OMYA proposal spurs six towns to form compact

by Anita Pomerance
Manchester Journal
September 28, 2001

Used with permission of the Manchester Journal

DORSET — In recent months Dorset, Pawlet and Clarendon have joined three other towns in a transportation compact to consider the impacts of truck traffic and write ordinances to protect their roads.

Dorset Selectman Michael Oltedal said his board decided this spring to join the transportation compact, "just so we could keep an eye on the possibility of [OMYA] trucks coming through Dorset, to see what the impact of their trucks would be on our roads.

The compact initially formed last year in response to OMYA's plan to run 80 trips a day from its proposed calcium carbonate mine in Danby Four Corners to its Florence plant.

"The companies have a right to be there but the local roads can't handle the weight," Oltedal said. "We're also concerned about the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. It has to become a regional issue. The Select Board can't handle the problem alone."

According to Pawlet selectman Keith Mason, his town first became interested in the compact in August 2000, when the select board realized Pawlet's roads might become the "dumping ground" if the other towns turned away OMYA's trucks.

He said the select board decided to join last spring because, "it gives us a new leverage, banding together for a common cause. Each town gives us a little more clout."

"We're not taking a position against OMYA, but we're in the compact to protect our interests," he said, adding that the select board's concern was that the OMYA project's wear and tear on roads might raise the tax rate. "We're already at capacity, they'd pay no new taxes, and they've stated they won't pay for road upkeep," Mason said.

The Pawlet Select Board members also feared OMYA trucking might raise the tax rate due to dropping property values along the truck route that would lower the grand list.

Mason said Pawlet has revised its town plan to produce what it believes is a fair system, taking existing traffic into account and using a formula to evaluate the effect of proposed uses.

Any trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds on Rtes. 133 and 30, or 24,000 pounds on the other roads, paved or not, would need an overweight permit based on the number of trips per day.

Permits would be granted for intermittent use, such as building a house or logging, but not for anything on the scale of OMYA's proposed 40 round trips a day, six days a week, for 50 years, he said.

In Clarendon, Selectman David Potter said his board voted to join the compact last spring to deal with the impact of truck traffic that might come through their town from the proposed quarry. They were concerned about the safety hazard of heavy trucks on narrow dirt roads, "the impact on quality of life that people would have to endure if heavy truck traffic went by their house," and the life of the road, Potter said.

The board has decided not to commit any money so far, but, "it's a situation that we have to monitor," he added.

According to Tinmouth Selectman Michael Fannin, his board first approached neighboring towns when they heard of OMYA's traffic plan in the summer of 2000.

They were joined by Wallingford and West Rutland, as OMYA's plan then included roads through each of those towns.

Fannin said the compact hired the non-profit Conservation Law Foundation for legal assistance because of CLF's reputation for representing towns (as opposed to their own interest,) their experience with Act 250, and "their proven track record of dealing with large corporations. They know the law."

Fannin emphasized that the compact was not formed to oppose trucking.

"We're trying to craft ordinances to respond to the potential impact of one overwhelming entity on the existing infrastructures, trying to provide fair and even access to our roads for all carriers," he explained.

The formulaic approach in these ordinances is new, he said.

"It's more complex than just lowering weight limits," Fannin said.

Wallingford Road Commissioner and Selectman Edmund Crelin came up with the calculations that measure the impact of trucks on the road and permits that could be given
Crelin said current taxes can handle logging and milk truck traffic, but the OMYA proposal made the Wallingford board question what it could handle in the future.

"We have a limited resource and constant growth," he said.

To figure out the impact, Crelin said, "We do an engineering study, get an analysis of what the roads can bear, plug in historic use and projected growth."

"It's a fair way, based on the number and size of the trucks. We're trying to create a model to preserve ... the capacity of the roads, so you don't have to create huge road projects in the future," Crelin said.

There are federal guidelines, he said, for roads' weight-bearing capacity, based on the amount of gravel and asphalt, and weight ratings of axle per truck.

"If you didn't have ordinances, you'd have to prove and then collect damages, you'd have to charge fees," Fannin said. "Whether it's called into question or not, it allows [towns] to ask any prospective business what their traffic plans are."

Crelin, in Wallingford, was not worried about cooperation from the truckers.

"Enforcement is difficult, it's an honor system, but current businesses are honest," he said. "They don't try to operate without permits, they're concerned with safety."

Fannin said that each town would be working on its ordinances, helped by CLF. When complete, they will be voted upon at the towns' respective Select Board meetings.

If passed, these ordinances are publicly warned to the community, and unless opposed by a petition, become official.

The Rutland Regional Planning Commission is also lending its computerized traffic counter, which can report on a week's traffic in a given spot.

The compact is also assisted by Concerned Citizens of Danby, even though the town of Danby has not officially joined the compact.

Fannin said the compact had to persuade Vermonters for a Clean Environment to help.

VCE's founder, Annette Smith, finally agreed to assist the Tinmouth group when the project Smith's group was opposing, a natural gas pipeline proposed in 1999 between Bennington and Rutland, was abandoned.

Fannin said the engineering firm of Lamoureux and Dickinson did a study of the roads, funded by private sources rather than town budgets.