Omya rail spur in Middlebury moves forward
August 23, 2004
By Bruce Edwards Herald Staff
Headway is being made on a proposed rail spur that would eliminate marble ore trucks that now ply Route 7 between Middlebury and Florence, according to parties involved in the discussions.
The $20 million, 3-mile rail spur between Omya's Middlebury quarry and the main rail line would take 75,000 truck trips a year off Route 7, said James Reddy, president of Omya's North American operations.
The rail spur is part of a massive $120 million project that involves the relocation of the downtown Rutland railyard and an upgrade of tracks between Bennington and Burlington.
Omya, along with Vermont Railway, has been working with the Agency of Transportation, Agency of Natural Resources, the town of Middlebury and the Conservation Law Foundation for several years to come up with an acceptable rail alternative to move Omya's trucks off the road and onto rail.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also been involved because a portion of the proposed spur would cross wetlands.
Middlebury town planner Fred Dunnington said the route, which conforms with the town plan, has been studied extensively and has been endorsed by the Army Corps of Engineers as the "least environmentally damaging practicable alternative" or LEDPA. Dunnington said the Corps looked at other routes and other transportation modes before making its decision.
The spur would run from the main railroad line just north of the Eddy farm across Otter Creek, then skirt the edge of the flood plain and wetlands. The route would then cross Halladay Road and then under Route 7 between Standard Register and Foster Motors, proceeding along lower Foot Street past the Vermont Natural Agricultural Products Facility. The spur would continue across Foster Brothers farm and onto Omya's property.
Dunnington said much work remains to be done. One challenge is obtaining rights of way along the route that would pass through conservation land held by the Middlebury Land Trust.
He said over the Otter Creek flood plain, a 1,300-foot trestle would be built with several culverts that would allow water to flow freely.
He added that the project is now undergoing a critical Environmental Impact Statement.
"The town views this as feasible and we want it to be done in a way that results in a net benefit for the businesses and does not result in any undue harm," he said.
Like Reddy, Dunnington said the move to rail would alleviate truck traffic by moving 1 million tons of marble ore a year off the highway.
The Conservation Law Foundation has also been a major player in the truck-to-rail discussions.
And while the CLF and Omya have been at odds over issues like increased truck traffic in the past, CLF staff attorney Mark Sinclair praised Omya for trying to find a rail solution.
"I believe they are genuinely interested and committed to having the Middlebury rail spur completed as soon as possible," he said. "They see it as an economic boon and not just a good transportation idea but actually it will lower the costs of transport for them."
Of the $120 million project cost, Omya and Vermont Railway would pay a combined $22 million through freight surcharges over 23 years.
The $22 million would be used as a match to leverage $110 million in federal grants to pay for the bulk of the project. With Congress in recess and an election coming up, the transportation funding bill is stalled at least until after the election, according to parties to the project.
"Right now the reason this project isn't moving at the pace we had originally hoped for in our agreement is because of the lack of public funding," Sinclair said.
Supporters of the project hope Congress buys into the innovative funding approach for the rail corridor upgrade that runs adjacent to Route 7, a federal highway..
"Vermont would be the test case for upgrading the transportation corridor since we can't build an interstate here," Reddy said. "The idea would be to take as much traffic off of the road and put it on the rail, thereby extending the life and usefulness of the federal highway that we're paralleling."
Omya apparently won't be the only business to benefit from the spur. Reddy said that several other Middlebury companies have indicated an interest is using the spur, including Standard Register, Vermont Natural Agricultural Products, Specialty Filaments and Joseph P. Carrara & Sons.
In addition to the spur, Omya would have to upgrade its Florence rail siding to accept incoming marble ore shipments. Reddy estimated the cost at "less than $10 million but more than $1 million."
The impetus for the rail spur was Omya's frustration in attempting to increase the number of trucks hauling marble ore from Middlebury to its Florence plant. When the company was denied an Act 250 land use permit to increase its truck traffic, that set off what proved to be a losing a legal battle at the state and federal court levels that lasted several years.
Contact Bruce Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org.