Omya seeks exemption to solid waste fees

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(Host) The Omya Corporation wants an exemption from fees and taxes related to waste from its mineral mining operation. Omya faces a state ruling on its waste that could force it to pay millions of dollars. Company officials have asked the Legislature for help.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Omya runs a large rock-crushing operation in Pittsford to extract pure calcium carbonate. The chalk-like substance is used in paint pigment, paper-making, and other common products – even toothpaste. The company generates 100,000 tons a year of mineral waste. This leftover rock contains trace chemicals that were applied to extract or clean the ore. Some of the chemicals have shown up in ground water wells.

The state Agency of Natural Resources decided last year that the material should be regulated as solid waste. Under pressure from Omya, it’s now re-considering that ruling. But Omya says if it’s forced to pay taxes and fees on the material, the bill could be huge.

Company official Neal Jordan went to the House Ways and Means Committee recently to ask for an exemption.

(Jordan) “Depending on where we end up, there’s a good potential that the tailings that we generate – which consists primarily of earth materials – could be subject to a number of things.”

(Dillon) The fees and taxes could add up to millions of dollars over the years. There’s the $6 a ton solid waste tax, a 75-cent per ton application fee, and a separate surcharge on waste that could be levied by the regional solid waste district.

Jordan wants the law changed so Omya would pay only for the waste that’s derived from the chemical additives, and not the rock itself. This would cover any chemical contaminants that are contained in the tailing pile.

(Jordan) “As you can expect, earth materials are very dense and when you have a relatively small amount of contaminant, if you will, it’s a very disproportionately small amount. And yet we would be taxed entirely on the amount of that earth material.”

(Dillon) Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment has worked with neighbors of Omya’s Pittsford plant who are concerned that Omya’s waste pile will pollute their water. She says the fees are supposed to cover potential management and clean up costs. Smith isn’t buying Omya’s argument that it should pay taxes and fees only on the contaminants and not the rock waste.

(Smith) “The chemicals are integral to the waste. If they could separate out the waste – the chemicals from the rest of the waste – then they could sell the rest. I don’t understand the logic; it’s ridiculous to ask to only pay on the contaminated portion of something that is integral to the whole product.”

(Dillon) The Agency of Natural Resources has not take a position on the Omya bill. Omya, meanwhile, warns that the tax issue may affect other mineral or mining companies, such the granite industry in Barre and slate quarries in Poultney.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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