OMYA focus of ‘global’ summit

Manchester Journal
article used with permission

By Anita Pomerance
Journal Correspondent

DANBY — As OMYA proceeds with groundwater tests at its proposed quarry site between Danby Four Corners and Tinmouth, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc. invite the public to attend summit on OMYA, Inc. entitled “From France and Canada: International Portraits of a Global Mining Corporation.”

Guest Speakers will report on experiences with OMYA in other places. One will be Renaud Chastagnol, Deputy Mayor of the village of Vingrau, in the south of France near the Pyrenee Mountains.

Others will include Michael Cassidy, Former Member of Parliament, Ottawa, Canada.

The event will be at the Tinmouth Community Center on Thursday, June 6, from 7 to 10 p.m. The summit will be free of charge, but tickets are required for admission because of limited seating capacity.

To reserve tickets, contact: Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc., 789 Baker Brook Rd., Danby, Vermont 05739, call (802) 446-2094 or Email VCE@vermontel.Net

The summit came about through experiences by local people in dealing with the multinational mining corporation.

In 2000, OMYA announced plans to open the Jobe Philips quarry in the picturesque mountain town of Danby Four Corners.

The 33-acre site on the western slope of Dutch Hill would have a 24-acre quarry hole.

The marble ore, or calcium carbonate, would be ground into a white powder at the plant in Florence and shipped out in slurry form to be used in a wide range of products from toothpaste to plastic.

OMYA’s proposal has stirred emotions on both sides. Some Danby residents have expressed loyalty to any marble company, remembering favors to the town by OMYA’s predecessors, Vermont Marble, also seeing the possibility of jobs and recognizing the amount of property taxes paid to the town.

Other Danby residents, including the non-profit organization Vermonters for a Clean Environment, headed by Annette Smith, and many in Tinmouth, have opposed the project.

Tinmouth unanimously voted at its 2000 Town Meeting to oppose the Jobe Phillips quarry because it did not meet the criteria of their Town Plan.

Opponents expressed concern about the effects such a large operation would have on the quality of life for those within sight or earshot: noise and dust of blasting, visual impact and effects of heavy truck traffic or other transportation used to transport the product.

They also expressed concern about damage to the water table and the Tinmouth fen, which has recently been declared a Class I Wetland, home to several species of rare plants and animals.

In November 2001, Michael Smith of the Agency of Natural Resources said OMYA’s proposal for a study plan lacked detail.

According to hydrogeologist Eric Hanson, OMYA’s groundwater studies on the site of their proposed marble ore quarry in the Danby Four Corners area will be completed by January 2003.

Hanson is with Pioneer Environmental Associates, retained by OMYA for the studies.

The studies must be submitted to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources before the company can apply for an Act 250 land-use permit, or begin addressing Act 250 criteria such as aesthetic impact, according to James Reddy, New England vice-President of the multinational company based in Switzerland.

Recently, Hanson said that Pioneer submitted a final plan in January 2002 that was approved in February.

Hanson said that the plan met all the questions raised by the state, including studying the groundwater recharge area, making observations from the ground, as well as from aerial photographs, as well as having ongoing assessment during quarry operations.

He said 16 wells have been dug on OMYA property to locate groundwater and to check its composition. He said they were not able to study all of the recharge area because some of it is on the property of adjacent landowners who have not permitted OMYA on their land.

Hanson said he could not comment on the results of the observation yet, because the water samples have not been analyzed by a laboratory. Two rounds of groundwater monitoring have been done so far, he said, adding, “Everything’s going right on schedule.”

OMYA’s Reddy said recently that there was no current plan for applying for Act 250. He said several studies needed to be done to meet environmental criteria, not only water quality, but also endangered plants and animals, air and archaeology, before they could even begin to study how to meet other criteria such as aesthetics.

He said that they were considering several ways of transporting the ore to Florence, but could not predict which method would turn out to be most workable.

Reddy explained that OMYA is currently spending most of its efforts on a memo of understanding for transportation issues surrounding their Middlebury site. He said they were working with state officials from the Departments of Transportation, Commerce and Environmental Protection, as well as Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont rail company. OMYA was also working with other groups to improve infrastructure, he said.

“So you see,” he concluded about the Danby quarry and its Act 250 application. “It’s still a ways down the road.”

According to Annette Smith, of VCE, the conflicts between OMYA and the citizens of the village of Vingrau, France, as well with those in Perth, Ontario have much in common with the situation in Vermont.

The village of Vingrau, France, is the site of a much-opposed OMYA mine. She said that Monique Balayer, who will also be at the June 6 summit, has written a book about their experiences with OMYA, including a hunger strike, occupation of the mine site, and violent confrontations between the villagers and their opponents. VCE has had the book translated into English.

Smith said that Canadian citizens have been engaged in an appeal over OMYA’s water-taking permit from the Tay River, near Perth, Ontario. A ruling came down denying them permission to take more than quadruple the amount of water they had originally requested. OMYA is now appealing that ruling.