DEAN GOES TO BAT FOR OMYA's EXPANSION
(July 27, 1998)
By Bruce Edwards
The Dean administration has put a high priority
on helping OMYA Inc. obtain the state permits
necessary for its planned $160 million expansion.
"We are going to intervene on behalf of OMYA in
the Act 250 process," Governor Howard B. Dean said in
an interview last week.
Dean said the state Agency of Commerce and
Community Development has asked the District 9
Environmental Commission to "ease up on the conditions
of the (Act 250) permit."
In addition, Dean said the Agency of Natural
Resources is treating OMYA's wastewater discharge
permit application for its plant expansion as a top
priority as well.
The District 9 Environmental Commission recently
issued OMYA an Act 250 permit that limited the number
of daily truck trips from its Middlebury quarry to its
Florence processing plant to a maximum of 113 trips a
day - far below the 170 trips a day the company had
sought approval for.
In its decision, the commission cited the adverse
aesthetic impact the increase in truck traffic along
Route 7 would have on downtown Brandon. The
commission also called into question OMYA's commitment
to exploring rail as an alternative mode of
In a sharply worded letter to Dean in June,
OMYA's John Mitchell threatened to drop the company's
four-year, $160 million expansion in the state, unless
it received the necessary state permits by August 1.
Administration officials said at the time it
would be inappropriate for Dean to interfere in the
regulatory decision-making process. However, since
the Act 250 decision was issued three weeks ago, the
governor's administration has taken a more active role
in trying to assist OMYA's expansion.
In contrast to Mitchell's desire to have him
order the commission issue a permit, Dean said there
was nothing wrong with the administration intervening
on OMYA's behalf as the company asks the commission to
reconsider the limitations placed on the permit.
While saying that he understood the reasoning
behind the decision - given the concerns of Brandon
residents - Dean disagreed with the commission's
conclusion that OMYA had not made a good faith effort
to investigate a rail alternative.
He said OMYA and the state have made, and are
continuing to make, a good faith attempt at coming up
with a plan to build a rail spur that would take some
of the truck traffic off Route 7 through Brandon.
"The problem is it costs $17 million and you
have to go across 2, 1/2 miles of flood plain and
bridge the Otter Creek and these things take a little
time," Dean said. "We're working on it."
Putting $17 million into a rail spur that would
take 180 trucks a day off Route 7 would be well worth
the investment, Dean said, adding that if the permits
can be obtained a rail spur can be built within four
While declining to be specific, he said there
were ways to fund the rail spur that wouldn't
necessarily involve taxpayer money.
Until a rail spur can be built, however, Dean
said the Agency of Commerce has asked that OMYA's
truck trips be increased in the short term.
As far as Brandon is concerned, Dean said his
administration was working on the problem.
"What we say is that we're committed to getting
a rail line up and done as fast as we possibly can to
get not just the trucks that are going to go through
there, but the ones that are there now off their
road," he said. "The end result will be that they'll
be more truck traffic in the next few years and
hopefully then there will be a great detail less."
On another front, the administration is also
backing OMYA's request for a wastewater permit that
would allow the Florence plant to expand.
"Our bottom line is that this is a very good
company for Vermont and we do not intend to allow them
to expand elsewhere," Dean said, referring to OMYA's
threat to divert the $160 million investment to its
plants in Canada and Alabama.
Asked whether OMYA was doing some arm twisting,
Dean said he didn't particularly care for Mitchell's
letter threatening to pull the plug on the planned
expansion. On the other hand, Dean said his decision
to help OMYA was based on what is in the "best
interests of the state and then you sort of separate
the message from the messager."
Although the Act 250 process can sometimes be
slow-going, Dean praised both the District 9 and
District 1 commissions saying both bodies have a track
record of being "thoughtful" and "responsive."
OMYA has resubmitted an Act 250 application with
the District 1 Environmental Commission for a $3
million expansion of its calcium carbonate
manufacturing plant. The company filed an application
for its plant expansion a year ago, but because of
potential problems with its septic system, the company
withdrew its application, putting most of the
expansion on hold.
The commission will also be reviewing the impact
of OMYA's truck traffic. According to the company's
Act 250 application, the Florence plant is expected to
generate a maximum number of one-way truck trips of
between 325 and 357 a day. The figures include
shipments of marble ore finished product and
commercial deliveries. Most of OMYA's finished
product is shipped by rail.
The commission has scheduled a public hearing for
August 13 at 9:30 a.m., at the Asa Bloomer state