Wennberg nears decision on Omya waste permit

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(Host) Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says he’s close to a decision on whether the Omya calcium carbonate plant needs a solid waste permit. Omya wants to expand storage for the mining waste left over from its rock-crushing operation in Pittsford. Local residents are concerned that trace chemicals in the waste could contaminate their groundwater. And they argue that the state has allowed Omya to operate an illegal waste dump for years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Omya’s Pittsford plant crushes one million tons of rock and extracts calcium carbonate, a mineral that’s used in paint pigment and many other products. Omya wants to dump tons of the waste product in an abandoned quarry. And earlier this month, Commissioner Wennberg issued a preliminary ruling that said the material was exempt from solid waste regulations.

That decision is now being challenged by neighbors of the Pittsford plant. They’ve gotten some legal help from a law clinic at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. Julia Huff is the clinic’s assistant director. Huff says that state law does not give Wennberg the authority to exempt mineral waste.

(Huff) “That law is very clear about what things should be characterized as waste and what things should be exempted or accepted out of that definition. And there’s nothing in the statute about earth materials.”

(Dillon) The law clinic argues that, in fact, Omya’s existing waste dump requires a solid waste permit and that the state has allowed Omya to operate the disposal site illegally.

Omya generates about 100,000 tons of waste material a year at its Verpool plant in Pittsford. If the material was defined as solid waste, it could be subject to the state’s $6 a ton solid waste tax. Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says the solid waste tax has never been applied to earth waste.

(Wennberg) “It is my understanding that that tax has never been applied to this type of activity or even unrelated types of activity, such as material disposed of in a stump dump. Categorical type waste facilities have historically not been required to pay the solid waste tax, so it would be quite a departure from past practice.”

(Dillon) Julia Huff at the law school says the Pittsford residents are concerned that trace chemicals used to treat the calcium carbonate could leach through and contaminate their ground water. But Steven Thompson, the Omya plant manager, says the waste will not harm the environment.

(Thompson) “We’ve been doing the same operation for- it’s approaching 25 years. And we’re under, like, 500 different permit conditions from the state and federal governments. So I think that we are looked at in many different ways and I think what we’re doing is in full compliance with rules and regulations.”

(Dillon) Commission Wennberg is reviewing the comments filed by the neighbors and says he should have a decision in a week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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