Huge Quarry Sign of Resurgent Marble Industry
Middlebury Site Will Eventually
Create a Lake Deeper Than Champlain
By Ed Barna, correspondent
Middlebury - For anyone flying over the west
side of Vermont, one of the most visible landmarks is
a giant rectangular white patch about a mile southeast
of Middlebury: OMYA's main marble ore quarry.
Perhaps better termed a strip mine, the 200-foot
deep open pit excavation daily supplies 85 truck loads
of material for OMYA's grinding and drying plant 25
miles to the south in Pittsford. When the extraction
operation is concluded - a process that could take
anywhere from 50 to 100 years, according to OMYA
geologist, Donald Burns - the result will be one of
the state's deepest lakes.
Now in its first phase of development, the quarry
will be deepened and extended 1,000 foot to the north
in phase two and again in phase 3. Once abandoned, it
will fill up with water, Burns said, something that is
indicated by water levels in nearby wells.
That means that there will be a body of water
3,000 by 800 feet in size and about 500 feet deep,
Burns said. By comparison, Lake Champlain is listed
at just under 400 feet at its deepest.
The Middlebury operation is one of two highly
visible signs that Vermont's marble industry has
survived the long-term decline in the stone's use for
buildings and monuments, and will continue to be a
significant economic presence. The other indication
is the OMYA facilities in the Florence section of
Pittsford, which is actually the old White Pigment
plant plus a newer plant built by Pluess Staufer
Industries, Inc. (Pluess Staufer is the Swiss owner
of OMYA and from 1976 to 1993 was the owner of Vermont
In the past decades, OMYA has repeatedly added
buildings to the Florence facility, whose nearly
100-foot drying towers with their steam plumes have
become one of the major landmarks across the valley
for motorists on Route 7. The Town of Pittsford
valued the property and equipment at $71,142,800 this
year, and OMYA accounted for 1,205,8700 in local tax
Burns said the key to the continuing viability of
the Vermont Marble industry is the new grinding
technology that Pluess Staufer bought. The extremely
fine marble dust that the Florence plant generates,
and sends out by rail as either powder or as liquid
slurry, is in effect one of the country's most useful
substances: Calcium carbonate.
Probably everyone in Vermont has at some point
used a product with OMYA calcium carbonate in it,
Burns said. Because it is non toxic, and even of
nutritional value, it appears in food products and
over-the-counter medicines as an "extender" or
"filler," he said - that is, a cheaper material that
can substitute for more expensive ones.
In plastics, it can take the place of some of
resins, Burns said, pointing to the dashboard of his
own pick-up truck as a probably example. In paint, it
can replace some of the costly titantium dioxide
pigment, and in paper, it helps create the whiter,
white of glossy publications, he said.
But meeting the demand for calcium carbonate
requires a steady supply of raw material. Burns said
the rock in the Middlebury Quarry varies in quality,
so off-color or low-grade material is blended with the
best ore to increase the life span of the deposits.
Likewise, up to 20 truck loads per day of ore
from the smaller Smoke Rise Quarry in Brandon gets
fixed in with the Middlebury ore, Burns said. Smoke
Rise is expected to run out of economically mineable
ore by the end of 1995, so the company is now trying
to re-activate four smaller quarries in Florence as
single pit operations, he said.
Marble deposits are common on the west side of
the Green Mountains, which was once the bottom of an
ancient ocean. Over millions of years, the calcium
rich bodies of countless microscopic organisms rained
down on the ocean floor, then in later geological
periods were metamorphosed to marble.
Commercial operations are only practical where
the geological landscape stresses folded the marble
layer over on itself, creating thick deposits, Burns
said. Many of the small, abandoned quarries that dot
the landscape from Middlebury to Dorset represent
failed hopes, the 19th century owners not having
modern core drillings to guide their explorations, he
But for the foreseeable future, there is no
danger of OMYA's supply running low, Burns said. The
so-called Hogback quarries in Florence were chosen
among many possibilities because the site was secluded
and only half a mile from the grinding plant, thus
reducing truck traffic, he said.
Burns said OMYA intends to make the Smoke Rise
Quarry a model for reclamation efforts to allay the
fears of towns faced with a proposal for quarrying.
Topsoil and non-marble-bearing material have been
carefully set aside so the site will soon become farm
fields and campsites for a nearby commercial
campground together with a very deep pond.