Proposed Middlbury Omya Rail Spur View from Historic Farmhouse


Deadline extended for rail spur comments

Associated Press - December 19, 2008 5:55 PM ET

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Federal Highway Administration and the Vermont Agency of Transportation are giving people more time to comment on a plan to build a rail spur in Middlebury.

The original deadline to file comments on an environmental impact statement was December 23. But the deadline was extended because it fell during the holiday season. The new deadline is Jan. 30.

The rail spur would be used to alleviate truck traffic between marble processor Omya Inc.'s quarry in Middlebury and its calcium carbonate plant in Pittsford.

The environmental impact statement includes a number of alternatives, including doing nothing. The document says the 3.2 mile rail spur is the preferred alternative.

The spur would cost an estimated $34 million.

Environmental impact statement prefers rail spur for Omya

By Bruce Edwards Herald Staff - November 20, 2008

An environmental impact statement has concluded that a $34 million rail spur under Route 7 is the preferred route to alleviate much of Omya's truck traffic between the company's Middlebury quarry and its Pittsford calcium carbonate plant.

The preferred route would run 3.3 miles from Omya's Middlebury marble quarry, crossing under both Lower Foote Street and under Route 7, then crossing over Halladay Road and Creek Road before connecting to the Vermont Railway mainline to the west, according to the final EIS released last month by the state Agency of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

The preferred rail spur was one of several options that were studied including seven rail spur routes, seven truck-to-rail alternatives, five highway bypass routes, a conveyor belt option and a no-build option.

In selecting the rail spur after a lengthy public input process, the EIS said it "would remove a portion of the freight traffic from U.S. Route 7, village centers and local roads, and allow Omya and other shippers to access the mainline."

The rail spur alternative, designated as RS-1, includes a loading facility that could be used by other rail customers situated near Middlebury's industrial area.

The project has the support of the Conservation Law Foundation, which signed a memorandum of understanding along with AOT, Omya, the Agency of Natural Resources and Vermont Railway to move forward with a transportation alternative for Omya's marble ore.

CLF staff attorney Sandra Levine said Wednesday the spur is a sensible solution. "It will reduce traffic, improve safety and reduce pollution in the area," Levine said.

The spur also has the support of the town of Middlebury.

"It was endorsed in our town plan," said town planner Fred Dunnington, noting the spur has been studied thoroughly, so from the town's perspective the final EIS is anti-climatic.

Dunnington said the fact the spur would cross a couple of town roads caught the town's interest but in the end the town had no concerns.

"I have lost track of how many times this has been studied between the railroad and others over the years," he said.

Omya issued a brief statement in support of the final EIS.

"We're pleased that the final EIS has been issued and we appreciate the hard work of VTrans (AOT) and the other Vermont agencies that have been involved," Linda Pleiman said from the company's headquarters in Cincinnati.

Pleiman said the company is reserving further comment until the end of the public comment period next month.

The rail spur, however, does have its critics.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said building a rail spur doesn't make sense and that it benefits one multinational corporation.

Smith said the project takes away badly needed federal funds that would be better used to improve passenger rail service along the western corridor between Burlington and Bennington.

While sympathetic to the plight of Brandon and its residents, Smith said the larger issue is improved passenger rail service.

She also said homeowners in the path of the spur would lose their land by eminent domain.

"This one company is going to come in and take our land, put a choo-choo train in our front yards and where's the public benefit," said Smith, referring to concerns voiced by affected land owners.

According to the EIS, approximately 16 parcels of land totaling 55 acres would need to be acquired.

Eric and Holly Hathaway are one of those landowners.

The Hathaways own a 1796 farmhouse on Halladay Road that's a state historic site and also protected by the Middlebury Land Trust.

Holly Hathaway said the rail spur would encroach on a 5-acre parcel they own on the east side of Halladay Road, making that parcel unusable. "All of our views, if this train comes through, are going to be extremely affected by this rail spur," Hathaway said.

She's also puzzled by a statement in the EIS that concluded the spur would not impact their lifestyle or daily activities.

In looking at other alternatives, the $1.2 million EIS found that a truck-to-rail option would require two modes of transportation and additional handling of the marble ore. The no-build option was eliminated because it would do nothing to satisfy the goal of the project, which is to alleviate Omya's heavy truck traffic along Route 7 between Middlebury and Pittsford.

The impetus for a rail spur began 10 years ago when the Legislature authorized a study looking at alternatives that would reduce Omya's truck traffic. An Act 250 permit issued in May 1999, limited Omya Inc. to 115 truck trips a day, less than the 170 the company requested. The permit restricted the number because of concerns over heavy truck traffic through the town of Brandon.

Susan Scribner of the Agency of Transportation said the rail spur would have the least impact on the environment.

"We will be mitigating our impact on the wetlands," said Scribner, an AOT project manager. "There will be possible impacts to wildlife habitat and we can do some design measures to minimize those as well."

Possible impacts to archeological sites and visual impacts will also be mitigated, she said.

AOT spokesman John Zicconi said the estimated cost of $34 million could be as much $42 million when inflation is factored in.

The federal government would kick in $13 million, the state's share would be $5 million with the bulk of the cost, $24 million, coming in the form of a Federal Railroad Administration loan. Zicconi said the loan would be paid back through user fees paid by Omya and other users of the spur.

The next step in the process is the design phase.

AOT is accepting written comments on the EIS until Dec. 23. The EIS can be viewed and downloaded at Copies can also be viewed at the Middlebury town offices and the Ilsley Public Library at 75 Main St., in Middlebury. CD copies can be obtained by e-mailing Susan Scribner at or by calling 828-3615.

Contact Bruce Edwards at

Omya mulls rail alternative as antidote to highway traffic

June 6, 2007
By Lisa D. Connell Herald Staff

MIDDLEBURY — Imagine this: If a long-proposed rail spur between Middlebury and Florence is built, 70,000 truckloads of soft marble quarried by Omya will be taken out of the Route 7 traffic equation.

And that would be in the first year of the rail spur's use, said Jim Hamilton, Omya's vice president of environmental and external affairs.

A public hearing to discuss the proposed rail spur project is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Middlebury Municipal Building Gymnasium at 94 Main St.

Brandon would welcome relief from the heavy flow of Route 7 truck traffic that passes through its downtown. Omya isn't the only company sending trucks through the town, but its trucks make scores of trips between Middlebury and Florence.

The Omya truck drivers are polite and courteous coming through Brandon, but it would be better if the amount of truck traffic could be reduced significantly, said Maurice "Buzz" Racine, Brandon's administrative assistant.

"From that perspective, we would applaud the construction of a rail spur," said Racine, who also works on economic development projects for the town.

Rail transport would be better for the environment as well, town and state officials familiar with the project said.

"We're committed to using rail whenever possible," Hamilton said.

Omya extracts soft marble from the Middlebury quarry and transports it to a plant in Florence, where it is made into calcium carbonate. Many industries involving paper, food and pharmaceuticals use calcium carbonate in their products.

Omya's individual investment toward the rail project would be $7.5 million, Hamilton said. Together with an investment by the Vermont Railway Corp., about $22 million over a 23-year period will be the project's cost. Omya will "leave on the table" any savings to them by use of the rail spur during the 23-year span.

The rail spur would tunnel under Route 7 and connect to Omya 's Middlebury quarry, on the east side of Route 7 south of the village. Omya trucks access the quarry now through a road that crosses Lower Foote Street to reach Route 7.

Drawings the state released earlier show that once it crossed Route 7, the rail spur would run behind Middle, South and Halladay roads.

The Vermont Railway Mainline runs adjacent to Otter Creek and Creek Road.

Thursday night's hearing will "literally cover all the elements of the proposal and all environmental impacts associated with it," said Charlie Miller, state rail planning coordinator in Montpelier.

The next step in the proposal involves further discussion with federal highway officials, which will issue a record of decision, Miller said. The design of the project and right of way issues would follow, if the proposal moves forward.

The idea for the rail spur as a way to use the under-utilized rail line that parallels Route 7 through the Middlebury area has been under discussion for 20 years.

"We are hopeful that this will come to a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned," Hamilton said.

Three different proposals will be reviewed during the June 6 hearing. All have the same goal: to construct an alternative means to transport freight between Middlebury and Florence, a news release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England district, notes.

The proposals are: the rail spur; a no-build plan where freight transportation would continue to be primarily along Route 7; and a truck to rail alternative, where trucks would use the Omya access road to about 600 feet east of Route 7. Trucks would remain on the access road, which would begin to drop to pass under Route 7. Truck traffic would roughly follow the proposed rail spur corridor.

The project's environmental impact statement can be viewed at several locations, including Middlebury Town Offices and the Isley Public Library at 75 Main St. in Middlebury.

Copies also have been sent to the town offices of communities along and near Route 7: Salisbury, Leicester, Brandon, Pittsford, Whiting and Cornwall.

The environmental impact statement also can be viewed at Rutland City Hall. And it is available online at and on a CD.

To obtain a CD, e-mail Susan Scribner at or call (802) 828-3615.

Written public comments about the rail spur project and the environmental impact statement will be accepted by state officials until June 29. Address comments to VTrans Project Manager Susan Scribner, Vermont Agency of Transportation, program development division, National Life Building, Drawer 33, Montpelier, VT 05633.

Comments also can be sent to Kenneth R. Sikora Jr., environmental program manager, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, P.O. Box 568, Montpelier, VT 05601.

Hearing is scheduled on proposed Middlebury Rail Spur

May 12, 2007
By Lisa D. Connell Herald Staff

MIDDLEBURY –– State and federal officials announced Friday they will hold a hearing next month on a proposed railway spur in Middlebury that would allow OMYA, a company that extracts soft marble from its quarry in Middlebury, to move quarried stone to its plant in Florence via rail cars, instead of tractor-trailer trucks.

If approved, the Middlebury Rail Spur would reduce the volume of truck traffic on Route 7 south of Middlebury — something Brandon residents have been seeking for years.

The idea of a rail spur in Middlebury has been discussed for more than two decades. Friday the state released a document that outlines where the proposed rail line would run, and its proximity to municipal buildings and nearby roadways.

A hearing to discuss the proposed project is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, June 7, in the Middlebury Municipal Building Gymnasium at 94 Main St.

The rail spur would provide an alternative way for businesses that use trucks to transport their products. And it would produce savings for OMYA, which would save time and money by moving its quarried materials by rail instead of truck.

OMYA extracts soft marble from the Middlebury quarry and transports it to a plant in Florence, where it is made into calcium carbonate. Many industries, including the paper, food and pharmaceuticals, use calcium carbonate in their products.

For residents who live along Route 7, the noise and congestion caused by heavy truck traffic would be significantly reduced by a rail spur.

Rail transport would be better for the environment as well, town and state officials familiar with the project said.

Brandon, which has experienced a commercial rebirth of its town center, went to court seeking relief from the heavy flow of Route 7 truck traffic that passes through its downtown. OMYA isn't the only company sending trucks through the town, but its trucks make scores of trips between Middlebury and Florence.

A court limited OMYA to 115 truck trips a day through Brandon. Originally, John Zicconi, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said OMYA had sought approval for 170 truck trips.

The proposed rail spur "definitely would benefit the aesthetics and the pleasantness of the historic village of Brandon and all the communities in between," Zicconi said.

Other businesses along the Route 7 corridor also have expressed an interest in using rail rather than the roads to ship goods.

The spur would bring more traffic to the state's under-utilized rail line that parallels Route 7 through the Middlebury area, state Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville said in a prepared statement.

The rail spur would tunnel under Route 7 and connect to OMYA's Middlebury quarry, which is on the east side of Route 7 south of the village. OMYA trucks access the quarry now through a road that crosses Lower Foote Street to reach Route 7.

Drawings the state released Friday show that once it crossed Route 7, the proposed rail spur would run behind Middle, South and Halladay roads.

The Vermont Railway Mainline runs adjacent to Otter Creek and Creek Road.

The project's environmental impact statement can be viewed at several locations, including Middlebury Town Offices and the Isley Public Library at 75 Main St. in Middlebury.

Copies also have been sent to the town offices of communities along and near Route 7: Salisbury, Leicester, Brandon, Pittsford, Whiting and Cornwall.

The environmental impact statement also can be viewed at Rutland City Hall. And it is available online and as a CD. The Web site is

To obtain a CD, contact Susan Scribner at or by calling 802-828-3615.

Comments about the rail spur project and the environmental impact statement will be accepted by state officials until June 29.


Middlebury spur draws heavy criticism in Salisbury


MIDDLEBURY -- Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) officials were greeted with a large amount of criticism and negative feedback at a public meeting last Thursday night, Jan. 20. The meeting in Middlebury was held to present several options for moving freight and to gather opinions from community members regarding a potential rail spur that would link OMYA's Middlebury lime quarry to its Florence processing site.

The Middlebury rail spur has been talked about for several years, ever since OMYA sought an Act 250 permit to increase its truck traffic between the Middlebury quarry and the processing plant in Florence. That permit, which was upheld on appeal, limited truck traffic to far less than OMYA sought, largely due to complaints from Brandon residents and the Conservation Law Foundation.

The Thursday evening meeting was part of an ongoing process to examine all of the alternatives for the OMYA freight traffic. The purpose of a project, according to a statement handed out at the meeting, is to "provide for the safe and efficient transportation of freight to and from Middlebury."

Several options were presented, including rail options, truck-to-rail options, and truck options. Some Salisbury residents at the meeting were vocal in their opposition to some of the options, as several would call for rails to cut through the town, or for additional truck routes to reach rail spurs.

"I am shocked and I guess I'm really angry that the AOT is, at the expense of taxpayers and a huge disruption and inconvenience for affected landowners, involved in an action that would both expand and entrench OMYA's operation in Vermont," said Salisbury resident Brennan Michaels. "OMYA has not been in compliance with Vermont laws. I certainly don't support a state agency assisting, with my tax dollars, a multi-national corporation in its desire to expand its operations, for its own benefit, when that corporation is not held to the same standards are the citizens of this state. It makes me very angry."

One concern of residents is the environmental impact of any new freight moving projects. In some of the scenarios, the spur would travel through properties where the Middlebury Area Land Trust holds easements. This would call for the easements to be lifted.

A particular concern of many Salisbury residents was a route that would call for truck travel past the new elementary school. Residents believed this route would be dangerous for students, especially those who walk to school, and would have a noise impact on learning. In addition, the extra freight travel could cause structural damage to the school.

"There's a tremendous amount of concerns that we have in Salisbury," said resident Barrie Bailey. Some of the concerns listed by Bailey were devalued homes, the impact on farm vehicle travel, and the added dangers for pedestrians, bikers and horseback riders, as well as the affect on agritourism.

Other residents echoed her concerns. Salisbury resident Patti Romp noted that Vermont Bicycle Tours would discontinue routes in Salisbury should these plans follow through.

"In a winnowing out process, here it seems pretty clear from what we've heard so far that nobody is real fond of the Salisbury routes," said Salisbury selectboard Chairman Jack Beasley.

AOT officials said at the conclusion of the meeting that they would take all of the comments into consideration, but would need to consider opinions from all sides of the matter. For example, it was noted that there were no Brandon residents present to voice their concerns over truck travel through the town. Visitors were assured that all sides and all impacts would be considered.

"We will determine if they really will meet the needs we want them to," said AOT project manager Susan Scribner. Scribner continued that over the next couple of months, the department would be narrowing down the list of alternatives to get to the best solution.

There will be a four-week comment period during which time community members can send input through the mail to AOT. The period will close on Feb. 19. Comments can be e-mailed to, or faxed to 802-828-5712. For further information, call Susan Scribner at 802-828-3615

Omya rail spur plan draws fire

January 26, 2005
By ED BARNA Correspondent

MIDDLEBURY — Several alternatives that would move Omya's marble hauling trucks off Route 7 and onto rail have received a cool reception from local residents.

Faced with state-imposed limits on how many trucks Omya Inc. can ship from its Middlebury quarry south along Route 7 to its calcium carbonate plant in Florence, the company, state and local officials, environmental groups and Vermont Railway have been exploring ways to move the marble ore from trucks to rail.

"The purpose of the project is to provide for the safe and efficient transportation of freight to and from Middlebury, Vermont," said a draft "Purpose and Needs Statement" that was part of a packet of information handed out at a meeting last week attended by 50 people at Middlebury's municipal gymnasium.

McFarland-Johnson Inc., the consulting firm hired by the Vermont Agency of Transportation to devise an Environmental Impact Statement for the "Middlebury Rail Spur Project," outlined a six-phase, 26-step process, which won't be completed until 2006 at the earliest.

McFarland-Johnson representative Jed Merrow said the process was designed to include public comment at every stage, with Thursday's meeting a "scoping" meeting to determine all possible alternative solutions to the truck traffic problem and any issues that might make it advisable to cross some alternatives off the list.

At the hearing, Vermonters for a Clean Environment circulated a letter critical of Omya and the process. Addressed to Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, it alleged that Omya has violated several of its permits.

Several speakers made the same arguments as the VCE letter alleging that an expansion of the Florence plant would result in increased air pollution, increased use of chemicals and oil and increased potential for water pollution.

The letter urged that funding for the Middlebury rail spur should be put in escrow and the project put on hold until Omya is in compliance with state regulations.

Omya officials have denied any such violations and have maintained that the lack of better access to the Middlebury quarry has caused Vermont to lose tens of millions of dollars of investment that would benefit the wider economy as well as the Florence plant.

Salisbury Conservation Commission chairman James Andrews told the meeting that he was not impressed with the company's track record.

"I have run into them on a number of occasions, and I'm not impressed with how they handled themselves," Andrews said.

Merrow and McFarland-Johnson engineer Gene McCarthy maintained that many businesses could use a better road-to-rail link, including the large J.P. Carrara & Sons concrete operation in Middlebury.

But the argument failed to impress critics like Sharon Duckman of Salisbury, who pointed to Omya's name in the purpose and needs statement. Duckman said the project would never have been proposed in the first place except for the company's desire to expand.

The "need" part of the purpose and need statement said traffic studies have found that trucks and buses account for 7 percent to 12 percent of the traffic on Route 7 in the Middlebury area. Omya's 115 round trips to and from the quarry constitute about 25 percent of the truck traffic on the highway, the statement said.

In Pittsford and Brandon, the high volume of trucks affects pedestrian safety, access to businesses, and "the character of these village centers," the needs statement continued.

"The trucks have also raised concerns about aesthetics, traffic, vibration, noise, and economic impacts," it said.

Salisbury residents, a large majority of those who spoke, said siting a truck-to-rail point on the west side of their town would simply shift the impact to the north. A newly built school along one mapped route and the presence of school buses, were major concerns for some.

Another problem, said Salisbury's Select Board chairman Jack Beasley, is that any truck route would have to be paved and in the long run would have to be maintained by the town.

"It is the policy of the town of Salisbury that they remain unpaved," Beasley said.

Resident Barrie Bailey pointed out that in warmer months there are times when the town's farmers make frequent trips to and from their fields. The truck route identified by a previous study is so steep in places that winter salt would cause serious damage to natural areas, she said.

Patti Romp said that she had contacted Vermont Bicycle Tours and was told by their manager that a truck route would cause them to discontinue bike trips they take through Salisbury several times a year. That would hurt area inns, she said.

The state's decision to fund an EIS began to take shape in the 1990s when an Act 250 decision set a daily limit on the number of marble-carrying trucks Omya could haul from its Middlebury quarry south on Route 7 through Brandon.

While the decision addressed concerns about noise, vibration, traffic and disruption of Brandon's historic business district, the decision also limited Omya's ability to expand its Florence calcium carbonate plant, Merrow said.

The Legislature funded a 1999 study that looked at the economic and environmental impacts of 11 transportation alternatives, he said.

In the end, the preferred solution was a new truck route that would continue the Middlebury quarry access road across Route 7 that would link up to the Vermont Railway line that runs south to the Florence plant site in Pittsford, he said.

By looking at that and other studies and talking with an advisory committee of state, local, Omya and Vermont Railway representatives, McFarland-Johnson identified alternatives in Middlebury (rail spur, truck-to-rail), Salisbury (truck-to-rail), Leicester (truck-to-rail) and Brandon (bypass), which attendees spent the first half hour reviewing on large maps.

It should not be assumed that the earlier study's first choice of a rail spur was the best option, and doing nothing would be among the possible outcomes, Merrow said.

The $20 million, 3-mile rail spur option between Omya's Middlebury quarry and the main rail line would take off 75,000 truck trips a year from Route 7.

The spur is part of a massive $120 million project that involves the relocation of the downtown Rutland railyard and an upgrade of tracks between Bennington and Burlington.

The previously preferred route to the rail line went through part of Middlebury near the crossing for the former Three Mile Bridge, where a new bridge would have to be built.

Gioia Kuss, the executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust, said the spur as outlined goes through five areas with perpetual conservation easements, which are essential to her group's efforts to create a green zone ringing Middlebury.

Beasley seemed to sum up the tone of the hearing when he observed, "Most of you already know that a large number of the proposals just don't cut it. But you have to spend our taxpayers' money so we can tell you these proposals don't really get it."

Agency of Transportation project manager Susan Scribner said going through the EIS process is essential in order to obtain federal funding.

Money for improving the freight rail situation north of Rutland had been in the 2004 federal transportation bill, but the bill failed to pass Congress. However, a new transportation bill might also include such an appropriation, Scribner said.
Rutland Herald

Omya rail spur in Middlebury moves forward

August 23, 2004
By Bruce Edwards Herald Staff

Headway is being made on a proposed rail spur that would eliminate marble ore trucks that now ply Route 7 between Middlebury and Florence, according to parties involved in the discussions.

The $20 million, 3-mile rail spur between Omya's Middlebury quarry and the main rail line would take 75,000 truck trips a year off Route 7, said James Reddy, president of Omya's North American operations.

The rail spur is part of a massive $120 million project that involves the relocation of the downtown Rutland railyard and an upgrade of tracks between Bennington and Burlington.

Omya, along with Vermont Railway, has been working with the Agency of Transportation, Agency of Natural Resources, the town of Middlebury and the Conservation Law Foundation for several years to come up with an acceptable rail alternative to move Omya's trucks off the road and onto rail.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also been involved because a portion of the proposed spur would cross wetlands.

Middlebury town planner Fred Dunnington said the route, which conforms with the town plan, has been studied extensively and has been endorsed by the Army Corps of Engineers as the "least environmentally damaging practicable alternative" or LEDPA. Dunnington said the Corps looked at other routes and other transportation modes before making its decision.

The spur would run from the main railroad line just north of the Eddy farm across Otter Creek, then skirt the edge of the flood plain and wetlands. The route would then cross Halladay Road and then under Route 7 between Standard Register and Foster Motors, proceeding along lower Foot Street past the Vermont Natural Agricultural Products Facility. The spur would continue across Foster Brothers farm and onto Omya's property.

Dunnington said much work remains to be done. One challenge is obtaining rights of way along the route that would pass through conservation land held by the Middlebury Land Trust.

He said over the Otter Creek flood plain, a 1,300-foot trestle would be built with several culverts that would allow water to flow freely.

He added that the project is now undergoing a critical Environmental Impact Statement.

"The town views this as feasible and we want it to be done in a way that results in a net benefit for the businesses and does not result in any undue harm," he said.

Like Reddy, Dunnington said the move to rail would alleviate truck traffic by moving 1 million tons of marble ore a year off the highway.

The Conservation Law Foundation has also been a major player in the truck-to-rail discussions.

And while the CLF and Omya have been at odds over issues like increased truck traffic in the past, CLF staff attorney Mark Sinclair praised Omya for trying to find a rail solution.

"I believe they are genuinely interested and committed to having the Middlebury rail spur completed as soon as possible," he said. "They see it as an economic boon and not just a good transportation idea but actually it will lower the costs of transport for them."

Of the $120 million project cost, Omya and Vermont Railway would pay a combined $22 million through freight surcharges over 23 years.

The $22 million would be used as a match to leverage $110 million in federal grants to pay for the bulk of the project. With Congress in recess and an election coming up, the transportation funding bill is stalled at least until after the election, according to parties to the project.

"Right now the reason this project isn't moving at the pace we had originally hoped for in our agreement is because of the lack of public funding," Sinclair said.

Supporters of the project hope Congress buys into the innovative funding approach for the rail corridor upgrade that runs adjacent to Route 7, a federal highway..

"Vermont would be the test case for upgrading the transportation corridor since we can't build an interstate here," Reddy said. "The idea would be to take as much traffic off of the road and put it on the rail, thereby extending the life and usefulness of the federal highway that we're paralleling."

Omya apparently won't be the only business to benefit from the spur. Reddy said that several other Middlebury companies have indicated an interest is using the spur, including Standard Register, Vermont Natural Agricultural Products, Specialty Filaments and Joseph P. Carrara & Sons.

In addition to the spur, Omya would have to upgrade its Florence rail siding to accept incoming marble ore shipments. Reddy estimated the cost at "less than $10 million but more than $1 million."

The impetus for the rail spur was Omya's frustration in attempting to increase the number of trucks hauling marble ore from Middlebury to its Florence plant. When the company was denied an Act 250 land use permit to increase its truck traffic, that set off what proved to be a losing a legal battle at the state and federal court levels that lasted several years.

Contact Bruce Edwards at


OMYA rail spur plan rests on federal funding

Feb. 24, 2003

MIDDLEBURY - Middlebury quarry operator OMYA and Vermont Railway are pursing major federal funding that could make a rail spur to the Foote Street limestone quarry a reality.

Earlier this month, officials from OMYA, the railroad and the Rutland Redevelopment Authority unveiled an ambitious plan the would not only fund the rail spur, but provide for the relocation of the Rutland rail yard, a far ore expensive proposal.

In all, the three organizations seek to borrow $11 million as a local share to leverage about $100 million from the federal government. That local share would also include the interest repaid on the $11 million, plus another $ 7 million OMYA will spend for rail improvements at its processing plant in Florence, for a total of $18 to $22 million - roughly the estimated cost of the Middlebury rail spur. The Rutland relocation is estimated to cost roughly $100 million.

"If we can do this, we can solve a very large part of the problem," said Matthew Sternberg, head of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority and the person shepherding the proposal along.

The Middlebury rail spur has been talked about for several years, ever since OMYA sought an Act 250 permit to increase its truck traffic between the Middlebury quarry and the processing plant in Florence. That permit, which was upheld on appeal, limited truck traffic to far less than OMYA sought, largely due to complaints from Brandon residents and the Conservation Law Foundation.

During the appeal process, CLF and OMYA agreed to settle their differences if OMYA would actively pursue the rail spur in Middlebury.

The spur would take limestone ore from the Foote Street quarry and run between Foster Motors and Standard Register, under Route 7, across Halladay Road, through open land and cross Otter Creek and joining the main rail line near the Eddy Farm for Horse and Rider.

The rail spur route has already received key approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve projects that touch wetlands. That ruling found that the proposal was the least environmentally damaging practical route to get the stone from the quarry to the rail line.

That approval, however, is just one of many steps that must be taken before a rail spur in Middlebury could become a reality. The project must go through an exhaustive state environmental review, local review, then railway officials must obtain the land on which to put the line - all long-term daunting tasks.

And all of this will only take place if the entire project qualifies for the federal funding. In addition, Sternberg expects the Rutland rail yard project will be the first to move forward.

Sternberg said he and Sen. James Jeffords will push the project as part of boosting commerce on the west side of the state - especially since money for expanding Route 7 to handle more traffic is unlikely to ever materialize.

"Since we are never going to have an interstate, we have to focus on the combined corridor (of Route 7 and a rail line)," Sternberg said.

Middlebury town planner Fred Dunnington said a rail spur may not be a boon just to OMYA, which is clearly banking its future expansion on rail. Other businesses on the eastern side of Route 7 in Middlebury - Standard Register, JP Carrara and Sons and Specialty Filaments - could also benefit.

Sternberg said it will be another six months, probably, before he has a clear idea of whether the project will gain federal approval.

OMYA rail spur on new track

by JOHN FLOWERS 11-18-99

MIDDLEBURY - Vermont Railway has applied for state grant money to intensify its research into the feasibility of a Middlebury rail line to the OMYA Inc. quarry off Foote Street, and the company has asked that the project be added as a priority item to Vermont's Transportation Improvement Plan.

The Vermont Railway requests come while OMYA awaits a court appeal of a Vermont Environmental Board's decision of last spring which limited the company to 115 round truck trips on Route 7 from its Middlebury quarry to its processing plant in Florence. The company had sought to double truck traffic to 170 trips, a plan that was opposed by several downtown Brandon merchants and innkeepers.

Still, even with OMYA's appeal pending, Vermont Railway officials want to see the rail spur option follow a parallel track, believing that OMYA could be convinced to hop on board such a project if it is ever permitted and financed. The consulting firm of R.L. Banks & Associates has identified two leading rail spur scenarios in Middlebury, both designed to link the OMYA limestone quarry to existing Vermont Railway line on the west side of Otter Creek.

"We've decided as a railroad, we are going to keep pushing this option," Vermont Railway President David Wulfson said on Monday. "We need to be the ones in the lead, because it is a railroad project."

To get the process rolling, Wulfson sent a letter on Nov. 1 to Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Brian Searles, seeking a state rail enhancement grant. Wulfson is hoping to pool state grant money with matching contributions from OMYA and Vermont Railway to produce a $500,000 pot of money that would pay the estimated costs of environmental impact studies on property through which the 3.1- to 3.8-mile rail spur route would travel.

There are confirmed wetlands, archaeological sites and private property along the proposed routes, which figure to make the project a challenge to pull off. There's also the cost of the rail spur, pegged recently at $12 million to 17 million.

But Wulfson believes the project could be an winner. Using public and private dollars to build, Wulfson believes a rail spur could serve not only OMYA, but perhaps other companies along Route 7 south.

"We're hoping we can find federal grants and loans to get this going," Wulfson said. "I think there are a lot of benefits (from a rail spur) for Addison County, Rutland County, the state and the people living along Route 7."

OMYA officials are keenly aware of Vermont Railway's requests, noting they dovetail with a "memorandum of understanding" in place between the railroad, OMYA, the Conservation Law Foundation, the AOT, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. That memo of understanding calls for its signatories to work toward the financing, design and construction of a rail spur in Addison County within the next five years.

"We're working with Vermont Railway and the AOT in an effort to look at the evaluation of a Middlebury rail spur, and this is just one more step along the way," OMYA attorney Edward V. Schwiebert said of the latest developments.

In the bigger picture, Vermont Railway has asked that the rail spur project be placed on the State Transportation Improvement Plan, which would essentially get it in the pipeline as a candidate for future action.

But getting it on the improvement plan will be easier said than done.

There is a process in place whereby projects must be endorsed by the host county's regional Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) before becoming eligible for inclusion on the state plan. Addison County's regional TAC was scheduled to take up the issue at its Nov. 17 evening meeting, according to Susie Leonard, transportation planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.

Leonard noted that the TACs, despite surges in federal transportation funds, have been working collaboratively to reduce the number of projects on their AOT lists.

"Adding a new project would seem to be inconsistent with that activity," Leonard said.

Members of the local TAC will also want to know what Middlebury thinks of the project. Middlebury Town Manager Betty Wheeler, the local representative to the TAC, said she will ask selectmen at a future meeting to discuss their feelings about the rail spur project.

The Middlebury town plan already contains some language addressing the rail spur project. It states that for any rail spur project to conform to the town plan, "benefits to the local economy should clearly be shown," along with such assurances that affected landowners be compensated and that associated infrastructure - such as bridges - not present an undue burden to the town. A rail spur would have to cross Route 7, Otter Creek and all land in between.

Some Middlebury residents have already made their feelings clear - particularly those living in the Halladay Road neighborhood, which could be affected by the rail spur route.

Resident Holly Hathaway confirmed on Tuesday that she had recently received a call from officials asking permission to go on to her property to scope out the potential spur route. She and others are not keen on a train chugging through their area.

"I'm hoping that it all just goes away," Hathaway said.

OMYA continues to explore rail transportation plan for Middlebury quarry


MIDDLEBURY - OMYA continues to explore ways to get its limestone ore-bearing trucks off of Route 7 south, and the company recently hired an engineering firm to help it zero in on the best way to get cargo from its Middlebury quarry to its processing plant in Florence.

While the issue has drawn little scrutiny - and no money - from the 2001 Vermont Legislature, OMYA, Vermont Railway, Conservation Law Foundation and state officials have been meeting sporadically in recent months to keep the firm's investigation of a rail transportation solution alive.

Rail is being regarded as the most viable way for OMYA to increase limestone ore extraction from its quarry. The firm has lost at least two court battles since 1998 in its attempt to double to 170 its number of truck trips from Middlebury to Florence, where it is processed. The company's plans have been largely opposed by some downtown Brandon merchants who say the many noisy, dusty trucks have hurt business.

OMYA and other interested parties met on May 7 to discuss the rail possibilities. Those possibilities included the thought of rebuilding Three Mile Bridge Road, and bridge across the Otter Creek in Middlebury, to connect OMYA trucks with the main rail line.

Don Burns, geologist with OMYA, stressed that parties are only tossing around ideas. He conceded that improving Three Mile Bridge Road would likely draw fire for paving the way for more traffic in the South Street area of Middlebury. Porter Hospital and the Eddy Farm would be among affected neighbors.

"It's simply a concept," Burns said. "I don't know how well received it would be."

The company has also been looking at several potential rail spur routes that would lead from the quarry, under Route 7, and across the Otter Creek to hook up with the main rail line. OMYA recently hired the firm Dubois & King to look at the rail spur options and get a sense of which option would be the least difficult to permit. Any rail spur scenario would have to contend with environmental and property acquisition hurdles, plus an estimated cost of over $10 million.

The company has also looked at truck-to-rail scenarios that would involve drop-off locations in Leicester and/or Salisbury.

"We hope to soon get some more information that will allow us to better look at out options and see which ones make the most sense on an interim and long-term basis," said Erik Bohn, director of logistics for OMYA.

Some of that information could come as soon as June 13, the next scheduled meeting involving OMYA and others interested in the rail solution.

Study: OMYA rail spur could be economically viable


MIDDLEBURY - A Washington, D.C.-based consultant has recommended that two Middlebury rail spur options and a truck-to-rail scenario in Salisbury be further explored as alternative ways of transporting OMYA's limestone ore from its Middlebury quarry to its Florence processing plant.

These three leading scenarios were culled by R.L. Banks & Associates from a list of 11 potential transportation alternatives for OMYA, which wants to double limestone ore extraction at its Middlebury quarry from 500,000 tons to 1 million tons per year. That goal is in limbo as the company tries to find a way to get more of the material from Middlebury to Florence. The District No. 9 Environmental Commission last year denied OMYA's bid to double from 85 to 170 its truck trips on Route 7 south from Middlebury to and from Florence, instead allowing 113.

While OMYA is appealing that decision, the Legislature last session commissioned a second $58,000 study of transportation alternatives to lessen OMYA's truck travel impact on Route 7 and downtown Brandon. That newest study - to be delivered to the Legislature on Jan. 15 - was unveiled in Middlebury on Monday evening before an overflow crowd of around 100 area residents. Many of those residents served notice that they didn't want to see OMYA's transportation problem solved by simply transferring the traffic to their neighborhoods.

"I think you should sort out what's for the public good and what is being considered because OMYA and Vermont Railway have a need," said Salisbury resident Barrie Bailey.

One of the proposed options would see trucks transfer their cargo to rail at a site off Dewey Road in West Salisbury. Bailey and other Salisbury residents argued that trucks would have to travel through residential areas and past the Salisbury Elementary School off Kelly Cross Road.

"This is not being driven by the public, but by two corporations," Bailey said.

Middlebury residents also showed up in force on Monday, particularly those who live in the Halladay Road area. Those residents would be greatly affected by the two leading rail spur options Both spur options would originate at the quarry, with one of them (3.1 miles long) heading south, crossing under Route 7 just south of Standard Register, curving northward to avoid potential wetlands (intersecting with Halladay Road and Creek Road) before crossing Otter Creek and joining Vermont Railway on the west side of the creek. The second rail spur (3.8 miles long) would cross the creek and bring the line south of Middlebury Union High School.

Halladay Road residents, fearing condemnation proceedings or a train running through their back yards, have hired Middlebury attorney Peter Langrock to represent them.

Langrock warned on Monday that the rail spur could face some significant legal roadblocks.

"Certainly, the right to take property is for public use, not for the convenience of OMYA," Langrock said.

Scott Bascom, multimodal planing coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, agreed that a project would face significant hurdles, including public opposition, permitting, funding and the uncertain perils of the legislative process. In the end, both the House and Senate will be asked to endorse one of the options. Furthermore, OMYA hopes the state can float a bond on its behalf to justify the more than $20 million capital investment it will need to make to develop a rail spur option. The state can borrow money at a far better rate than a business.

"At a corporate return, there's a question as to whether there is any point in OMYA getting into this," said Crew Heimer, the R.L. Banks consultant who directed the study.

"At a rate the state or the federal government can borrow money, this could be paid by transportation savings by OMYA," Heimer added, assuming the company is able to increase its limestone ore extraction to 1 million tons annually.

According to R.L. Banks, the least expensive Middlebury rail spur option would cost OMYA $3.24 million a year in annualized transportation costs. That's less than the $4.1 million a year it would cost if OMYA were able to pursue its original plan of doubling its truck traffic.

High costs, along with environmental problems, scuttled most of the 11 transportation options soon after they got onto the drawing board.

Those plans included conveyor transportation to railroad; a Middlebury bypass; trucking to Leicester Junction to rail; and other truck-to-rail scenarios that would have involved more expensive "side-dumping" cars.

"The difficult thing about this project is there are so many different impacts on so many different people," Heimer said.

Some local officials said that the state had not explored enough options.

Brandon Selectman Richard Baker said that a Brandon bypass could have been added into the mix.

"I don't see anything in here that excludes a study of a highway bypass around Brandon," Baker said, referring to the legislation which spearheaded the OMYA transportation study. "I think the AOT has missed the mark."

Rail spur scenario boosted


MIDDLEBURY - Not wanting to risk losing a potential $160 million investment in Vermont by OMYA Inc., state officials are taking a fast track in their efforts to help the firm develop a Middlebury rail spur transportation option for moving its limestone ore.

Vermont Agency Of Transportation Secretary Glenn Gershaneck and Gov. Howard Dean confirmed on Monday that the state would commit its staff and dollars to study - and hopefully, build - a three-mile rail spur that would link OMYA's Middlebury quarry off Foote Street west to the existing Vermont Railway line.

"We're going to put on the full-court press on trying to figure out whether we can do all of this by rail," Dean said in a Monday interview at the Addison Independent. "If this facility has a 50-year or 100-year lifespan, there's no reason not to make a big investment to do it by rail. The question is, how you actually get that done?"

The intensified effort comes days after the District No. 9 Environmental Commission awarded OMYA 28 of the additional 85 daily round-trip truck trips the firm had been seeking from Middlebury to its processing facility in Florence.

As the Independent went to press, OMYA officials had yet to comment publicly on their being awarded 33 percent of the traffic increase they had been seeking. State officials, meanwhile, are laying the groundwork for a study which they hope will help accommodate OMYA while realizing their overall goal of getting more traffic off of busy Route 7.

Gershaneck said the AOT would secure the services of a consulting firm of to work on the study. The firm, R.L. Banks, was the same firm which did a rail spur feasibility study focusing on OMYA three years ago. While that study focused on potential costs of various rail/trucking scenarios, this new one would look carefully at whether the proposed rail spur route in Middlebury could support the infrastructure.

"This study has more to do with detailed analysis on whether we can build this thing," Gershaneck said. "It's a question of not only whether we have the money, but whether we can build (it)."

The largest potential roadblocks to a rail spur figure to be environmental, rather than financial, according to state officials.

"The biggest problem is environmental," Dean conceded. "There are two miles of floodplain, and you have to cross the Otter Creek."

Jen Russell, a historic preservation expert with the AOT, said there are some potentially important archaeological sites near the Otter Creek path of the rail spur that would have to be studied before they could be disturbed. Such a study could cost upward of $100,000 and could be time-consuming, she said.

John Lepore, a biologist with the AOT, noted that since the rail spur would involve land in a Class 2 wetlands, floodplains and a river crossing, federal officials would need to sign off on the project. That's another tier of bureacracy that the project will have to deal with before it could advance.

There is also a deeryard, prime agricultural soil and at least six private property owners to deal with.

All of this makes for a very tight deadline for the AOT, which is scheduled to report its rail spur study findings to the Legislature in January 1999.

Still, Gershaheck remains optimistic that the state can complete the study in time.

"We hope to have a pretty good handle on the scope, variety and severity of impacts to the flood plain, agricultural fields and the Otter Creek so we know what it is that we are biting off," Gershaneck said.

Officials are less concerned about financing for the project, which they hope will involve a collaboration between Vermont Railway, OMYA and the state.

The first R.L. Banks study said a three-mile rail spur would cost $17 million. A more recent (February, 1998) cost estimate produced by the firm Milan Lawson Professional Engineers indicated the project could be built for $8.9 million.

"We are definitely going to participate, but we expect OMYA and Vermont Railway to participate, as well," said Dean, though he hastened to add that the line could pay for itself through a transportation bond and heavy usage.

Gershaneck reiterated his view that the state would get just as much benefit from a rail spur as OMYA.

"I am eager to find ways to move freight and people by rail in western Vermont," Gershaneck said. "I'm looking right now at an under-utilized mode of transportation."