Citizen Group Drops Appeal Against OMYA

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(Host) A citizens group has decided to drop its challenge to a pollution permit issued to OMYA Incorporated in Proctor. The group, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, says it can’t afford to continue the expensive legal battle. The environmentalists say that instead they will concentrate on fighting a marble quarry that OMYA wants to build in Danby.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) OMYA produces calcium carbonate by grinding a million tons a year of white marble at its plant in Pittsford. Calcium carbonate is used as a raw material in hundreds of products, from toothpaste to paper. To keep the material pure, OMYA treats the calcium carbonate with biocides and preservatives to kill mold and bacteria.

Last year, Vermonters for a Clean Environment appealed a permit that allows OMYA to use new chemicals without prior state approval. The case went to the Water Resources Board, which ruled that the group didn’t have the legal standing to bring the appeal.

The Water Resources Board said that since the environmental group doesn’t have members who vote for the organization’s directors, it didn’t meet the Board’s definition of a group that’s allowed to appeal. Vermonters for a Clean Environment had until this week to appeal the ruling to court.

Executive Director Annette Smith thinks the decision was wrong. But she says the group wants to save its money to fight OMYA’s plans to build a new quarry in Danby:

(Smith) "It’s all about money. Going up against OMYA in the legal system is extremely expensive for citizens. And the company is a professional litigator and will always throw more motions at us than we can afford. So we decided to reserve our money for dealing with the Danby situation."

(Dillon) Smith says she’s concerned that the Water Resources Board has put new limits on the public’s right to challenge pollution permits.

(Smith) "No other organization has ever been held to this standard and it’s a small technical detail where the organization’s board of directors have to be elected by the membership in order to participate in water Resources Board hearing. This is a legal technicality and it’s really outrageous for the Water Resources Board to have made up a new rule just to keep us out."

(Dillon) OMYA had opposed Smith’s appeal. Company lawyers argued that the group failed to meet the threshold to bring a legal challenge. OMYA officials could not be reached for comment on the decision to drop the case.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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