Omya owns land in more than 20 Vermont towns. The marble vein in Vermont runs north to south, from Canada to Massachusetts. Omya's business depends on the purest, whitest marble, which they grind into small particles finer than dust.
Until 2000, Omya, Inc., was a subsidiary of Pluess-Staufer Group, the world's largest producer of ground calcium carbonate, and the leading supplier of ground calcium carbonate to the paper industry. In 2000, Pluess-Staufer became Omya. "Omya has extensive production capacity consisting of approximately 140 plants located in more than 30 countries worldwide. Omya operates the world's largest calcium carbonate production units. Typically these plants are situated in the vicinity of large user centers for optimum service." Two corporations are registered in Vermont: Omya Industries, Inc. and Omya, Inc. In 2000, Jim Reddy came from California to take over from John Mitchell as head of OMYA's Vermont operations. In 2008, Jim Reddy retired. Anthony Colak joined the company in 2004 is now CEO of Omya North America. Omya is relocating its North American headquarters from Proctor, Vermont, to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Omya in Danby
About 1992, Omya clear-cut 33 acres on Dutch Hill in Danby. Neighbors wrote to the Act 250 office inquiring about the activity at the site. Omya replied, "The clear cutting of a portion of the parcel provides [his] cows easier access to the land." Numerous neighbors remember being told by Omya employees that mining would not occur "in our lifetime" or "not for for 50 or100 years."
In January, 2000, Omya sent a quarry plan to the Town of Danby's Selectboard and Planning Commission along with a letter asking for the town's support. Omya anticipated filing an Act 250 application within a few months. By February, 2000, a petition was circulated by residents asking the Town of Danby to oppose the quarry, and Tinmouth also espressed concerns. Omya held meetings in Wallingford, Tinmouth and Danby between April and September, 2000. On September 29, 2000, Jim Reddy, Executive Vice President of Omya wrote to Danby residents: "I am personally committed to staying in touch with your Select Board and will answer your questions throughout the process and beyond. As soon as the studies are in, we will have another forum in Danby." As of January 2003, Omya had not returned to Danby to report the results of the studies, and each month the Danby Select board reported that there has been no contact with Omya.
None of the roads out of the valley can safely and economically sustain Omya's truck traffic. A transportation compact was formed by surrounding towns to develop policies regarding town road capacity to handle the ever-increasing volume of trucks using the rural roads. During the summer of 2000, Omya toured the mine site with Senator Jim Jeffords and discussed the possibility of obtaining a Federal grant to fund alternate transportation methods for the ore. Omya held a brainstorming session in December, 2000 to explore alternative methods of getting the marble ore out of Danby. A solution was identified called "Roll-aid" -- truck-to-rail involving Omya's purchasing land for and constructing a private road out of the Danby Four Corners valley, then loading the ore onto rail cars for the journey to Florence.
In August, 2002, Omya conducted pump tests in the Danby Four Corners valley as part of a hydrogeology monitoring study required by the State of Vermont prior to Omya's submission of its Act 250 application. The study was intended to monitor impacts on wetlands below the mine site. Omya was not required to obtain any permits for the pump tests, and no neighbors were notified. For five days, 375 gallons per minute of water was continuously pumped out of the mine site. According to State of Vermont employees, the aquifer was lowered 126 feet. The water went into holding ponds which drain into Baker Brook. Coincidentally, the area had been experiencing severe drought. Numerous water supplies dried up, some for "the first time ever," causing expense and hardship for the residents of the valley. Omya did not share the results of its studies with the neighbors.
Omya in Florence
After more than two decades being exposed to Omya's increasing impacts, neighbors of Omya in Florence contacted Vermonters for a Clean Environment and asked for our assistance in dealing with the numerous problems the community has been experiencing because of Omya's operations. Residents reported noxious odors that made them gag when they took a walk in the neighborhood, noise problems that kept them from sleeping at night, dust, white water discharges, concerns about the safety of drinking water, and more. Omya spent many years denying its operations had any impact at all on the community. After Omya applied to build an 80 foot tall, 32 acre waste pile that resulted in an Act 250 hearing in 2002, neighbors formed the community group Residents Concerned about Omya. RCO is now represented by Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Clinic, which has brought a citizens suit against Omya in Federal Court. The lawsuit alleges that Omya engages in "open dumping" in violation of RCRA.
Rather than seek a permit for its waste pile from Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources, Omya sought an exemption from permitting in 2002. After reconsideration, ANR determined in 2003 that Omya's waste landfill needed a permit. Omya asked ANR to reconsider. In 2004, Omya, ANR, VCE, and RCO engaged in 13 mediation sessions that failed after the consultant hired to create a 3-dimensional bedrock aquifer model found an unpermitted dump on Omya's site and was thrown off the site by Omya. Again in 2005, ANR determined that Omya's chemically-contaminated waste needs a permit. In August, 2005, Omya applied for "Interim Certification." Also in 2005, Omya hired Conservation Law Foundation Ventures to help the company improve its community relations.
Because Omya's mining waste was determined to require certification, an automatic $6 a ton tax became an issue. After wrangling in the Vermont legislature in 2005, Omya agreed to participate in and pay for an independent environmental and public health assessment of its site, including a review of past data and the acquisition of new data as needed. That study, known as the Section 5 process, was completed early in 2008.
A Typical Omya Plant
In 2000, Omya (Canada) Inc. completed a $500-million plant expansion on its 290-acre site just west of Perth, Canada.
The factory is so large that 40-ton trucks dump indoors. It has the largest mineral grinding wheel in the world, 10 yards wide and fastened with nuts the size of a tire. It has scales that can weigh several rail cars at once, conveyor belts the length of football fields, and a tower 229 feet high. It has so much remote technology the plant can be run by three people.
Omya in other countries
Residents of Ontario Canada fought Omya's desire to withdraw 4.5 million liters of water a day from the Tay River. Residents of Vingrau, France fought a new Omya quarry for ten years, from 1988 to 1998. A book about the ordeal was published in French in 2002 (English translation available). Residents of New Zealand fought to protect endangered plants from Omya's mining operations. Residents of Northern Ireland have been dealing with the proposed expansion of an Omya mine.
The Global Marketplace
Omya's mineral extraction and processing in Vermont is part of a $4.3 billion dollar (in 1998) global industry that produces an estimated 15 million tons of industrial minerals. Paper, paint, and plastics dominate the market with 93% of the market.
Ground calcium carbonate was used in very small amounts in the early 1970's, when the North American market for GCC was mainly for non-paper applications. Since the '80's papermakers have been using more recycled paper stock and mineral fillers compared to virgin wood pulp. Over the last 20 years, calcium carbonate has obtained a very large share of the pigment consumption, primarily at the cost of kaolin.
Kaolin is known as the "white gold" of Georgia. Gradually, paper manufacturers have switched to calcium carbonate because it is cheaper to produce and more plentiful than kaolin. Kaolin has an $820 million impact on the state of Georgia and employs 4400 people.
The calcium carbonate market has quadrupled since 1992.
Two Types of Calcium Carbonate--GCC & PCC
Ground calcium carbonate (GCC) and Precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) are the two forms of calcium carbonate. Omya produces primarily GCC, but has expanded into PCC.
The paper industry is by far the largest volume outlet for extender and filler minerals accounting for more than 70% of the consumption. Cost reduction is a major reason for adding fillers to compounds. The major cost reducing filler is ground calcium carbonate.
Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC) is a new filler additive that has gained popularity in alkaline papermaking. Progressive paper companies are using PCC, a low cost filler, brightener, opacifier and bulking agent that helps in the reduction of wood pulp and other additives in the paper manufacturing process. PCC is expected to replace the commonly used ground calcium carbonate (GCC), as purified PCC offers some distinct quality and cost advantages.
One of the primary reasons for the phenomenal growth of PCC in recent times has been the emergence of "satellite" plants. The "satellite" plant is located next to the customer's pulp mill. Locating a PCC plant on the production site greatly helps in reducing the transportation and freight charges. It also negates the need for a slurrying system. Initial concerns were that the success of this concept depended on the availability of high quality limestone, which would have restricted the geographic range of usage mainly due to shipping costs. In 1986, one company pioneered research that modified the process to suit any grade of limestone.
PCC is fast growing to be the undisputed choice for fillers for a growing number of paper mills in North America. Omya announced in February 2005 that it would acquire all of J.M. Huber's precipitated calcium carbonate operations in the United States, Brazil, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Portugal, France and Russia. The three U.S. plants are located in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Omya's future in Vermont
Omya's corporate mentality requires the "biggest" and the "most" in order to produce the "cheapest." Omya might be viewed as the "Wal-Mart" of the calcium carbonate business, producing "Hamburger Helper" for the filler industry. Blasting and digging a huge hole in the landscape, taking pure white marble and grinding it into a cheap material in highly automated factories using large quantities of chemicals and biocides -- that is Omya's business.
Transportation is a major issue for Omya in Vermont. Limits on Omya's trucking has been the subject of extensive litigation by the company. If Omya's plan for the Danby mine had been successful, the company would have trucked calcium carbonate ore for 60-mile round trips both north and south of their plant for the next 50+ years. Fifty miles of Route 7 between Danby and Middlebury would be Omya's truck route.
Right now, Omya is permitted to haul 160 trucks per day of plant feed -- 115 from Middlebury, 40 from Hogback in Florence, and about 5 from the grandfathered operation in South Wallingford. Adding 40 more trucks from Danby would fill the existing capacity of the plant, making it a 200 truck/day operation.
Omya officials talk about expanding the processing plant in Florence, perhaps investing more than $100 million in their Vermont operation, and numbers as high as $160 million have been mentioned. If it is necessary to double the size of the plant and increase the capacity, is this in Vermont's best interest? If the plant doubles in size, Omya's plant capacity would increase to 400 trucks/day. Where would Omya get the necessary additional 200 trucks/day of plant feed?
Once the marble ore is processed, it must be shipped out. Bottlenecks in the rail system south of Vermont limit the number of rail cars Omya can ship to the south. The Rutland rail yard is frequently clogged with Omya's cars awaiting shipment. In Act 250 hearings, Omya officials have acknowledged that if the plant expands, more finished product would have to be shipped by truck due to the limitations on the rail system outside of Vermont. Omya has been working on Federal funding for the $25 million Middlebury rail spur and $100 million Rutland Railyard relocation.
Is there a point at which Omya will be too big for this small state? Would it make more sense for Omya to concentrate operations in areas where the mines and plants are next to each other, or where the plants are next to paper mills?
These are questions that the people of western Vermont have a right to ask. When a company operates on the scale of Omya in a small state with sensitive natural resources, we must consider the future benefits of Omya's plans. Vermont is the Switzerland of the United States, and this sort of mining and transportation operation would not be well-received in Omya's home country. Pride in the natural landscape is a cornerstone of Switzerland's image, and restrictions on diesel emissions help to keep Switzerland's air clean. It is appropriate to ask the question: will Vermont's needs and Omya's needs be compatible in the future?
Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland