Category Archives: Florida

Groveland Battling Water Bottler (Niagra) to Preserve Chance of Future Growth

This isn’t a Nestle issue, but the concept is similar; the citizens of the town of Groveland (FL) are fighting a water bottler (Niagra). While citizens are being asked to conserve, Niagra wants to take 500,000 gallons of water per day – enough to stifle opportunities for future growth – and future jobs in less water-intensive industries.

The defendgroveland.com Web site
The defendgrovelandsfuture.com Web site

Water’s too valuable to stick in tiny bottles and ship out of the area – especially when the jobs provided are a fraction of those another, less-water-intensive company would provide.

Nestle, Facing Closing Tax & Resource Loopholes in Florida, Throws Customers Under Bus

Florida’s long been a highly profitable playground for water bottlers (including Nestle Waters of North America). They’re allowed to pump water essentially for free (they pay only a small permit fee), and have enjoyed the benefits of an inexplicable sales tax exemption.

Now Florida’s Republican Governor – in the grip of a budget deficit – wants to close the sales tax loophole and enact a “severance tax” (a tax charged others when a resource is “severed” from the land for commercial use), and the bottled water industry (especially Nestle) aren’t happy.

Then again, many of Floriday’s citizens aren’t all that happy with the free ride enjoyed by water bottlers – especially those being asked to curtail water use in the drought-stricken state:

Public spigot stays open for water bottlers – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com

You probably thought there was a serious water shortage in Florida.

It’s why we’re spending billions to repair and repurify the Everglades, right? It’s why we’re not supposed to run our lawn sprinklers more than once or twice a week.

But hold on. It turns out there’s a boundless, virtually free supply of Florida water — though not for residents. The public spigot remains open day and night for Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and 19 other corporations that bottle our water and sell it for a huge per-unit profit.

The stuff is no safer or tastier than most municipal tap water, but lots of us buy it, anyway. You know all the brands: Deer Park, Dasani, Zephyrhills, Aquafina, even Publix.

Common sense would suggest that a company with a balance sheet like Coca-Cola’s or Pepsi’s ought to pay for the water they take, the same as homeowners and small businesses do.

Nope. Every year, state water managers allow large bottling firms to siphon nearly two billion gallons from fresh springs and aquifers. The fees are laughably puny.

For example, it cost Nestle Waters of North America the grand sum of $150 for a permit to remove as much water as it pleases from the Blue Springs in Madison County. Every day, Nestle pipes about 500,000 gallons, enough to fill 102,000 plastic bottles that are then shipped to stores and supermarkets throughout the Southeast.

Even by Florida standards, the scale of this public rip-off is mind-bending.

Naturally, Nestle is leading the charge to protect its profits at the expense of a public resource, and bottlers – cornered by public opinion and a state hungry for money – seem willing to throw their customers under the bus while protecting their right to pump public water for free:

Lobbyists for the bottled water industry are offering an olive branch in the impending tax fight over their product. They’re agreeing to let lawmakers remove the exemption on bottled water and impose the sales tax. The hitch: the sales tax would be paid in lieu of the governor’s plan to impose a six cents severance tax on every gallon of water used for bottled water.

“We’re generally not opposed to the repeal of the sales tax exemption and we’re working to develop a potential compromise to generate revenue and still benefit consumers who use bottled water as their primary drinking source,” said Lane Stephens, lobbyist for Nestle Waters, the nation’s largest bottled water company with two plants in Florida. A six-cents a bottle tax would be paid by consumers at the point of sale, as it now is when consumers buy soft drinks.

The governor proposes that the Department of Environmental Regulation impose a 6-cents per gallon tax on water “severed” from the state by companies that use it to profit ‘s from state water. It would include the 5.4 million a day pumped from state aquifers and springs, as well as all the water taken from municipal waters supplies.

In other words, when the money comes out of their customer’s pockets, fine. When they’re asked to pay for a severed resource like any other corporation – no way.

The irony isn’t lost on everyone:

Big Bottled Water Hits Back, Hilariously

But wait! Not so fast, says Big Bottled Water. We shouldn’t have to pay taxes on the resources we extract for commercial purposes, like natural gas and oil companies do! That’s unfair!

And why, pray tell us, Nestle Water Co?

According to the Herald, the Southwest director of operations for Nestle said that “Bottled water ‘isn’t a luxury, it’s a choice,” he argues, “and during times of natural disaster, it’s a necessity.’

Mmmm. Good point, Nestle. According to Meriam Webster, the definition of ‘luxury’ is “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.” Yes, I’d say the millions of bottles of water lining supermarkets, bodegas, and convenience stores across the nation are absolutely necessary—especially when 90% of the nation has access to tap water that’s better and safer than the bottled stuff.

Paying money for water in a plastic bottle when you can get it free at home is the very epitome of luxury: it’s absolutely <em>un</em>necessary. And playing the natural disaster card? Are you kidding me?

How many, exactly of those 102,000 bottles filled <em>every hour</em> from that one single plant go to natural disaster relief? Somewhere between 0-1, by my best estimates. But closer to 0.

Nestle Waters of North America continually offers up disaster relief as an excuse to continue its plunder of water supplies in pursuit of profits (which head right out of the country to Switzerland), yet – as the Treehugger site points out – that’s simply a non-starter.

It’s like asking for an income tax exemption because you occasionally volunteer to help out at the Senior Center.

Stay tuned for more on Florida.

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Florida Bottlers May Start Paying For Water They Now Pump… for Free

In the “it’s freakin’ about time” category, Florida water bottlers (Nestle among them) may have to start paying a “severance” tax for the water they pump from aquifers. Currently bottlers pay only for the permits to pump the water (typically a couple hundred dollars), a situation even Republican politicos want changed.

This from the Miami Herald (read the whole story here):

In a rural North Florida town where the water tower bears the motto ”Tiny but Proud,” residents have a big secret: They give the cold, clear spring water that bubbles up from the aquifer below their soil to the nation’s largest bottled water company — for free.

Every day, Nestle Waters of North America sucks up an estimated 500,000 gallons from Madison Blue Springs, a limestone basin one mile north of town. It pipes the 70-degree water to its massive bottling plant and distribution center, fills 102,000 plastic containers an hour, pastes on Deer Park or Zephyrhills labels, boxes it up and ships half of it out of state.

The cost to the company for the water: a one-time $150 local water permit. Like 22 other bottled water companies in Florida, including giants Coca Cola and Pepsi Co., Nestle’s profit is 10 to 100 times the cost of each bottle. And the payment to Florida? Not a dime.

USA Today weighs in with Florida may charge bottlers for water:

Gov. Charlie Crist wants Florida’s water bottlers to start paying for the water they pump from aquifers in the state, The Miami Herald reports.

Outside the rural north Florida town of Lee, “every day, Nestle Waters of North America sucks up an estimated 500,000 gallons from Madison Blue Springs,” the paper says. You probably know it as Deer Park.

The company paid a one-time permit fee of $150. It’s one of 23 water bottlers in the state that doesn’t pay for their water, the Herald reports. Now Crist and some state lawmakers want to charge 6 cents a gallon.

That would translate to $56 million in the first year alone, money that would fund state water projects.

Florida’s Capital News Service had this to say:

Millions of gallons of Florida water are piped from the ground, bottled and shipped to other states every day. The state gets nothing. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, More than 20 companies that bottle Florida water have gotten the Governor’s attention.

While bottlers (predictably) cry foul, several articles noted the disparity between asking residents to reduce water usage (due to drought) while water bottlers continue to send water out of state – for which the public receives nothing.

Go Florida.

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Florida Citizens Fight Back: More on Gilchrist County’s “NO” to Water Bottling Permit

Bottled water is taking lumps at every point of the compass – from McCloud to Maine to Michigan to Florida, where local residents have beaten back yet another proposed water bottling plant.

From Alternet, here’s another Gilchrist/Santa Fe River article in its entirety:

Florida Fights Back Against Bottled Water Extraction

Over 200 residents from Gilchrist, Alachua, Columbia and Suwannee Counties in Florida came out on Tuesday to demonstrate their opposition to a proposed bottling facility along the Santa Fe River. After six hours of public testimony the County Commission voted 4-1 to deny a “special use” permit to allow Blue Springs Properties Inc. to extract water from a spring on the river. The new bottling facility would have pumped a minimum 500,000 gallons of water a day. Coca-Cola already operates a facility 5,000 feet from the proposed site that can pump up to 1.2 million gallons of water a day.

Local residents expressed concern over the environmental impacts of the facility, as extracting large volumes of water from the Santa Fe River could decrease its flow and water levels. As of September 30, the area’s water management district had not completed an environmental impact study on how the proposed facility might affect the Santa Fe River. The facility also would have increased traffic in the area, with over 100 hundred trucks a day entering and leaving the area, adding a significant amount of pollution and noise, while compromising the safety of local roads.

The County Planning Commission cited an incompatibility between the facility and its own goals of containing development within the area and protecting its natural resources. In March the Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the proposed plant, citing a lack of compatibility with the area, insufficient public infrastructure and safety concerns associated with truck traffic. Minutes from that meeting also reveal that as of March, a number of issues such as light pollution, storm water management, site ingress and egress, site coverage, determination of water recharge areas, buffer zones and wetlands delineation had yet to be determined.

The area’s economy relies on the river and its springs, which are major tourist attractions. While the precise extent of the facility’s impact on the area’s tourism industry is unknown, taking significant quantities of water from the springs would deplete their levels and natural beauty, making them less attractive to visitors.

Presently, the Santa Fe River is a tributary to the famous Suwannee River and both are listed as impaired rivers by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). It is necessary to maintain the historic flow from the springs to support the delicate balance of the water ecosystem.

“We are very pleased that the Gilchrist County Commission has decided to deny this permit,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch, one of the groups that opposed the permit. “If approved, this permit could have ignited a domino effect where future extractions are sanctioned with little regard for the consequences they may have on the area’s ecosystem and communities. Once a permit has been obtained, a bottler can request at any time for more water to be extracted. The bottled water industry is notorious for its lack of regulation. Few quotas exist to limit the amount of water a company can extract as they are self regulated in the state of Florida.”

“Tuesday’s hearing and vote is emblematic of the power that people everywhere have to speak up in protection of vital natural resources,” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, board member of Our Santa Fe River, Inc., a local citizen group opposed to the extraction of water for the bottled water business. “Public interest prevailed because citizens showed up and lent their voices to this extremely important public dialog.”

This battle in Florida is just one part of a national endeavor to fight corporate efforts to bottle water from local supplies. Earlier in the year, activists in Wells, Maine halted a plan by Nestle to open a well to extract more water for its Poland Springs brand. Similarly, in McCloud, California activists mobilized to cancel a contract with Nestle to pump water from nearby Mount Shasta Springs. “What’s happening on the Santa Fe River is not an isolated incident. Communities around the country are mobilizing to stop the confiscation of their water by corporate interests. They want control of their water for their own purposes, not to see it commoditized and sold back to them at over 250 times its actual value,” said Hauter.

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More on Nestle’s Attempt at Legal Bullying of Miami Water Utility

Yesterday’s story about Nestle’s legal bullying of a Florida water utility continues to gather steam.

Today, the Palm Beach Post ran a short Associated Press article about Nestle’s heavy-handed attempt to stifle ads promoting Miami-Dade’s tap water.

Nestle’s over-the-top rhetoric (“It’s an attack on the integrity of the company,” said Nestle spokesman
Jim McClellan.”) was bound to cause some of us to take notice, and no doubt, that was the intent.

Even heavyweight environmental site Grist found the story too juicy to pass up; here’s a short commentary from Grist:

For months, the bottled-water industry has been losing its grip over people’s pocketbooks.
Consumers are realizing that buying purified tap water at pumped-up
prices, packaged in little plastic bottles, makes zero sense in
economic, ecological, or health terms.

Now the industry appears to be losing its grip on reality. From the Miami Herald:

In the radio ad, a talking faucet extols Miami-Dade’s tap water as cheaper, purer and safer than bottled water. It
may have sounded innocuous to most listeners, but the 30-second spot
left the nation’s largest purveyor of bottled water boiling mad. Nestle
Waters North America, which makes nearly $4 billion a year selling
Zephyrhills and other brands, is threatening to sue if the county
doesn’t kill commercials the company brands as false advertising.

Yesterday, I asked when Nestle was going to reform its predatory business practices in favor of more engaging, tactics. Instead, the multinational – under the pressure of slowing market growth and a lot of pushback from formerly compliant rural towns – seems to be responding with hollow PR campaigns and yes, legal bullying.

UPDATE: ABC News also weighed in with a short article about Nestle’s tirade, though there isn’t much new here.

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Nestle Continues Legal Assault Against Opponents: This Time it’s Miami-Dade

For all Nestle Waters of North America’s pretense at being a “good corporate neighbor,” they’ve got a hair-trigger response to opposition: File a lawsuit (or threaten one).

Their latest legal bludgeoning is aimed at Miami-Dade County in Florida, which had the temerity to suggest its tap water was tested more frequently than bottled water products (true), and that buying bottled water was a waste (also true).

Unfortunately, this little exercise in free speech angered Nestle, who is now threatening to sue, despite not being named in the ads. From the Miami-Herald, we present Bottled water firm steamed about Miami-Dade water ads

In the radio ad, a talking faucet extols Miami-Dade’s tap water as cheaper, purer and safer than bottled water.

It may have sounded innocuous to most listeners, but the 30-second spot left the nation’s largest purveyor of bottled water boiling mad.

Nestle Waters North America, which makes nearly $4 billion a year selling Zephyrhills and other brands, is threatening to sue if the county doesn’t kill commercials the company brands as false advertising.

”It’s an attack on the integrity of the company,” said Nestle spokesman Jim McClellan. “It’s an attack on the product we produce — and it’s blatantly wrong.”

With the ads ending a five-week run last month and no plans to revive it, the county considers the legal issues moot. But John Renfrow, director of the Water and Sewer Department, defended the county’s right to tout its tap water. ”Basically, the message is that our water is fine,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s delicious. This is just one of many different spots we’ve done.”

Nestle’s bluster seems oddly misplaced; why mount a legal assault when the ad campaign has already run it’s course?

Simple.

Because they don’t want any other utilities getting the same idea.

In other words, this is a shot across the bow – a preemptive attempt at legal intimidation of others.

Unfortunately, intimidating legal action is standard fare at the company, which tried to subpoena the private financial records of opponents in McCloud, and has sued the tiny town of Fryeburg five times in an apparent attempt to warn other small towns about the consequences of saying “no.”

From the same Miami Herald story:

Environmentalists blasted the threat against the state’s largest utility — believed to be a first — as a warning shot from an industry worried about slow sales after years of gushing growth.

“Nestle should be ashamed for harassing Miami for promoting its own water,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Washington-based Food & Water Watch. “This is just outrageous. It’s just a way to scare off other utilities.”

Apparently, even speaking the truth about tap vs bottled water is enough to draw a legal threat out of Nestle, which doesn’t seem to have a case.

Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, which has
opposed state environmental permits for bottlers, called Nestle’s
arguments dubious.

”Tap water is superior in some ways. It’s
right there in your house,” she said. “If these companies think
they’re going to come into Florida and threaten citizens or governments
when we give an opinion, that’s another reason to make them leave.”

The statements of Nestle’s operatives also highlight another little bit of hypocrisy; Nestle has long maintained they don’t denigrate public water supplies to sell bottled water, but there it is black and white:

Nestles’ Mathews argues that additional treatment
— including reverse osmosis, ozone disinfection instead of chlorine
and sealed bottles — delivers a better, and better tasting, product
than tap.

Here’s an open question for Nestle: when is all the pushback you receive for your predatory tactics going to result in an honest reassessment of your tactics – instead of another lawsuit?

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The Top Six Reasons Why Small Communities Can’t Trust Nestle Waters, Part II

In Part I of “The Top Six Reasons Why Small Communities Can’t Trust Nestle Waters,” I looked at Nestle Waters of North America’s less savory behaviors, including their tendency to:

  • #1. Negotiate deals in private
  • #2. Use aggressive (and questionable) legal tactics to bend small towns to their will
  • #3. Ignore environmental studies and impacts – even as they proclaim their environmental sensitivity

Sadly, that was only the first half of the list; cataloging Nestle’s least-attractive behaviors required two articles. What’s left?

#4. Nestle Promises Jobs They Don’t Deliver

Nestle’s only real lever in its negotiations with rural communities is the promise of jobs. To poor, economically depressed rural communities, jobs are like red meat to a starving lion, and Nestle’s promises of employment often turn the tide in favor of their bottling plants.

But how real are those promises?

The St. Petersburg Times newspaper delivered a crippling blow to Nestle’s credibility when it reported on the Nestle bottling plant in Madison County, Florida (Madison Blue Springs).

Nestle promised Madison county 300 jobs, but never employed more than 250, and now only employs 205 – 46 of which aren’t even from Florida.

The state did much more than fight to get Nestle the right to pump as much water as possible from the spring.

As an added incentive for Nestle, the state approved a tax refund of up to $1.68-million for the Madison bottling operation. To date, Nestle has received two refunds totaling $196,000 and requested a third tax refund.

Nestle had promised to create 300 jobs over five years. The most people it has ever employed was about 250. The number dropped to 205 late last year, 46 of them from Georgia, which Nestle defends as common for a work force along a state line.

The net result is half the jobs promised to the state of Florida actually accrued to the state of Florida. To get those jobs, that state struck an awful bargain: they approved a tax refund, and also overrode the recommendation of the local water management district scientists, giving Nestle the right to take 1.47-million gallons a day from the drought-stricken spring (at its lowest recorded flows ever) instead of the 400,000-gallons a day sought by staff.

The Negative Economics of Water Bottling

Nestle’s proposed one-million sq.ft. water bottling plant in McCloud (the largest bottling plant in the USA, and thankfully one that’s not being built right now) promised 240 jobs, but an EcoNorthwest economic study looked hard at the positive AND negative economic effects of the plant.

The results weren’t encouraging for the tiny town of McCloud. From the report synopsis:

  • The Nestle proposed facility would impose costs and obligations on the community that would likely outweigh the benefits.
  • People from outside McCloud would likely fill higher paying jobs. (Pages: 35-40)
  • Nestle will not improve unemployment rates or overall employment levels in McCloud or Siskiyou
    County
  • Nestle may cause losses of other jobs, firms, and residents in the county, thereby offsetting the 1 million annually in property taxes they might eventually generate.
  • The facility would likely displace current employment at existing firms and employment that would have materialized in the future thus the net job increase at full build out is likely closer to 70 jobs.
  • Hidden costs of truck traffic include traffic accidents, congestion, air pollution, negative health effects, increased road maintenance, and possibly the need for additional law-enforcement services. (Pages: 54- 57)

Some residents of McCloud were clearly hoping the Nestle bottling plant would revive the fortunes of this former mill town, but with $9/hour jobs going begging at two other nearby water bottling plants – and most of the better-paying jobs typically going to outside management teams brought in by Nestle – the economic boon many are hoping for isn’t likely to happen.

#5. Nestle Recommends Consultants to Towns With Conflict of Interest Issues

Nestle’s modus operandi in small towns often involves “helping” small towns with recommendations for “experts” burdened by conflicts of interest.

For example, Clinton, Maine’s Board of Selectman – already in trouble with a citizen’s group for negotiating with Nestle in secret and destroying a signed memorandum of understanding – used a Nestle-recommended hydrologist to review a project and make supposedly unbiased, science-based recommendations to the board.

From the Worcester Telegram:

They have also been asked whether they consider destruction of the signed memorandum of agreement to be advisable or appropriate; why they hired the same hydrogeologist that Nestlé uses (even though not for this project); why they would use this hydrogeologist to review records and data of the hydrogeologist’s own client (Nestlé), for purposes of advising another of its client’s (Sterling)

As you can see, the hydrologist worked with Nestle on other projects, reviewed only Nestle data, and had his fee paid out of an escrow account established by Nestle.

That escrow account was also expected to fund the production a legal opinion about whether a zoning change was needed to allow the Nestle project, and get that zoning change written if necessary.

Taken as a whole, these actions are akin to the police relying on criminals to report the details of their own crimes; the conflicts of interest abound, and citizens can hardly be expected to trust the information, conclusions and contracts drawn from these machinations.

#6. Nestle Interferes With Local Politics and Splits Communities With Divisive Tactics

Of all Nestle’s tactics, this is probably the least savory, and because examples abound, this has become our longest topic.

After all, pitting residents of a small community against each other is a despicable-yet-effective tactic – one that’s played out time and time again wherever Nestle arrives.

Part of the problem is Nestle’s attempts to negotiate contracts in secret, then rush approval before citizen review can take place. In the town of McCloud, this had the effect of electrifying opponents of the negotiated-in-secret deal.

Outraged that the McCloud Services District signed Nestle’s rapacious contract without public review, residents soon discovered just how bad the contract was – and the town quickly divided into two factions.

In an International Herald Tribune article, Curtis Knight of CalTrout perceptively said:

“It’s the issue in town,” said Curtis Knight, the Mount Shasta area manager of California Trout, a wild fishery conservation group. “You know, who are you and are you pro-Nestle or are you anti-Nestle? It’s really been a wedge through town, and I think it’s unfortunate.”

Nestle furthered this split when it funded a slate of Pro-Nestle candidates for the McCloud Services District Board election in 2006 (the entity that negotiated the Nestle contract). Nestle slyly maintained a “hands off” policy right up until the day before the election, when they wrote a check to the Pro-Nestle slate for $2500.

The timing was critical; this allowed Nestle to state they were steering clear of the election right up until it occurred, the kind of shrewd political maneuver little seen in small town elections.

The total spent spent by the slate was only $3680, so Nestle’s $2500 contribution had a big impact; all three Pro-Nestle candidates won election to the board.

To a multinational bent on securing profits from a rapacious water contract, $2500 doesn’t even register as petty cash. To a small town trying to come to grips with a proposal to build the largest water bottling plant in the world, it feels like millions.

Since then, Nestle – facing a storm of protest over its inadequate EIR, potential project impacts and the reality of high fuel costs – backed out of the original contract and is seeking a new contract.

Unfortunately, the divisive rhetoric from its local operative has also ratcheted up a notch. Speaking in a recent interview in the Mount Shasta Herald (a local weekly paper), Nestle spokesperson Dave Palais played the “outside agitator” card when asked an unrelated question about the California Attorney General’s opposition to Nestle’s wholly incomplete Environmental Impact Report:

The real point, the important point, is not that the AG wrote the letter. It’s that a large portion of the opposition to the project comes from outside McCloud. Non-permanent residents. I’m not saying that’s all of the opposition. Some local residents do oppose it. But a large part of the financial and political influence being used in coming from outside of McCloud.

Palais’ counterpart in Maine – Mark DuBois – echoed the eerily divisive screed:

Much of the opposition, he said, is coming from organizations from out of state [ed: emphasis added] that are concerned about global water privatization or use and sale of water in arid or dry climates that have scarce renewable water supplies.

In the context of their local battles, both statements are largely untrue, and wholly divisive.

Opposition to the McCloud contract was spearheaded by two local citizens groups, and CalTrout – a California coldwater fisheries-based advocacy group – has every right to challenge Nestle’s clear lack of environmental concern for one of California’s Blue Ribbon trout streams (Nestle performed no flow studies downstream of their proposed plant).

Both Palais’ and Dubois’ statements are clearly designed to foster resentment among residents, and they’re a good example of Nestle at its divisive worst.

Of course, the irony of either statement can’t be ignored; Palais himself lives an hour away from the town of McCloud, and Nestle is a multinational headquartered in Switzerland.

So we’re forced to ask the obvious: Who, exactly, is the non-local unduly influencing local politics?

Community of Fryeburg Split by Cost of Nestle Lawsuits

In Fryeburg, Maine, one activist spoke about the deterioration of relationships in the small town as it deals with Nestle’s repeated attempts to force a tanker loading station on the town’s planning commission – a station that will run 250 trucks per day through a residential area and offers little in the way of economic benefit to the town:

“People are afraid to speak up; relationships that have existed for 50-60 years in Fryeburg have been busted by the Nestle issue. If this precedent is set – allowing a loading 100 truck trips per day, 365 days per year – then the integrity of every residential neighborhood in Maine is in jeopardy.”

The result of all Nestle’s lawsuits and appeals on the residents of the town?

“People are tired of the fight; they don’t want to talk about water and they’re sick of the issue.”

With the coalition fighting Nestle’s loading station already $20,000 in debt (an enormous sum in an economically depressed rural area), it’s possible Nestle will accomplish its goal – winning the right to run 100 truck trips per day through a residential neighborhood through sheer force of legal attrition.

If that happens, residents will be reminded of their loss – as Nestle’s 50 trucks first enter then leave their neighborhoods every day.

Internet, Media Bringing Nestle’s Questionable Practices to Light

In the past, Nestle’s aggressive (and questionable) tactics received little attention in the national media, and local citizen’s groups had no way to connect and share information.

That meant they could employ the same untrustworthy tactics in one small community after another, secure in the knowledge there would never be a wholesale, nationwide accounting of their actions.

The growth of Internet accessibility in rural areas has changed that dynamic; activists in small communities can communicate and share information. Search engines now speed the retrieval of information from other locales; when Nestle shows up at a town, it’s likely to find people waiting for it – people armed with information about the secret meetings, rushed contracts, lack of environmental review, punishing legal challenges, and divisive tactics.

BusinessWeek touched on the power of the Internet in this statement:

Time was when multinationals could arrive in economically depressed communities and pretty much have their way. But in the age of hyper connectedness, residents in McCloud were able to turn their issue into an international sensation. Now Nestle has capitulated. The management lesson: no company can afford to go forward with projects like these without engaging ALL stakeholders, not just supporters. Yes, this is David versus Goliath. But the Davids now have megaphones.

Nestle’s efforts to build new water bottling plants and tap new sources of water have been stymied as of late, and in one sense, it’s an opportunity for them to stop dealing to small rural communities from the bottom of the deck.

Whether they do so – or simply retrench and employ a new arsenal of questionable, untrustworthy tactics – is entirely up to them.

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Success! Gilchrist County Denies Water Bottling Plant Permit

Good news from Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson (Our Santa Fe River): 250 locals appeared, 50 spoke out against the proposed water bottling plant (one spoke for it), and Blue Springs Properties’ request for a “special use permit” to build a water bottling facility was denied by a 4 to 1 vote.

Gilchrist county says "no" to water bottling plant
Gilchrist county says "no" to water bottling plant

It’s still not clear who the company behind the proposed water bottling plant really was. It was one of five proposed for a three-mile stretch of the Santa Fe River, but the company behind this particular development – Blue Springs Properties – refused to disclose the information.

Democracy may still work in the face of greedy water bottling companies, but it’s not speedy; the meeting started at 6 pm, but didn’t adjourn until 12:45 am the next morning.

Ouch.

More on this story as I get it.

Residents Fighting Yet Another Bottling Plant in Florida: One of Five Permits for Santa Fe River

In Florida, an overwhelming number of residents seemingly oppose issuing a permit for another water bottling plant on the Santa Fe River (five permits are in the works), yet a denial of the permit is hardly a done deal – even though the water bottling company involved has yet to be identified by the property owner.

From the High Springs Herald:

A special Gilchrist County Commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Trenton High School Auditorium to discuss a special permit that would allow a bottled water plant to pump 500,000 gallons of water a day from a spring system called Blue Springs near Rum Island.

The meeting is being held at the high school because at a previous meeting in March, there was no room for the more than 200 people who showed up at the county chambers to voice their opinions about the bottled water plant.

In fact, some people had to sit in a building across the street from the chambers and watch the meeting on a TV monitor.

Most of the people who spoke at that meeting were against the plant being built.

An interesting reader comment to the story helped illustrate why there’s so much resident hostility towards this project and several others:

With 5 permit applications for water bottling plants on a 3 mile stretch of the Santa Fe River it is estimated that we are facing 1200 diesel tanker trucks roaring day in night through High Springs

An article on Nestle’s activities in Florida is in the works; it highlights the fact Nestle lobbied hard to take more from their Blue Springs station than recommended by biologists, and then returned approximately half the number of jobs they promised to the area.

Good deal for the locals? Not unless you like truck traffic (and lots of it).

More on this after the meeting.

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Nestle Waters of North America Promises Jobs, Delivers Mostly Hot Air

Nestle often dangles a big carrot when approaching rural communities: the promise of “jobs” numbering in the hundreds.

That’s powerful stuff in an economically depressed rural community, yet – unfortunately for rural areas – Nestle’s job claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

For example, the St. Petersburg Times reports on Nestle’s Blue Springs project, where Nestle’s job promises were clearly inflated:

Nestle had promised to create 300 jobs over five years. The most people it has ever employed was about 250. The number dropped to 205 late last year, 46 of them from Georgia, which Nestle defends as common for a work force along a state line.

If you’re counting, that’s 150 local jobs, and given that better-paying jobs are often given to new arrivals brought in from other places, it’s clear that Florida residents aren’t benefiting like they should.

Economic Study Questions Nestle’s Promises in McCloud

In McCloud, CA, Nestle once dangled the prospect of up to 300 jobs at its proposed bottling plant, yet low-paying jobs – the kind typically offered to locals while better-paying jobs are handed to outsiders – go largely begging at two other local bottling plants.

While Nestle proponents often tout the Nestle bottling plant as a way to attract and keep families in the tiny town of McCloud, it’s clear that a $10/hour job – which falls below the area’s living wage – isn’t going to attract many (if any) families to the area.

In addition, an ECONorthwest economic study concluded that the net economic effect of a bottling plant can even run into the red once impacts on lifestyle amenities, roads, and other factors are weighed.

The following is from the summary of ECONorthwest’s report:

Looking at Crystal Geyser and Coca Cola, low-paying production jobs are hard to fill. There is no guarantee employees would be from McCloud and the majority of these positions would not attract new residents. People from outside McCloud would likely fill higher paying jobs. (Pages: 35-40)

Nestle will not improve unemployment rates or overall employment levels in McCloud or Siskiyou County (Pages: 35-40)

The facility would likely displace current employment at existing firms and employment that would have materialized in the future thus the net job increase at full build out is likely closer to 70 jobs.

Keep in mind the “net job increase at full build out” was projected for Nestle’s 1 million sq. ft. plant. With that project dead and gone – and any new project likely to be much smaller – the number of jobs will shrink, as will any real benefits to the region.

Rural communities would do well to carefully weigh all the economic impacts of a water bottling plant – and the veracity of Nestle’s often-empty promises of jobs.

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