It was never my goal to write a “Stop Nestle Waters” blog, but Nestle Waters of North America’s heavy-handed attempt to subpoena the private financial records of opponents of their proposed McCloud bottling plant – a list which included friends of mine – galvanized me into looking into their business practices.
(image courtesy Vanessa Fitzgerald)
It was an eye-opening exercise; Nestle’s dealings with small rural towns – the frequent targets of their water extraction projects – tend to follow a distressingly similar arc.
I’ve researched the stories and spoken to locals, and compiled six of the most common – and most predatory – behaviors exhibited by Nestle.
If I were a rural town contemplating getting into bed with Nestle – or a citizen who’s heard rumblings of a deal – I’d look very, very hard for telltale Nestle behaviors like:
#1. Nestle Negotiates Behind Closed Doors – Out of Public View
“I didn’t know the town was even considering selling our water to Nestle/Poland Spring/Arrowhead/Ice Mountain/whatever until it was almost signed.”
The above refrain has popped up so often, it couldn’t possibly be considered coincidental. Nestle likes to fast-track projects and negotiate out of the public spotlight – leaving residents to fight a contract already in place (or simply to give up).
In 2003, residents of McCloud, CA, were stunned to discover that Nestle’s representatives – including a lawyer paid for by Nestle who reviewed the contract for the McCloud Services District – had been negotiating with the town’s Services District without any public oversight. When the contract was approved by the Services District at the end of the first (and only) public meeting about the contract – effectively removing the public from the process – residents revolted.
Those unhappy residents and a handful environmental groups finally forced Nestle to nullify the contract, and the event has become a case study in grassroots revolt.
It’s also now clear Nestle tried to pull a fast one in Clinton, where Poland Spring (Nestle’s Maine brand) and the Clinton Board of Selectman were negotiating in secret while representing to the public that little was happening.
A citizen’s group started sniffing around, and in what looks like a clear attempt to hide the extent of the negotiations, the selectman actually destroyed a Memorandum of Understanding they’d signed (though Nestle hadn’t).
In Kennebunk, public notice of an impending 30-year deal with Nestle was limited to an item in the water district’s newsletter and a single press release. Fortunately, residents caught on before the deal was finished, and forced a tabling of the contract.
These are hardly the only examples; any examination of Nestle’s record reveals the same endlessly repeating – and largely predatory – pattern.
#2. Nestle Uses a Legal Bludgeon to Subvert Local Control & Intimidate Opponents
If you don’t believe Nestle tries to intimidate opponents via legal means, then simply ask the residents of Fryeburg, Maine, who have said repeatedly said “no” to Nestle/Poland Spring’s 50 trucks-per-day loading station. That triggered repeated lawsuits, where Nestle tried to force the town to accept its high-impact project in a residential area.
Four appeals later (that’s five suits total), the matter’s been all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, where Nestle argued its right to grow its market share superceded the town’s right to say no.
And Nestle’s still filing appeals.
I spoke with a Fryeburg organizer yesterday, who feared Nestle’s transparent attempts to wear down the opposition might be succeeding: “People are tired of the fight; they don’t want to talk about water and they’re sick of the issue.”
In McCloud, opponents of Nestle’s plant found their private, personal financial records subpoenaed in response to a local environmental group’s lawsuit. A judge quashed the attempt, but Nestle’s clear attempt to intimidate opponents shocked even those with little interest in the fight.
In Mecosta County, Michigan, Nestle lost a lawsuit when a judge ruled they were damaging a watershed by overpumping. Forced to reduce their pumping volume by half – and rather than take the environmentally responsible route – Nestle sought to overturn the law by which the groups sued them (they their case in front of a very conservative state court).
Nestle’s “aggressive” legal tactics appear in many communities where citizens dare oppose them. Is that the work of a “good corporate neighbor?” It doesn’t look that way from here.
#3. Nestle Fails to Safeguard Watersheds or Perform Environmental Studies
Let’s give credit where it’s due – Nestle typically protects the aquifer upstream of their pumping stations (that’s where their profit lies after all), but despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, Nestle has consistently failed to protect watersheds downstream of their pumping plants.
While Nestle makes a lot of noises about its environmental efforts – a visit to its Web site suggests it’s one shade less green than Mother Nature – Nestle has already lost a court case in Mecosta County, MI, and was ordered to immediately cease pumping to prevent further damage to the watershed.
In Florida, Nestle aggressively lobbied to extract 1.47-million gallons per day from drought-stricken Blue Springs – while state water scientists wanted the amount set at 400,000 gallons per day to protect the spring, running at the lowest flows ever recorded.
The result? Nestle got its full allotment – after state political appointees interceded on their behalf.
In McCloud, they often repeated their claim that extracting 521,000,000+ gallons of water annually from springs feeding Squaw Creek wouldn’t affect the creek at all – despite the fact that they had never bothered to measure the flows in Squaw Creek.
In addition, they blithely suggested their 600 truck trips per day wouldn’t have any substantive impacts.
Good environmental steward?
Not when it comes to watersheds.
In the same vein, suggesting that cities and states should step up their recycling efforts (at taxpayer expense) to better dispose of the 85%+ of Nestle’s plastic water bottles that end up in landfills doesn’t exactly qualify them for environmental sainthood.
Stay tuned for more, including Part II – Three more reasons why small, rural communities can’t trust Nestle Waters.
In the meantime, Enjoy Your Waters, Tom Chandler.
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