Environmental Commission has had to

give serious thought.

The state has begun working with OMYA to develop

a railroad connection to lessen the traffic. The fact

remains that, when major investment in Vermont is in

danger of being diverted because our main traffic

arteries are inadequate, that is a sign for state

government to pay attention to the problem.

At the same time, Mitchell is misguided if he

thinks a phone call to the governor can or ought to

solve his problems with the permitting process. His

letter expressed impatience that the governor's office

had been slow to respond to his appeals for help on an

Act 250 permit and a wastewater discharge permit.

In fact, the governor generally does not involve

himself in the quasi-judicial process of Act 250, and

Mitchell is mistaken if he believes the governor can

pick up the phone and order compliance with OMYA's

request. Vermonters don't want political figures

working to short-circuit the environmental review


Still, Mitchell's public blast has raised the

stakes in a public way, reminding those involved in

the regulatory review that timely action is desirable

and unwarranted delays can be costly. Sometimes that

is a message that bureaucrats need to hear.

The larger problem remains inattention to

Vermont's highway system. This problem has been

highlighted recently, not just with the issue of Route

7, but with the bottleneck of Route 4 and the

misguided effort by the Legislature to curb the

traffic of large trucks through Woodstock. In fact,

-- Legislature and the Agency of Transportation is

likely to worsen traffic through Woodstock. By

cracking down on 53-foot trucks, the state forces

shipments through Woodstock to travel in 48-foot

trucks, which will require 10 percent more trips to

transport an equivalent amount of cargo.

These issues are likely to receive more attention

as Vermont assesses its priorities for the use of an

infusion of federal transportation money. Short-term

non-solutions, as in Woodstock, will no longer do. It

is time the needs of the highway system, viewed as a

whole, get attention.