What’s Next for Nestle in Chaffee County? Perhaps Not What It Expects…

Now that Nestle’s Chaffee County water extraction project has been permitted – despite the opposition of an overwhelming majority of the citizenry – we have to ask: What’s next?

Salida Citizen reporter Lee Hart – who provided detailed coverage of the entire saga – pens a thoughtful opinion piece about what’s next for the community:

Last week, the commissioner voted unanimously to support conditional approval of Nestle’s operations in this county. The permit approval contains 44 conditions totaling 11 pages which County Commissioner Chair Frank Holman said he trusts the world’s largest food and beverage company will abide by, adding that he also calls on local citizens to serve as watchdogs of the project. A final, formal resolution on the project is expected to be reviewed for adoption before Oct. 18.

Nestle assured the Citizen it would abide by the conditions and be a “good neighbor.” Yet nothing about Nestle’s actions throughout the public review process lead me to share in Holman’s naïve optimism and Nestle’s verbal assurances that Nestle will be a good neighbor and happily comply with all 44 conditions of approval of their permit.

At best this project will be an ongoing series of unwieldy hassles for county staff; at worst, a complete environmental disaster.

I sincerely hope the citizens of Chaffee County don’t experience the environmental and legal nightmares visited upon residents of places like Fryeburg (ME), Mecosta County (MI), McCloud (CA) and a bundle of others.

Yet it’s clear that where Nestle goes, lawsuits and environmental damage often follow – as do Nestle’s corporate spinmeisters, who say one thing while the Swiss multinational does another.

Hart alludes to this sad tendency. And offers a glimpse into the future of the county commissioners who campaigned on water issues, then folded like a cheap tent in a hurricane – even after Nestle’s application and analysis were found badly lacking:

From all appearances, only public pressure and opposing county consultant analysis moved Nestle to make major concessions like the removal of the Bighorn Springs parcel and promise of a permanent conservation easements. There are clear indications Nestle spun facts and the truth in its pursuit of county approval, most notably in a tense debate with Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District General Manager Terry Scanga.

But it  also seems like an unfair fight when a giant multinational corporation picked as its first target in Colorado, a small rural community of limited financial resources, dearth of technical expertise and glaring voids in regulations at the local and state level to definitively protect it against such commercial water grabs. And there’s no question Nestle can and still may well overpower this community with its vast resources in order to win any future argument about any aspect of the project.

While the commissioners had the opportunity to reject the proposal, thereby concurring with public and staff testimony that the application did not satisfy all the terms of the 1041 permit process, they chose instead to approve the project with a lengthy list of conditions they felt addressed the public’s concerns and brought the project into 1041 compliance. In so doing they also reneged on campaign assurances and stump speeches about green being the color of the future here and vowing to keep water in the valley.

You can read Hart’s piece in its entirety at Nestle saga moves toward next chapter.