OMYA Trip Limit Comes Under Fire
By FREDERICK BEVER
Vermont Press Bureau
The chairman of the District 1 Environmental Commission on Thursday blasted another commission's decision to limit the number of trucks OMYA Inc. can send through the town of Brandon.
I don't think District 9 had any authority to talk about Brandon," said Robert Bloomer Sr., chairman of the commission that ordinarily has jurisdiction over Act 250 issues in Brandon and in most of Rutland County. "I'd be glad to take it to the Supreme Court."
Bloomer's comments came during a day-long Act 250 hearing to consider another proposal by OMYA -this one to build a $3 million, 10,000-square-foot addition to its Pittsford calcium carbonate plant. The hearing became a forum for nearly 100 OMYA supporters who turned out in the wake of a District 9 Commission ruling last month that OMYA could not double its truck traffic between the Pittsford plant and its Middlebury quarry.
Bloomer's words earned applause and clearly warmed the heart of OMYA attorney Edward Van Schwiebert, who is considering appeal of the District 9 decision.
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"I'm not sure of its implications, but it makes me feel good," Schwiebert said. Bloomer said later that he was unlikely to act on his opinion unless OMYA did appeal the District 9 decision to the state Environmental Board.
Thursday's hearing was confined to the question of expansion at the Pittsford plant and the commission specifically ruled that it would not question any increase in truck traffic between Pittsford and Middlebury needed to bring marble ore to the expanded plant. The commission did allow testimony, however; on the relative small number of new truck trips needed to carry the extra product made possible by the expansion.
The audience included many workers for OMYA and for John A. Russell Corp., a local construction company that has a longstanding partnership with OMYA. Several stood to provide testimonials to OMYAs economic benefits to the region.
"This is the kind of job you don't just get anywhere," said Peter Carlton, a pipe-fitter who has worked on OMYA jobs. "Much as we love tourism, much as we love agriculture, this is up there with the best jobs in central Vermont."
The audience often cheered OMYA supporters who spoke, and also
cheered Bloomer when he skeptically questioned the few people including Brandon officials and an environmental lawyer - who raised concerns about the project.
Bruce Brown, chairman of the Brandon Planning Commission, asked the commission to consider forcing OMYA to pay his town an impact fee to compensate for the noise and vibrations caused by its trucks traveling through Brandon.
But commission member William Corey noted that because trucks carrying raw quarry loads were not under consideration, any impact fee related solely to the expansion project would likely be small. The increase of roughly 32 truck trips through Brandon that would carry finished calcium products to points north, Corey said, would be unlikely to harm businesses in Brandon.
And Margaret Flory, chairwoman of the Pittsford Select Board, repeatedly spoke in OMYAs defense, noting that the company almost completely subsidized the town's tax base. "It would be a wicked precedent if you can use unsubstantiated claims of damage to limit access to a U.S. highway." Flory said. "To single out any one business is unreasonable."
Most agreed that the state's lack of investment in Route 7 was the root of the problem. Sandra Levine, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, argued that the best way to alleviate the problem would be to require OMYA to move more of its material by rail.
Schwiebert said OMYA would be happy to ship as much material by rail as its customers want, but could not be bound to any particular mode of transport.
"I think our customers would be very surprised to call us up and try to order a truckload and have us say 'sorry, the commission's told us you can only order a train-load,"' he said.
The split between Brandon and Pittsford officials has created a problem for House representatives whose district encompasses both towns. Rep. Robert Wood, R-Brandon, attended Thursday's hearing and in an interview acknowledged the divide would be hard to bridge.
"I try to balance my loyalty to both towns," Wood said, adding that he was generally a pro-business politician. Wood said he would encourage further work to create a rail connection between Pittsford and Middlebury; and to get the state to improve Route 7.
I hope there is a middle ground, because we need to provide this rock" Wood said.