Finding a way
March 21, 2001
Finding a way. A federal judge last week bolstered the legal underpinnings of Vermont's Act 250 when he upheld the state Environmental Board's limits on OMYA truck traffic through Brandon.
In 1998 the District 9 Environmental Commission issued a permit for the expansion of OMYA's marble quarry in Middlebury but limited the number of truck trips permitted between the quarry and OMYA's plant in Florence. OMYA had sought to increase its daily round trips from 85 to 170, but the commission limited the company to 113 round trips.
Brandon residents had complained that the increased truck traffic would damage downtown Brandon, a historic district, and the commission agreed. Ever since, OMYA has argued otherwise, but the company has lost appeals to the state Environmental Board, the state Supreme Court, and now the federal court, which dismissed the case.
In defending the importance of historic villages, the Environmental Board has confronted an issue of increasing controversy. At first glance, it may appear the peace and quiet of historic villages can be preserved only by throttling important economic activity. But the OMYA ruling shows that environmental standards need not be sacrificed for the sake of the economy and that, once business understands the environmental parameters within which it must work, it will find a way to carry on.
OMYA is an international company that hopes to make use of extensive marble deposits in Middlebury and at a proposed quarry in Danby. But because of the Act 250 rulings, the company now understands it faces unusual transport problems in Vermont.
Elsewhere, the company moves material through a variety of technologies, including long conveyor belts, pipelines, and railways. In Vermont it has relied on trucks.
But the company has come to recognize that Vermont's geography creates special problems. As in Japan, where roads wind through narrow valleys and small villages, trucking can be disruptive. As a result, the company is exploring ways to get marble from its quarries to the railroads both in Danby and in Middlebury. The most likely alternative would be to truck the marble three miles or so to the nearest tracks and to load it there onto the railroad.
Opponents of OMYA's plans in Danby want no part of the quarry there. They object to the visual impact, the blasting, and the trucking. They will have a chance to make their case during Act 250 proceedings.
But the result of the Brandon decision is already an environmental victory. The company fully intends to quarry and process its marble. But now the company knows that in the process it must pay attention to Vermont's environmental standards.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Sessions dismissed claims by OMYA that the Act 250 decision had violated federal statutory and constitutional authority. He ruled that the enforcement of Act 250 was an acceptable exercise of the state's power to police its own safety and general welfare. Any conflict with federal highway statutes or with the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce was only incidental, Sessions wrote.
Sessions's ruling thus joins previous cases in which the federal courts have upheld Vermont's right to protect its communities through Act 250. The case has given guidance to OMYA in how to carry on its business while respecting Vermont's communities, and it has encouraged Vermonters to believe that Act 250 remains an essential bulwark for the state's environmental values.