Rutland Herald (VT)
August 27, 2012
For Omya's new manager, Vt. is homecoming
PITTSFORD - Jim Stewart has come full circle. Forty years after starting work as a geologist with the Vermont Marble Company, Stewart has come home to Vermont as manager of Omya's calcium carbonate plant in Pittsford.
He replaces Pierre Masuy, who returned to France this month to assume another position with Omya.
Stewart, a native of Barre and a graduate of the University of Vermont, has spent his entire career working first with Vermont Marble Company and then its parent company, Omya Inc.
"You forget how beautiful this state is until you leave it," Stewart said in an interview at the Pittsford plant.
Seated at a large conference table made of white Danby marble, Stewart touched on several areas of interest, including the business outlook, capital projects and the company's efforts at community outreach.
Omya is one of the region's largest employers. The company has 170 local employees: 124 at its plant in the Florence section of Pittsford and 46 at its administrative offices in Proctor.
The plant, the third-largest Omya plant in the world, manufactures both wet (slurry) and dry products.
Half of what's produced at the plant is used in the paper industry, including high-end copier paper and glossy magazines. The rest is used in the paint and plastics industries, which are tied to the construction industry.
Stewart is projecting flat sales for this year and into next year.
"We'd like to have more, but with a sluggish economy we're watching our costs," he said, adding that he's confident the economy will eventually rebound.
At the top of Stewart's agenda is to continue the company's community outreach.
"Pierre (Masuy) has done a wonderful job reaching out to the neighbors," Stewart said.
In the past, the plant has had run-ins with its neighbors over noise, dust and traffic.
Stewart said the noise level from the plant at the property line is well within its permitted level of 70 decibels. But he said the company's goal is to further reduce the noise level emanating from the plant to 45 decibels.
"We're well within our permit requirements, but there's still neighbors, so we want to be sure that we reduce it as much as humanly possible," he said.
The company ships its dry product by truck, which has presented problems with a few "lost" trucks.
One or two trucks a month, coming to the plant from West Rutland over Whipple Hollow Road to pick up a shipment, will wind up having to turn around in someone's driveway. Stewart said that's the result of the truck's GPS system picking the wrong truck route.
To correct the problem, he said Omya has changed its address to Kendall Hill Road, which will direct a truck's GPS system along Route 7.
In the past, neighbors have raised concerns about potential groundwater pollution from chemically tainted marble waste dumped into old quarries.
To address those concerns, Omya built a $10 million dewatering facility that recycles 90 percent of the waste water and pumps it back into the plant.
Stewart said the state recently approved Omya's plan to sell the tailings that are left over as agricultural lime for use on farms within the state.
"It's going to be a slow start because we're late to the game," Stewart said, "but it's a good use of a resource and we're excited now that it's approved by the state."
He said the company is moving to obtain the approval of other nearby states.
He said Omya's goal is to recycle and sell as much of the tailings as possible, which would minimize the amount dumped at its lined storage area on site.
Stewart said other possible uses for the tailings include capping material on landfills like the one in Moretown.
But he added that transportation costs would limit the market area where it could be sold.
Omya is awaiting Public Service Board approval to install a liquefied natural gas facility. The approval would allow the company to switch from running the plant on fuel oil to less expensive natural gas that would be trucked in from the Boston area.
"The goal is to have it in operation by the end of 2013," he said.
Stewart said it would also save money by allowing the company's subcontractor to run its ore-hauling trucks on liquefied natural gas. The marble ore is hauled from the company's Middlebury quarry to the Pittsford plant.
The company also received approval to amend its Act 250 permit to extend operation of its Hogback quarry from eight months to year-round. The quarry is used to produce road aggregate.
Stewart's return to Vermont follows a career with Omya that has taken him halfway around the world.
He began as a staff geologist in 1972 with the Vermont Marble Company's White Pigment division. That job took him to the calcium carbonate plant in New Haven, where he spent 20 years working his way up to plant manager.
From there, Stewart became project manager and later plant manager for Omya's new plant in Thailand.
The five years in Thailand left Stewart and his family with some fond memories.
"The Thai people are very open and hospitable to foreigners living among them," he said. "It was a wonderful experience."
After five years in Thailand, he came back to the Pittsford plant for several years in the 1990s.
His work assignments also took him to Omya facilities in Australia, Mexico, California, Arizona and Quebec and to the company headquarters in Cincinnati.
When he was offered the plant manger's job in Pittsford, he said it was an easy decision to make.
"For me this was very easy - I came home," said Stewart, who never sold his home in Weybridge.