Citizen Outrage Builds Over Chaffee County Decision to Issue Nestle Waters Permit

Now that Chaffee County’s commissioners have approved Nestle Waters of North America’s water extraction deal – even in the face of numerous questions about the project’s economic benefits to the area – citizen outrage seems to be building.

For example, the reader comments beneath the Salida Citizen’s story are overwhelmingly negative; people want to know why their elected commissioners ignored so many questions and seemingly bent over backwards to permit the Nestle project – even as they said Nestle’s application didn’t make the grade.

And yes, there have been numerous suggestions of a recall.

Simply put, citizens apparently know what the commissioners were unwilling to admit; Nestle’s water extraction project isn’t going to benefit the area, and Nestle’s abysmal record in other rural areas

A few excerpts:

The Commissioners, along with Mr. Jackson, appeared to have missed the point when voting in support of Nestle. Whether they were well-meaning (as a way to preserve the land through a conservation easement) or afraid of lawsuits as many people have speculated; if our political leaders don’t embrace responsibility for sustainability (there’s that word) in all of their decisions, than we are lost. The future must embrace new and green opportunities, the world demands it. A corporation with a history of corruption, exploitation and ugly propaganda hardly seems like the neighbors we hoped to attract to Chaffee county.

And…

I was terribly disappointed in this decision, even though it was expected. Nestle’s has a history of being a bad neighbor, not a good neighbor as they claim. Every person I have spoken to in the community during these past months has agreed we should not allow this to happen. I, also, do not and will not buy any product put out by Nestle’s, and, of course, I do not buy ANY brand of bottled water! Water should not be a marketable, profit-making commodity!!! I hope all the locals who felt this was wrong, but did nothing about it, will now write letters to let the Commissioners know how they feel.

And…

What a travesty! The majority of voters and residents of Chaffee County have been disregarded by our elected officials to favor a big corporation with big profits to be made over a precious natural resource-water. It is totally ridiculous that this decision was made by four people instead of it going before voters to decide. This decision was not about private property rights; it’s about owning a resource in this valley that fuels our economy and sustains the living quality for humans and wildlife. Nestle, I can assure you, is laughing at the stupidity and the so called “economic benefits” they will be providing to our community. Multi billion dollar corporations can tie up legal battles in court for years without missing a beat; how far will the litagation fund go to enforce violations? Our commissioners have done us all a great disservice; I’m ashamed of their shortsightedness and “selling out” of this valley’s limited and precious water.

The comments go one for quite a ways; almost all decry the issuance of a Nestle permit, including one which correctly predicted Nestle’s coming “good neighbor” morality play:

Nestle Waters will eventually come to town with full pockets, ready to distribute money “benevolently,” all the while believing this gesture will bring them good will in Chaffee County.

We’ve all gotten along without Nestle’s blood money thus far. Will it be easy to turn down gifts from the controversial corporation in a downturned economy? I think not. But when Nestle begins passing out hundred dollar bills, for Chaffee County non-profits to “just say ‘no thanks,’” would make a significant statement.

And for God’s sake, don’t drink the bottled water they will undoubtedly leave on many of those doorsteps.

You can read all the comments here.

Clearly, Nestle isn’t loved in the community, and that also plays out in the Letters to the Editor in the local newspapers, where Michelle Riggio lands a few body blows:

At the last commissioners’ meeting to deliberate the Nestlé 1041 application, county 1041 attorney Barbara Green made an important clarification. Commissioners cannot approve the application unless it satisfies all criteria.

If the permit does not meet all the criteria, then it shall be denied unless conditions enable compliance. She stressed it was at the discretion of the board if members want to “deny” or “approve with conditions.”

Among conditions being considered is a mitigation fund to cover potential legal costs. The original suggestion from county personnel was $50,000 be kept in a fund and replenished in a timely manner as needed.

Commissioner Giese asked that it be $200,000. Why not make it $2 million just to be sure?

Furthermore, if we already anticipate a litigious relationship with Nestlé, why not flat out deny it because they obviously haven’t met all the standards?

And later in her letter:

Finally, I found it disturbing that Nestlé project manager Bruce Lauermann suggested rather than have the commissioners deliberate about the newly crafted conditions, the county staff and the Nestlé team could all sit down together and hash out the conditions instead.

Did he forget the hearing was closed to public comment – including Nestlé comments – weeks ago?

Listening to all the conditions created to ensure that Nestlé doesn’t harm the environment and/or bankrupt the county, it reinforced in me the belief that with this corporate giant, no amount of conditions could adequately protect us.

The questions from citizens just keep rolling in, and – with several more water extraction projects on the line in Colorado – expect Nestle to throw a few dollars at the community to quiet opposition.