All the Marble

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An equally knotty problem is the trucks. Omya would like to keep new traffic off the congested roads, and one way is by expanding rail shipments. Both the state and the company are lobbying for a new rail spur — financed by taxpayers and Omya — to connect the company's processing plant in Florence with its biggest quarry, in nearby Middlebury. Though the proposed mine in Danby would add trucks to the road, the Middlebury spur would take many more off, about four for every operating railcar.

The worst problem, however, remains aesthetics. Omya officials claim that the quarry's surface would be no larger than 33 of the 400 acres on the Danby site, where core samples have assured them there is good marble to be found. Locals are worried about mine creep, however, with the pit growing wider as markets for marble grow bigger. Reddy (who has some environmental expertise, having served on a desert-land-use panel to which he was appointed by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt) believes there are ways to make the mine in Danby less of an eyesore. Building grassy berms around the dig can conceal it, although only from people viewing it from lower ground. Omya also hopes that technological advances will enable it to dig a small vertical shaft and then draw the marble up through that.

Some Vermonters argue that mining, while it may be a messy business, is literally in the state's veins and that Omya at least tries to mitigate some of its impact. Says Jerome Breton, 69, who lives on a 200-acre dairy farm adjacent to the Omya property: "This is a working-class community, and we need what few jobs Omya is going to create." Breton isn't even sure that most native Vermonters are opposed to the mine. "Outsiders are against it because they feel the quarry is going to interfere with their luxury of living. They're trying to turn this valley into a retirement center," he says.

For now, the global economic slowdown may give Danby a reprieve, with Omya content to wait a year or two before submitting a new drilling plan. "Mining is a long-range business," says Reddy. "We like to think 50 years ahead." That, of course, is what many of Omya's foes are afraid of.

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