Omya gets full waste permit
State certifies marble tailings disposal process

By Bruce Edwards STAFF WRITER - Published: May 8, 2010

The state Agency of Natural Resources on Friday issued a solid waste permit to Omya Inc. that allows the company to dispose of its calcium carbonate waste.

The full certification allows Omya to dispose of its marble tailings in a lined "tailings management area" on its Florence property.

The state issued a draft certification in December.

With full certification in hand, Omya will build a disposal facility that includes an engineered plastic geomembrane liner and leachate collection system placed over the existing tailings material. The system will collect any water and recycle it back into the plant through a dewatering process.

For more than 30 years, Omya has disposed of the chemically tainted tailings in old, unlined quarries on company property.

Pending Act 250 and Pittsford zoning approvals, construction of the tailings management facility will begin this summer. Phase I of the facility is expected to be completed in October.

While it is under construction, the company said it will continue to manage its tailings under the terms of a two-year interim certification.

"The tailings management facility is another example of our long-term commitment to responsible environmental practices and our business here in Vermont," Michael Laurent, Omya's environmental manager, said in a statement. "Our operations are fully compliant with all applicable regulations and we are committed to following the certification's requirements."

The Agency of Natural Resources interim certification permits Omya to manage its tailings while at the same time closing the existing quarries.

The full certification requires Omya to continue its regular water sampling and testing in accordance with a state-approved site monitoring plan as well as following other compliance protocols.

The permit issued Friday is the culmination of a long and often contentious process that pitted the company on one side and neighbors of the calcium carbonate plant on the other.

Since the mid-1970s, the company has disposed of its marble waste, or tailings, in three unlined quarries. But neighbors raised concerns about possible contamination of their drinking water.

Those concerns finally led to a state-mandated study that found that there was some groundwater contamination on Omya's property. But the Section 5 study, which included multiple stakeholders, concluded that the contamination posed no threat to human health or the environment. The study also found that any future risk was minimal.

Neighbors, however, remain concerned.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School took up the case on behalf of Residents Concerned About Omya.

David Mears, the law clinic's director, said Friday that neighbors remain concerned that the state is allowing the company to dump its new waste in a lined facility over the accumulation of old waste.

"They haven't fully addressed the contamination in the underlying pits that they have," Mears said, "and so authorizing someone to put a lined facility on top of the existing facility precludes the kind of evaluation and monitoring and possibly the remediation that might be required … ."

But Omya spokeswoman Linda Pleiman said there's no evidence that those concerns are warranted.

"Based on the evaluation and the data that we have today, our consultants don't expect there to be a problem building the TMF (tailings management facility) on top of the existing waste," Pleiman said.

Residents Concerned About Omya have already lost a federal court case in an attempt to address their concerns.

Mears said an appeal over the interim certification that was issued two years ago remains pending before the state Environmental Court.

Omya expects to spend $2 million to build the first of three sections of the tailings management area. The first section, according to the December draft certification document, has a capacity of 802,500 tons, with a maximum capacity of 150,000 tons a year.

The company estimates that it will generate an estimated 72,000 tons of tailings during the first year the lined facility is in operation. Of that amount, Omya says 22,375 tons will be used for commercial purposes, leaving less than 50,000 tons to be disposed of per year.

The lined site will work in conjunction with a new $10 million dewatering facility that removes 85 percent to 90 percent of the water from the tailings, which is pumped back into the calcium carbonate plant to be reused.

Omya said it continues to explore ways to use the mineral waste byproduct generated from its calcium carbonate operations.

"We are aggressively pursuing end uses for our tailings and we have some trials in progress," said Pleiman, who declined to elaborate on the possible uses under consideration.