Rutland Herald

Omya scraps disputed quarry plan in Danby

October 2, 2004
By Bruce Edwards Herald Staff

Annette Smith (center) talks with reporters about a proposed Omya mine along Danby Mountain in 2000. The company has abandoned plans for the quarry.

Omya Inc. has abandoned efforts to open a controversial marble quarry overlooking a picturesque valley in Danby.

Omya, the world's largest producer of ground calcium carbonate, informed the select boards in Danby, Wallingford and Tinmouth this week that the company had given up its plan to open the Jobe Phillips quarry in Danby.

In a letter to the three boards, Omya Industries president James Reddy said the project that was first proposed more than four years ago is no longer being considered.

"About two years ago, I put this project on hold and Omya stopped all activity at that time," Reddy said in his letter. "Omya has done nothing since then regarding any additional work or studies on the Jobe Phillips property. We made alternative plans to supply our customers from other locations, and as a result have closed this project."

Omya's decision was welcome news to project opponents who had raised concerns about the quarry's impact on traffic, groundwater supplies and aesthetics. Leading the opposition was Annette Smith, a Danby resident and executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment .

"I guess at this point I will relate what is coming back from the public that heard about it and that is we won, and congratulations," an exuberant Smith said Friday. "It's time to have a party."

She said Omya's decision ends more than four years of controversy caused by a project that never should have seen the light of day and one that was never going to receive the necessary state permits.

"It was simply incompatible with the incredible values that we have here: economic, natural resources, water, aesthetics," Smith said. "This is one of the most beautiful places on Earth."

Omya owns 1,700 acres in Danby, with 700 acres in the immediate vicinity of the Jobe Phillips quarry site. Of that land, Omya's proposed quarry would have encompassed 33 acres on a mountain ridge overlooking the valley.

Smith and others had raised an alarm about the aesthetic damage the quarry could cause to what they considered a spectacular view of the surrounding area. Some neighboring homeowners were concerned that the quarry would damage property values and make it more difficult to sell their houses.

But also of critical concern, they said, was the impact and safety of heavy trucks hauling marble ore down the twisting and narrow mountain roads, especially during the winter.

The ore would be trucked north to Omya's calcium carbonate processing plant in Florence. And while the exact route had not been determined, Tinmouth and Wallingford were part of a six-town compact that formed to block attempts by Omya to use their roads.

Reddy said Friday the company has focused its recent efforts and financial resources on working with the state, environmental groups and Vermont Railway to build a 3-mile rail spur from its Middlebury quarry to the main rail line.

The spur would allow Omya to take its heavy trucks off Route 7, putting the marble ore on rail cars that would be shipped south to Florence. Currently, Omya is limited by its state permit to a maximum 115 trucks roundtrips a day.

Reddy said planning for the Jobe Phillips project ended two years ago when the first phase of a hydrology study was completed.

As far as Omya is concerned, Reddy said the project is dead.

"It's no longer in any of our plans," he said in a phone interview from his Florence office. "We made some changes and we're supplying growth from alternate locations."

Those alternate locations are in Arizona and Alabama, where the company's plants are supplying calcium carbonate for the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Asked whether Omya's decision not to pursue the Danby project was based in part on the difficulty the company would have in obtaining a state land use permit, Reddy indicated that the Act 250 process was a consideration.

"Vermont is a very challenging state from a permitting standpoint," he said. "We're also very challenged geographically."

The permit process in Vermont, he said, stands in stark contrast with Arizona where the company's plans to build a plant there several years ago was welcomed by that state.

Omya's letter was received by the Danby Select Board on Thursday night. Selectwoman Blucher said Friday there was a brief discussion about growth in town and whether Reddy's letter meant the project was finished for good.

Blucher said the quarry proposal had been a divisive issue in town, with supporters arguing that Omya should be able to use the property as it saw fit.

She said her personal view was that "it was not the right place for that project just in terms of the aesthetics and the environment."

Omya's $350 million Florence facility remains the company's largest production facility in North America and is the Swiss company's third-largest plant in the world. But Reddy pointed out that the company's other plants are picking up business once done in Florence.

Currently, the Florence plant primarily supplies ground calcium carbonate to the paper and plastics industries. But Reddy noted that geographically that's a transportation challenge because much of the plastics industry is located in the South.

Reddy said the company had no plans to sell any of its 1,700 acres in Danby, which is part of the 8,000 acres it owns in the state in 25 towns.

This was the second major industrial development that Smith and VCE have been instrumental in thwarting.

Plans by former Rutland County senator Thomas Macaulay to build a natural gas pipeline and two gas-fired electric generating plants in 1999 met with defeat after Smith and VCE raised environmental and safety concerns.

While claiming victory Friday, Smith said she remains concerned that Omya could revive the Danby project in the future. She said she'd like to work with the company to make sure the land is conserved for a more appropriate use.

"Our ultimate hope is that we will see this land put to a use that benefits the community," she said, "and that mining by anybody is taken off the table."