Burlington Free Press

Saturday, April 27, 2002         

Court-imposed hush

A federal appeals court wisely ruled Thursday to protect the quiet of a historic Vermont town against the rattling, rumbling trucks of a nearby quarry.

Marble company OMYA Inc. has gone to court three times to try to overturn a state Environmental Board decision that limits the number of trucks between its Middlebury quarry on U.S. 7 to its processing plant in Pittsford.

Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that found the state was within its rights when it issued an Act 250 permit to limit the company's trucks to 113 round trips a day.

One hundred thirteen round trips is still a lot of truck traffic for a small town. Brandon, a quaint village of inns, antique shops and churches, is on the trucks' route and has been at the center of the legal fight.

In 1998, two Brandon inn owners opposed OMYA's plan to double truck traffic from 85 to 170 round trips a day.

The inn owners complained that an increase in truck trips would harm Brandon's aesthetic and historical character.

From their bench in New York, the three judges seemed to grasp the clash between preservation and industry in Vermont. By rejecting OMYA's appeal, they offered a balanced approach to a long-standing problem.

The panel dismissed the company's argument that restricting its trucking operations violated the supremacy and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The judges said the restrictions enhance preservation goals and help reduce traffic congestion.

Any marginal burden imposed on interstate commerce is unquestionably not clearly excessive in relation to these benefits," the court wrote.

Vermont needs the jobs that OMYA provides, but the state also relies on its unique, historic towns to draw tourists and create employment.

OMYA will continue to do business, despite the court ruling. It might even be prompted to finally give up the legal fight and focus its energy on seeking alternative transportation.

By upholding the restrictions on the number of trucks that can pass through the streets of Brandon, the court recognized historic towns are crucial to this state.