Rutland Herald

Neighbors fight OMYA waste storage plan

December 19, 2002

A group of Florence residents, fearing contaminated water, is opposing a plan to stockpile waste at OMYA’s processing facility.

The company is applying for an Act 250 permit to expand its storage of tailings — impurities separated from calcium carbonate when it is removed from slurry — in the Dolomite Quarry. The company has been dumping tailings in the quarry and wants to continue piling them up above ground level once it fills.

Residents Concerned about OMYA, an informal group of nearby landowners that was granted preliminary party status in the application process, is worried about the plan and brought in an engineer from Massachusetts to represent them at a hearing Wednesday before the District 1 Environmental Commission.

“I would like to know our water supply is safe,” said Florence resident Beverly Peterson, who identified herself as the spokeswoman for RCO.

The commission listened to more than eight hours of testimony on the proposal before recessing the hearing. The majority of testimony came from OMYA officials and engineers, all of whom were cross-examined by a handful of residents and Curt Freedman, RCO’s engineer.

OMYA’s engineers tried to assuage neighbors’ concerns, saying there was no connection between the site’s groundwater and the town’s water supply, and that contaminants that have been found in the tailings should not pose a threat.

“The Florence supply well is hydrogeologically isolated from the tailings management area,” hydrogeologist Ameddia Perry said. “They’re in entirely different aquifers. The water in the Florence aquifer is primarily recharged from Otter Creek — not even from the direction of the OMYA site.”

Freedman challenged Perry on that claim, saying that groundwater flows toward rivers and that the water from the OMYA site should flow toward Otter Creek and the Florence aquifer.

Perry replied that while Freedman’s statement was true generally, it did not apply in this case because the slope of the ground ran away from the river and that groundwater always follows the slope.

The hydrogeologist discussed seven chemicals that have been found in the tailings, some of which had been mentioned by residents as cause for concern. Perry said some had no known negative health impacts, some were no longer disposed of with the tailings, some were naturally occurring and others were only found in trace amounts well within water quality requirements.

Perry also said that all the chemicals in question had poor water solubility and bonded readily to carbon compounds, so if they were to make it out of the quarry, they wouldn’t travel far.

Freedman read a statement saying that he believed the quarry posed a significant threat to public health and the environment. He said OMYA needed to do more tests and look into lining the quarry, possibly with a membrane like the ones used in landfills.

OMYA attorney Edward Schwiebert asked Freedman if he had done any testing or analysis of the area on which to base his opinion. Freedman replied that he had not and that the residents wanted independent testing done to reassure them.

Commission Chairman Robert Tepper recessed the hearing just after 7 p.m. — 10 hours after it started with a site visit at the Florence plant. He said the interested parties would be given additional chances to present evidence.

“I’m not going to attempt to give an oral recitation of a recess order tonight,” he said. “We’ll have to meet and debate what goes out, but we won’t do it tonight.”

Contact Gordon Dritschilo at