Vermont Public Radio

Danby residents blame Omya for dry wells    

John Dillon    

 COLCHESTER, VT (2002-10-31)    
(Host) Some Danby residents complain their springs and wells went dry after the Omya company pumped ground water from the site of its proposed marble quarry. The state environmental agency wants to know if there was any impact on local water supplies.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Omya is headquartered in Switzerland but it has extensive operations in Vermont. The company produces calcium carbonate from the white marble it extracts from several sites around the state. Omya wants to open a new quarry in Danby. The site sits on a mountain ridge that flows with numerous springs.
Annette Smith lives a couple of miles away and gets her water from a pair of springs. She says one spring has never gone dry, until now.

(Smith) "Neither spring has returned. They're both bone dry and that's abnormal."

(Dillon) Smith suspects her springs went dry because Omya pumped water out of the aquifer this summer.
If the company dug a quarry in the area, it would have to run pumps to keep the pit from flooding. Omya conducted pump tests in August to measure the impact on the underground water supply and a nearby wetland.
Jim Reddy, president of Omya's North America operations, says one well yielded about 375 gallons per minute. That well was pumped constantly for five days. Reddy says it's premature to conclude that the pumping harmed the aquifer.

(Reddy) "I think it's possible there was an impact on local water supplies because we're in the middle of a drought. In most of the wells on our property there was no impact. It's way too early to draw conclusions. The company that we hired to do this study has to finish all the pump tests that they're going to do."

(Dillon) Omya didn't need any special permits to do the pump tests and the state won't see the results until sometime next year.

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Chris Recchia says one well near the quarry site did go dry. He says he'd like to hear from other Danby residents whose wells may have been affected.

(Recchia) "I think independently we would be interested in hearing from any neighbors that indicate they lost water over the course of the last month or so. That will give us additional data to put in context of the report that we eventually expect to get from Omya when they file an application."

(Dillon) Annette Smith, who's opposed to the proposed quarry, says the state has fallen down on the job. She says she's heard from neighbors up and down the valley who've lost their water. Smith says Omya should turn over its test results:

(Smith) "I think it's information we're entitled to right now. I mean, this is a complete failure on the part of the state to protect our water supplies and to protect the public. And Omya has the opportunity to prove that they did not affect our aquifer. And they're the only ones that can prove it and if they're claiming they caused no harm they should be happy to give over the data that supports that."

(Dillon) State law does give people the right to sue anyone who harms a private water supply. Omya says the aquifer responded normally to the pump tests and that the dry wells are most likely the result of the summer drought.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.