The Chaffee County Commissioners recently debated the fate of Nestle Waters of North America’s proposed water extraction project there, yet didn’t arrive at a decision.
Several stories in the regional press covered the hearing (It’s difficult for Nestle to sneak into town any more), and several passages were telling.
First, this project offers almost no benefit to the citizens of Chaffee County (one of the considerations in the 1041 permitting process), and at least one commissioner was willing to point that out.
This from the Salida Citizen’s Lee Hart:
John Graham, chair of Nestle opposition group, Chaffee County Citizens for Sustainability, said that what confused him about the deliberations is the commissioners emphasis on “when, when, when and condition, condition, condition.” Graham said he doesn’t think it’s the county’s role is to “suggest ways for Nestle’s proposal not to fail.” He said the commissioners’ decision should be based solely on whether or not Nestle’s proposal does or does not meet the 1041 requirements.
County Special Legal Counsel Barbara Green, explained 1041 regulations allow the commissioners to “approve, deny or approve with conditions” Nestle’s proposal. She said some of the proposed conditions; such as limits to truck traffic and providing a permanent conservation easement on the project property were in a direct response to public testimony.
Green, who said conditional approvals are commonplace in land use reviews in cities and counties throughout the state, explained that in the end, when the commissioners look at all the conditions, they must be satisfied the project will create no significant adverse impact on the county.
EJ Sherry and Alan Rule, who also oppose the Nestle project, both said they think the county is making a big mistake if they approve the project since they believe the economic benefit and fiscal impacts to monitor the project’s compliance with all the conditions as well as litigate any subsequent disputes with Nestle will adversely affect taxpayers.
“One of the biggest issues for me is the impact on any aspect of the local economy,” said Commissioner Tim Glenn. “It would add some value, but the benefits don’t outweigh the potential losses like the forever inability to develop the resource to have a major economic benefit in Chaffee County.” Said Commissioner Dennis Giese, “All of us, everyone involved, would like to see more economic benefit to the community. The cost to us to regulate this – and it not producing the money in taxes – the county would need to offset that.”
Giese said local construction jobs would be minimal during construction of a 5-mile pipeline from the spring site to a Johnson’s Village trucking station. Regular local employees would also be minimal.
Possible conditions under study are require use of local contractors for construction and repairs, 50 percent local drivers and use of local materials.
Commissioners also discussed concerns about pumping rates and the possible decline of wetlands in the area. Giese suggested limiting pumping to 150 gallons per minute.
The commissioners also said they would like to set conditions on how to mitigate damage to wetlands should it occur and whether the conditions could include a cease-pumping order.
“I want to make sure we are not at a major impasse with Nestle Waters. They could say it is not my pumping but something else like someone changing irrigation practices that is drying out the wetlands and then were are in a lawsuit and that will be a cost to the taxpayers,” Glenn said.
Nestle’s actions in other rural towns are finally catching up with them; faced with what’s happened elsewhere, communities are waking up to the need to protect themselves from Nestle’s scorched earth legal tendencies, which naturally begs the question: Why deal with them at all?
It seems that Chaffee County’s Commissioners aren’t looking to deny the permit, but looking to add stipulations to the deal to make it work.
Many seem to include guarantees of local employment – the very stipulations Nestle has said were illegal when asked about them in other areas.
Should they accept them in Colorado, I’d suspect their representatives will have questions to answer elsewhere.