September 28, 1998
OMYA working on compromise
CLF looks to broker rail-use solution
By ED BARNA
BRANDON - At the same time OMYA Inc. has appealed an Act 250 permit, the Conservation Law Foundation has been trying to broker an agreement that would let the company temporarily double the number of tracks hauling marble between its Middlebury quarry and its calcium carbonate plant in Pittsford.
The quid-pro-quo would be an agreement to move all marble ore from Middlebury by rail within five years on a new rail spur whose cost would be shared by OMYA, Vermont Railway and the state.
The District 9 Environmental Commission's decision to deny OMYA's request to double its truck traffic was made primarily on the grounds that the company had not adequately investigated a rail alternative, rather than that the commission felt there were undue adverse environmental impacts on downtown Brandon.
CLF's efforts are taking place outside the appeal process that is now in the hands of the state Environmental Board. Asked about the idea of a negotiated set-tlement, neither the Department of Environmental Conservation nor the Addison County Regional Planning Commission were aware of the negotia-tions.
But Mark Sinclair, CLF's executive director, confirmed their interest in the OMYA situation. "We have for a long time been supporting rail initiatives," Sinclair said, in the belief that building more roads will simply invite more traffic and worsen the environmental impacts of gasoline-fueled vehicles,
Sinclair said CLF hadn't considered OMYAs problem until a Brandon mem-ber contacted him. The Brandon busi-nesses that were fighting the increase in truck traffic were about at the end of their financial ability to continue the legal struggle and CLF stepped in to help represent them, he said.
We haven't got the money, said Sarah Pattis, co-owner of the Brandon Inn and one of those claiming serious problems with track noise, vibrations and fumes.
"We still haven't paid off the last legal bill for the Act 250 permit we tried to oppose."
The essence of the proposal is that CLF and the Brandon neighbors would drop their environmental objections in return for the prospect of seeing all OMYA truck shipments shifted to a rail within five years, Pattis said. "I read the agreement before they sent it off," she said, and "I think that's as good as we can do."
The quarry rail spur is not a new idea. In 1996, R.L. Banks, a state rail consultant, studied that possibility and others, such as a conveyor belt-to-rail system or a track-to-rail transfer;
At that time, the numbers didn't work for OMYA, compared to the cost of hauling its marble ore by truck, Among the problems were crossing Route 7 and the Otter Creek, having to deal with wet lands, and having to make modifications at the Florence plant.
But several factors have led to suggestions from Middlebury municipal plan-ner Fred Dunnington that the rail spur
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OMYA compromise possible
concept be revisited. With twice as much marble involved, a newly built road from the quarry to Route 7 as part of its recent quarry expansion, a surge in federal transportation aid and the Brandon impacts taken into account, Dunnington said the numbers might make a rail option more viable.
The Legislature this year directed that such a study take place. That study is about to begin, entirely apart from the CLF's proposal. According toOMYA attorney Edward Van Schwiebert, there is now an active study committee that includes the mandated participants-OMYA, Vermont Railway; the state Agency of Transportation and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development - and CLF as well.
"We have got the agreement, we're working on it, and well see what happens; Schwiebert said. But OMYAs priority is doing the study, he said.
"We really want to get on with this, and not talk about talking about it," Schwiebert said. "This has been going on for a long time."
John Kessler; general counsel for the Agency of Commerce And Community Development, said the agency will be doing what it has often done in the past; identifying a variety of funding sources and grant possibilities, and assisting where it can in any permit process;
There appears to be a tie-in with other rail projects, such as bringing passenger train service to Burlington, since any upgrading of the tracks could be used for that as we11, Kessler said. Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) money is one possibility, and another might be a loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
John Kassel, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said his agency is also involved to a minor extent in studying the rail spurs feasibility.
At the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, interim director Kevin Behm pointed out that an important part of redoing the study will be any data in a form that
can be integrated with federal agency and their computer databases.
There is a particular kind of matrix used in cost-benefit analyses that the 1996 study did not employ but which the Army Corps of Engineers; which must sign off on wetland-related work, uses in its evaluations, Behm said. Scott Bascom, multi-modal policy coordinator for the AOTs rail division, said the cost in l996 of a rail spur was pegged at $12.6 million, but $17 million maybe a more realistic number including work that OMYA would finance in Pittsford. The actual construction would cost perhaps $8.9 million, with another $7.8 million for design work, permitting, wetland mitigation and other associated costs, he said.
OMYA has said that with the waste rock from the quarry available, it could furnish the raw material for rail spur work at no cost, Bascom said. The study is now at the stage of finalizing the scope of work for R.L. Banks, he said. And while some wetlands work might have to wait until spring, most of the investigation can take place through the colder months, he said.
The CLF's idea is not without its critics. Lynn Saunders, chairwoman of the Brandon Select Board, said it would be "unreasonable" to spend $17 million getting the trucks from one company out of downtown Brandon, when that much money could build a complete truck bypass and remove all of the impacts.