Friday, August 7, 1998
OMYA TRUCK TRAFFIC REQUEST REJECTED
By Bruce Edwards
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
"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