Local Group Appeals Omya Permit

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(Host) A Swiss company that has extensive operations in Rutland County is fighting environmentalists over its state wastewater permit. Omya Incorporated has asked the Water Resources Board to dismiss an appeal that was brought by a local citizens group. But the environmental group says they do have grounds for an appeal. And they say the permit issued by the Agency of Natural Resources would allow Omya to use new chemicals without state review.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Omya Incorporated is one of the world’s largest producers of processed calcium carbonate. The company produces the white mineral from crushed marble. It’s used in paint, paper making and in a multitude of commercial products.

Omya operates a plant in the village of Florence. It treats its products with a variety of preservatives and biocides to stop mold and bacteria from growing.

An environmental group has appealed a state permit that allows Omya to discharge its treated wastewater. Annette Smith of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment says the permit allows the company to use new chemicals without much state oversight:

(Smith) “Well, the issue that we are dealing with in this permit is very simple. The draft permit said that before using new biocides, that the state would review and give approval. The permit that was issued simply says that when Omya wants to use a significant new biocide that they must notify ANR. There is no requirement for review, approval or any response from the state.”

(Dillon) Smith included in her appeal numerous state records that outline Omya’s record of compliance with environmental laws. She says the company has had several accidents in recent years. So she says there’s the potential for future spills into nearby streams.

(Smith) “Our concern is that Omya has used two significant new biocides in the last four years. One of them they spilled 20 tons of, which ended up in all their holding quarries, which do have fractures, and so there is the potential for contamination of, for instance, the Florence water supply¿. In addition they’ve had several spills of their process water, and that has gone into local drainage which goes into tributaries of Smith Pond and then into the Otter Creek.”

(Dillon) Omya argues that Smith’s group has no legal standing to bring the appeal. The company also says that Vermonters for a Clean Environment failed to show that its supporters use the streams that would be affected by the discharge.

Neal Jordan works in regulatory affairs for the company. Jordan says that the permit under appeal simply renews a permit the company has had for decades. He says the company is required to test the waste water to make sure it doesn’t contain chemicals.

Jordan also says that the company was able to learn some valuable lessons from the large spill that occurred in November of 2000. He says that after the spill, the company consulted extensively with the state:

(Jordan) “And one of the points that we talked about was that although we had this incident, where some preservative biocide was lost to the water system, what we learned from all of that was that the material decomposed very quickly and that in a very short period of time, there was nothing to detect in the water system. So the positive part is we had probably what could have been a worst case scenario, and yet something that there was basically no impact from on the water system.”

(Dillon) Jordan suggests that legal challenge in this case stems from the same group’s opposition to the company’s proposed quarry in Danby.

(Jordan) “I think a reasonable person looking at the situation would see that the group appealing the water discharge permit in Florence is based in Danby, has been very aggressive in their opposition to our desire to open a new quarry in Danby. And it’s not too difficult to make a connection between the two.”

(Dillon) The Water Resources Board recently postponed a hearing on the case that was scheduled for next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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