Rutland Herald

Friday, August 7, 1998


By Bruce Edwards

Herald Staff

The District 9 Environmental Commission dealt a

major blow to OMYA, Inc.'s $160 million expansion

plans Thursday when it denied the company's second

request to increase truck trips on Route 7.

The commission turned down OMYA's proposal to

change its Act 250 permit so it could increase the

number of marble ore hauling trucks from its

Middlebury quarry to its Florence calcium carbonate

plant from the current 85 to 170 round trips a day.

When the commission issued the permit last month,

it limited the increase to 113 truck trips a day over

two years, far below what the company said was

necessary to accommodate an expected increase in


In its three-page ruling, the commission said

OMYA's arguments were addressed during the Act 250

hearing. The company presented new information, but

the commission ruled that "no new evidence will be

accepted with regard to its consideration of the

motion to alter."

The commission said that in order for new

information to be considered, the company "must seek a

permit amendment for a new project."

That new information submitted by the company

included approvals previously granted by the District

1 Environmental Commission for as many as 265 truck

trips a day entering and leaving its Florence plant.

The company also has the option of appealing the

decision to the state Environmental Board.

Although the commission had the option to accept

new evidence, District 9 Coordinator Jennifer von

Rohr, said Thursday the committees declined to do so

because the company had ample opportunity to present

its case during the lengthy hearings and because the

new information was not part of the record.

"One reason is that we went through extensive

hearings and ... it took over a year to issue this

permit," von Rohr said. "We accepted testimony and

evidence throughout the entire hearing process."

OMYA argued in its recent motion that the

commission lacked the authority to limit the use of a

federal highway, in this case, U.S. Route 7. The

company also argued that it was not responsible, and

therefore should not be penalized, for the state and

federal government's failure to maintain the highway.

And the company disagreed with the commission's

conclusion that the increased truck traffic would have

an adverse effect on downtown Brandon.

The commission's refusal to alter the permit

conditions threatens OMYA's expansion plans. The

company threatened to pull the plug on a four-year

$160 million project unless it received the necessary

state permits by August 1.

If the permits were not forthcoming, the company

said it would invest the money at its plants in

Alabama and Canada.

The threat got the attention of Governor Howard

B. Dean and his administration. The Agency of

Commerce and Community Development sent a letter to

the commission endorsing OMYA's request to change the

permit conditions. The agency noted that OMYA had

worked diligently with the state on a rail alternative

that would alleviate truck traffic along Route 7

between Middlebury and its plant in the Florence

section of Pittsford.

State and local officials reacted with dismay to

the commission's decision.

Governor Howard B. Dean said his office would

definitely seek a reconsideration of the commission's

decision, though they have not decided whether the

Environmental Board or the commission itself would be

the best place to begin.

In particular, Dean said he and his advisors

believed that the commission was simply wrong in

rejecting OMYA's arguments that overall truck traffic

would be reduced rather than increase (because its

Smoke Rise quarry north of Brandon would be closing

soon). This was not a case of new information being

irrelevant, he said.

"We're very disappointed and we're exploring

options," said Steve Patterson, acting secretary of

the Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs.

Patterson could not say what those options might be.

The Rutland Economic Development Corp., rallied

support for the project, organizing local citizens and

taking out a full-page newspaper ad. On Thursday,

REDC Executive Director David O'Brien said he was

"greatly disappointed."

"Our principal concern is the best interest of

the working people in our communities who work for

OMYA or Carter Transportation, or own shops and small

businesses. They have told us this expansion is

important to them and therefore it is important to

us," O'Brien said in a statement.

Referring to Route 7, the major north-south

artery, as Rutland's "economic lifeline," O'Brien said

he was concerned about the precedent established by

the decision that limits truck traffic.

In Pittsford, which reaps the tax benefits of

OMYA's presence, Town Manager Melvin Adams spent part

of his day talking with Select Board members about

what had happened, and getting their reactions. He

summed up by saying, "In Pittsford, we're confused,

we're amazed, we're depressed."

The town's position has been essentially that the

conflict between Brandon's downtown and OMYA truck

traffic - which he agreed with OMYA was never proven -

reflected the inadequacy of a U.S. highway that is the

state's responsibility to maintain and update.

Instead of insisting that the state do something, the

commission is in effect shutting down traffic on a

U.S. highway, and impacting one business in

particular, Adams said.

He said those who are following the issue of

trucks traveling on U.S. Route 4 through Woodstock

should realize the implications of the OMYA decision,

if it holds up. "It means every Class One highway in

the state is subject to the approval of a district

environmental commission," he said. "That's scary."

"It is scary," agreed Pittsford Select Board

Chairwoman, Margaret Flory.

"It has some disturbing implications for

businesses in general."

In Brandon, Norman Milot, co-owner of an inn on

Route 7, expressed a similar position. He said he was

concerned that some are getting the impression

Brandon's business community is anti-OMYA, when, in

fact, the real issue is the impact of all the trucks.

Valuable as OMYA and its possible $160 million

expansion might be to Vermont, tourism accounts for

far more dollars and jobs, Milot said. "This town is

going to become a ghost town if this continues with

all these trucks," he said.

A rail link between OMYA's massive Middlebury

quarry and their Florence plant, which the commission

said needed more complete information, in Milot's view

would deal with only one small part of the problem,

possibly wasting taxpayer dollars in the process. All

around the state, the Agency of Transportation should

be putting much more emphasis on bypasses, he said.

Richard Baker, a Brandon Select Board member,

said they would be considering the issue at their

August 2 meeting, so no one can speak for the entire

board at this point. As for himself, he said the

situation to date seems unfair both to Brandon and

OMYA, forcing them to bear the burdens of an

inadequate highway system.

"It's been broken for 50 years and we haven't

fixed it," Baker said.

As part of its expansion plans, OMYA has filed an

Act 250 application for its Florence plant. A hearing

on the project is scheduled for Thursday before the

District 1 Environmental Commission in Rutland.

Phone messages left for OMYA officials and their

attorney were not immediately returned on Thursday.

(Correspondent Ed Barna contributed to this