Friday, June 28, 2002

Manchester Journal
reprinted with permission

French and Canadians challenge OMYA

By Anita Pomerance
Journal Correspondent

TINMOUTH - More than 200 people at "A Global Summit" on OMYA, Inc. recently heard about the struggles of small communities in France and in Canada to limit OMYA expansion.

The conference was arranged by Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), based in Danby, which opposes OMYA's proposal to open the Job Phillips calcium carbonate quarry on the hills overlooking the village of Danby Four Corners, a few miles south of Tinmouth.

A Canadian flag and posters of French landscapes set an international tone at the "Global Summit."

Tinmouth residents voted unanimously to oppose the quarry at its 2000 Town Meeting with concerns including noise, dust, truck traffic, the water supply, and threats to the Tinmouth Fen, a Class I wetland.

Planning Commission Chairman Marshall Squire explained that OMYA's proposal conflicts with their Town Plan, which supports a "peaceful, quiet way of living."

He said that when he and Robert Lloyd, Timouth Planning Commission Chairman, met with an OMYA official, they were told, "The bad news is that you'll be able to hear the blasting and the noise from the rock crushers. The good news is that you'll get used to it."

VCE founder Annette Smith said the speakers would explain what caused more than a dozen people to travel here to tell about their experiences with the multinational company.

Renaud Chastagnol, a French wine exporter and deputy mayor, botanist Monique Balayer and her husband, Phillippe, described a 10-year conflict involving OMYA in Vingrau, population 425, in the Pyrenee Mountains.

Michael Cassidy, former Member of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada, described citizens' opposition to OMYA's proposal to quadruple their present water taking from the Tay River to a total of 4.5 million liters a day. He was joined by David Taylor, of the Friends of the Tay Watershed, Carol Dillon, and seven other Canadians.

OMYA in France

Residents in France opposed OMYA's plan for an open pit quarry in the hills overlooking their village, believing it would endanger tourism, their vineyards, nationally protected plants and animals, and their quality of life.

Randy Koch, who traveled to Vingrau by bicycle with companion Stephanie Kaplan, explained the political structure of France and narrated the town's 10-year struggle as presented visually by Monique Balayer, author of a book chronicling her town's struggle, "The Earthenware Pot: Vingrau, democracy mocked."

Local control is limited, but citizens can appeal decisions at public inquiries.

Slides showed steep, dry mountains forming a bowl of cliffs rising above a small stone village. The valleys were dotted with vineyards.

Photos documented the conflict with OMYA: marchers with signs, a flag of the endangered Bonelli eagle, people chained and symbolically gagged, the women's blockade, the mayor's hunger strike, people sitting in front of bulldozers, riot soldiers advancing on protesters.

The saga began in 1990 when OMYA, already mining calcium carbonate in adjoining valleys, proposed a quarry above the village. Their application for 250 acres and a processing plant was rejected, but they applied again. The struggle continued through appeals, citizen occupations of the town hall, villagers beaten by militia, hunger strikes and the ultimate award to OMYA of its permit in 1999.

In 2000 the plant was built and protesters were fined the equivalent of $16,000 for interfering with commerce. The European Union Court of Justice censured France.

Chastagnol described how he was harassed during the time. For a month, he daily found one or more flat tires on his parked car. He also received calls at 4 a.m. threatening to burn his house and death to himself and his wife.

He observed that during the 10 years, "Every other company would have given up," but he speculated that OMYA didn't want to set a precedent by losing a battle.

He closed by suggesting that people use "a slightly grayer toothpaste. This marble is so beautiful, it should be saved."

He added, "I wish you to win against this very disgusting company."

Phillippe Balayer followed with an appeal. "No one should have power to take away the environment from our children."

He argued that OMYA's action were an aggression from private corporations against the community. In a democracy, he said, changes to the environment should not be imposed if they are believed dangerous and harmful to the environment.

OMYA in Canada

In Perth, Ontario, citizens became concerned about the use of river water for the slurry in which the calcium carbonate is shipped.

Taylor, of the Friends of the Tay Watershed, said the Tay is considered the most beautiful tributary of the local canal, and the surrounding lake region supports tourism, agriculture and light industry.

With a slide of a stony waterbed only half full of water, he showed how low the 20- to 30-foot wide river becomes in summer.

Cassidy, retired Member of Parliament, said he moved to a cabin on a lake fed by the Tay, a mile from an OMYA quarry.

He said he worried when OMYA applied for a permit to increase its water taking from 850,000 liters a day (taken from groundwater wells), to 4.5 million liters a day from the Tay River, (according to Dillon, this is the equivalent of two Olympic swimming pools).

Cassidy said 282 people wrote letters opposing the permit, but OMYA received a permit for 1.5 million liters, with the rest of the 4.5 million promised after studies.

This brought on eight separate public appeals. After 35 days of hearings, (they had expected five or six) OMYA was granted 1.5 million liters.

He said this was felt as a victory, but the quarry noise and the trucks remained a concern. OMYA had permits to expand quarrying from 1 million tons to 4 million, with 600 truck trips a day, 24 hours a day, (a truck every two or three minutes). He said at one bend in the road, cars had to back up to allow the trucks to pass.

Dillon said that their group will need to hire lawyers because OMYA was now appealing the ruling about water taking and about submitting to annual environmental review.

Concerns in Vermont

Organizer Smith said that the conflicts with OMYA were "about globalization, and a company that looks ahead 100 years."

She said that although the filler business was competitive, OMYA could use a lesser grade of limestone.

"We need to identify the community-friendly companies. We need calcium carbonate, but we don't need it to take away our soul," Smith said.

Squire said he saw a common thread there. He said that like the speakers in France and Canada, he was not opposed to the mining of calcium carbonate, but "this company doesn't want to give up and use other resources."