Route 7 Not Near Capacity

Rutland Herald, Thursday, August 27, 1998

Commentary by David J. O'Brien

I continue to appreciate the depth and breadth of

your coverage of transportation related issues facing

Rutland County. You have done a tremendous job in

both your news and editorial coverage, and it is


I, unfortunately, have to disagree with some

portions of your editorial of August 16 regarding OMYA

Inc. and their ongoing permit challenges. First, I

disagree with your assertion that the District 9

Environmental Commission had jurisdiction over impacts

in Brandon. Brandon is in District 1, not District 9.

Second, any assertion that Route 7 is "near

capacity" is simply wrong. The Vermont Agency of

Transportation testified in the District 9 hearings

that there was no capacity issue on Route 7. District

9 agreed, concluding that OMYA's proposed level of

truck traffic would not cause unreasonable congestion

or unsafe conditions. District 9 further determined

that there were also no substantial noise or

historical impacts from OMYA's proposal.

In fact, District 9's decision to limit OMYA

truck trips was based solely on criterion 8,

aesthetics. They evidently based their decision on

the "unpleasant" nature of trucks. They determined

that OMYA needed to conduct further study of rail

transportation. They acted as if OMYA is unfamiliar

or unwilling to use rail transportation for its

products. To the contrary, OMYA has studied the

specific question of establishing a rail link between

East Middlebury and Florence as recently as 1996 and

found it not only too expensive, but also having

potentially adverse impacts on important wetland


In terms of the increasing state focus on

fostering rail usage, OMYA should be upheld as the

number one model for the rest of Vermont's businesses.

OMYA is the single largest user of rail in the state.

They own over 1,000 rail cars and are responsible for

60 percent of all traffic on Vermont Railway's system.

They understand rail and are committed to rail. If

rail worked for their current expansion, they would

pursue it. However, it doesn't. For the purpose of

the expansion that is presently contemplated, no

amount of study or wishful thinking is going to change


As a practical matter District 9 did acknowledge

that the economies of rail didn't make sense when they

recommended that OMYA pursue federal funding for

construction support. Unfortunately, the potential

federal funding source referenced by the commission

doesn't even exist.

A rational person would have to wonder how the

commission could make the determination that rail

needed more study given the available information and

the time crunch the company is facing. Given the

logic disconnect of the decision, was the commission

reaching a conclusion based on the merits of the case,

or simply attempting to substantiate an ill-conceived


If this decision is allowed to stand, what about

the next business which wants to locate or expand in

Vermont? If their plans could result in increased

truck traffic on Routes 7 and 4 or any other federal

highway, what is to prevent their Act 250 permit

application from being declined because some community

doesn't like the aesthetics of trucks on highways?

With that kind of uncertainty, we should be concerned

about the possible effect on business decision-making

going forward.

Economics teaches us that business investment is

entirely reliant on prevailing conditions, taxes,

regulation, quality of available labor,

transportation, and REDC continually monitors the

prevailing business climate in Rutland County.

A good portion of our current employment base

requires truck access into and out of our region. We

must consider this decision in the context of how

Rutland County can compete for quality jobs in the


This issue is real. Don't kid yourself with

statements like "luckily, OMYA cannot pack up and move

its marble elsewhere." Once upon a time officials in

West Rutland were convinced they could tax the Vermont

Marble Co. to whatever degree necessary to support

their town government. They ignored the complaints of

the Vermont Marble Co. right up until the day they

moved out. I believe the common belief in the area at

the time was that the marble was not going anywhere so

of course the company would not. The rest as they say

is history. I would prefer that we do not replicate

our past mistakes or allow history to repeat itself.

Real people's lives hang in the balance.

(David J. O'Brien is executive director of

the Rutland Ecomonic Development Corp.)