Nestle’s Chaffee County Water Extraction Project Represents Bad Public Process

Everywhere Nestle’s water bottling operations go, bad public process seems to follow – as evidenced by this brilliant summation of the damaged approval process just concluded in Chaffee County, CO (found in the Salida Citizen news site, written by Lee Hart).

This excerpt from her lengthy post details the travails of citizens who waited hours to speak while Nestle received preferential treatment, broken promises, and a willingness to accept the unwritten promises of a multinational with a demonstrated inability to keep its good neighbor promises:

Over nine months of public hearings, hundreds of citizens passionately voiced their unambiguous opposition to Nestle. This, in the face of a hearing format that seemed biased in favor of giving Nestle every courtesy and consideration while on more than a few occasions showing visible irritation at testimony by local residents. In packed meeting rooms in Buena Vista and Salida, taxpaying voters waited patiently through inhumanely long meetings for their turn to speak out.

The commissioners allowed Nestle to run beyond their allotted agenda time by – on some nights – hours, yet when citizens went a few seconds over their 3-minute allotment of time at the microphone, Commission Chair Holman threatened to forcibly remove the speakers. The bias was apparent again today when in the waning moments before they unanimously agreed to approve Nestle, the commissioners haggled over language pertaining to a Nestle-funded community endowment.

In refusing the quantify – at all – Nestle’s annual programmatic contributions to the fund, the commissioners left it to Nestle – rather than the community – to define the dollar amount of philanthropic giving that constitutes being a “good neighbor.”

Face to face with a cadre of Nestle lawyers and high-priced experts, campaign promises by Giese and Holman, made less than a year ago, melted away as quickly as butter in August. Holman pledged that on his watch, no more water would leave this valley. How then could he sign a resolution permitting 65 million gallons to be sucked and trucked beyond county lines?

Giese famously said that green is the color of the future of this valley. How could Giese possibly interpret as good for green all the warnings thrown up by the county’s own consultants and referral agencies warning that Nestle could have negative impacts to surface water quantity and quality, groundwater quantity, air quality, wetlands and the plants and critters that depend on the riparian habitat.

Public opposition to Nestle boiled down to several key themes: Incontrovertible evidence prior to their arrival in Chaffee County and even during the public hearing process made it hard to believe Nestle could, without very specific legally binding stipulations, be the “good neighbor” they purport to be; the intentionally weak and sugar-coated science Nestle presented during its testimony belies lurking danger to surface and groundwater resources as well as riparian habitat that is bad for the longterm sustainability of the environment, as well as future economic development prospects for the valley. Even the county knows this as implied in the Special Land Use Permit where the county writes “Future development outside the subject parcels may impact the quality or quantity of spring water related to the Project.”

It would be naive to think Nestle won’t assign some of its vast resources to block any future housing or commercial development upgradient of its Bighorn and Ruby Mountain springs. It’s hard to imagine any small developer or business person being able to prevail against a fight waged by the world’s largest food and beverage maker.

You can read the rest of Hart’s original post here: Nestle in Chaffee County: Goliath 1, David 0; end or extra innings?.