As Chaffee County Realizes Nestle Water Extraction Project Offers Little to Community, Nestle Whips Out Checkbook
Nestle’s water extraction project in Chaffee County (CO) seemed headed for an easy permitting process – a process that’s now under threat of derailment at the hands of fast-growing local opposition.
Nestle’s problem? Despite the spin and public “outreach” (basically in-person PR tours of the site), they can’t offer residents a compelling benefit to offset the truck traffic, noise, and potential loss of local control to a Swiss-based multinational.
What do you when that happens? Nestle – brazenly – whips out its checkbook, promising a payoff to everyone willing to play ball. Is sprinkling a little “H2O-la” around the community Nestle’s latest adaptation to growing public opposition?
In the midst of an oddly stream-of-consciousness report about Nestle’s 1041 permitting process in the Mountain Mail newspaper, this little gem emerged:
The application does not meet economic diversity and economic development standards, planners said.
Bruce Lauerman, Nestlé natural resources manager, announced a $500,000 endowment would be established and used for grants to local non-profits who facilitate the values of the Nestlé project [emphasis added].
An ad will be placed in The Mountain Mail within the next week which will search for local truck drivers to work with Nestlé’s contracted trucking company, Lauerman said. The company plans to research whether or not it can draw 50 percent of its drivers from Chaffee County.
Ted Richardson, planning commission chair, said “the information we have does not indicate a clear benefit, but that may change.”
Is it just me, or has Nestle – which earlier promised to “support the community” by doing nothing more than donating bottled water to nearby schools – decided its project needs a little checkbook-based boosterism to the tune of a half-million dollars?
And what of the oddly worded statement suggesting money would go to “local non-profits who facilitate the values of the Nestlé project?”
Finally, notice the weasel words surrounding Nestle’s “committment” to hiring local “plans to research whether or not it can…”
In other communities, Nestle has repeatedly said it won’t guarantee local hiring for any jobs (in McCloud they suggested that was illegal), but now they’re promising to “research” the possibility here?
Like so many of Nestle’s promises (ask the state of Florida how it ended up with half the jobs it was promised by Nestle), this one will likely be washed away once Chaffee County’s water starts enriching Nestle’s bottom line.
April 19, 2009 Comments Off
It’s corporate spin day in Salida, Colorado, where Nestle’s traditionally heavy-handed approach to local media was played out in a long, unchallenged, extremely friendly interview with a local paper.
Rather than bore you with the details (read it yourself here), I’ll jump right to one favorite bit of rhetoric from Nestle Operative Bruce Lauerman:
Another public question was on Nestlé’s alleged bad relations in other communities. Lauerman said that it was “unfair to characterize Nestlé” by looking at two to three communities out of dozens around the country.
People need to dig deeper than the rhetoric that was showcased, he said. A list of contacts was given to BOCC, he said. The decision makers can have one-on-one contact, he said.
It’s always frustrating to witness the reception afforded to Nestle’s by an often uncritical local media. Given our lack of fulltime PR personnel, activists must often resort to simple activities like Letters to the Editor, and my response to the newspaper is below:
In a recent Chaffe County Times article, Nestle representative Bruce Lauermann said it was “unfair to characterize Nestlé” by looking at two to three communities out of dozens around the country, and that people needed to “dig deeper than the rhetoric.”
I couldn’t agree more.
To refresh Mr. Lauermann’s memory, I’d like to point out Nestle’s in trouble with far more than 2-3 small rural communities around the country. A few highlights?
They just sued the tiny town of Fryeburg (ME) five times – losing the first four suits but finally finding the legal loophole they needed to force the town to permit a 24/7 truck loading station in a residentially zoned area.
In Mecosta County (MI), Nestle’s pumping damaged a wetlands, and Nestle refused to do anything about it until a citizens group filed suit – and won. Under threat of an injunction, Nestle finally halved its pumping, then immediately filed a suit challenging the right of Michigan citizens to bring the lawsuit in the first place.
In McCloud (CA), citizens who challenged Nestle’s negotiated-behind-closed-doors contract with the city’s Services District found themselves on the receiving end of a Nestle subpoena seeking access to their private financial records – an attempt to intimidate opposition through legal means.
I could go on and on (and I do on the StopNestleWaters.org Web site, where I also cover Nestle’s legal difficulties in Shapleigh (ME), Wells (ME), Newfield (ME), Guelph (Canada), Napa (CA), Kennebunk (ME), Florida, Mecan Springs (WI), and many others) but suffice it to say Nestle is not a multinational corporation that plays well with small towns when it doesn’t get what it wants.
What happens if Salida is stricken by a drought? Nestle’s already proven its reluctance to stop pumping once the profits are flowing (see Mecosta County above). What happens when Nestle wants to tap yet another source, and Salida decides it doesn’t want the noise or pollution of more truck traffic? (Hint: ask Fryeburg)
Is adaptive management in place to protect wells and wetlands? Are you willing to face the wrath of Nestle’s considerable legal department?
Are you really sure you want a Swiss multinational tapping your water when water issues are hampering agriculture and growth all over the state?
I agree with Lauerman in one instance: It’s important to look beyond Nestle’s rhetoric and (usually) empty promises of community support (free water for the school?).
Nestle’s have proven themselves a poor corporate neighbor in many other small rural communities.
Nestle’s continued whitewashing of the benefits provided in return for the loss of local control over resources, traffic, zoning and others requires a lot of vigilance – often from unpaid volunteers.
Today’s thought? Send a letter to your editor today.
April 10, 2009 Comments Off
The Internet remains a growing media channel by which under-funded, parttime activists can challenge the might of Nestle Water’s in their own community.
Today, we welcome Nestle in Chaffee County to the fold.
As we noted in our most-recent newsletter, citizen opposition to Nestle’s water extraction proposal in Chaffee County (CO) has materialized out of nowhere as of late, and Nestle’s formerly safe haven of Colorado no longer seems to peaceful.
We’ve added them to the blog feeds in our right sidebar, so check back often.
April 3, 2009 3 Comments
Freelance writer Ed Quillen posted an opinion piece to the Denver Post about the Nestle’s proposed water extraction project in Chaffee County, suggesting he’d stayed out of the Salida project fight simply because it wasn’t a “big deal.”
“Almost daily I get a call from somebody in town, asking me if I will join the local Davids in their struggle against the Nestle Goliath. To date I have resisted, because as nearly as I can tell, it’s not that big a deal.”
The response in the “comments” section below the post was largely negative to Quillen’s position, and I get the distinct impression Quillen’s perception of a “big deal” is different from that of many of his fellow citizens.
And yes, he seems to have bought into the Nestle PR surrounding the “no negative impacts” of the project, despite the fact a consultant (hired by the county instead of Nestle) suggests the impacts could be substantial – especially in the face of a drought or climate change.
Colorado’s Eastern Slope isn’t – for the most part – all that wet, and Quillen’s logic strikes an odd note; he suggests it might be better for that water to leave the basin in a tanker truck than remain available for a developer to use.
Losing control over a significant local resource is rarely a good thing – especially when the economic benefits to the county are insignificant.
Quillen also overlook’s Nestle’s rather unsavory history in small towns, where local control of resources, zoning and traffic seem to evaporate when Nestle arrives in town.
What’s becoming clear is that Nestle’s water extraction projects are becoming increasingly unattractive to small rural towns, and what was formerly a slam-dunk for Nestle is fast becoming a contentious use of resources. Without even the prospect of local jobs to dangle, Nestle’s water extraction projects may increasingly resemble the lawsuit-fest we saw in Fryeburg.
March 30, 2009 Comments Off
Nestle’s proposed water extraction project in Salida, Colorado (Chaffee County) may have coasted along under the radar for a while, but recently became the focus of intense citizen scrutiny.
The initial blush of excitement has worn off; what’s left are a lot of questions about the minimal benefits of Nestle’s water extraction scheme to the town and county – and how they balance the negative impacts.
The local community radio station dedicated an hour to the subject (KEHN 106.9 FM in Salida, CO), and asked me to provide what I’ll call the 10,000′ overview of Nestle’s activities in other rural areas.
Live radio is nerve-wracking stuff, and I guess I’m fortunate there’s an ample supply of unsavory Nestle stories to draw on, though I suppose the residents of Mecosta, Fryeburg, and McCloud (to name but a few) might disagree.
Nestle’s abuses in other small rural communities – sadly – aren’t a part of the permitting process, though hopefully their dismal record will help citizens make informed decisions about inviting the world’s biggest food & beverage company into their community.
In this case, Nestle can’t even dangle the “jobs” carrot in front of Salida’s citizens; the water – and the profits from the sale of it – will be headed straight out of town in a steady stream of big rigs traveling a narrow two-lane highway.
Salida’s citizens are beginning to question why they’d put up with 50 truck trips a day – and the very real danger that once Nestle moves into town, their control of local resources will evaporate like so much spilled water – in return for a marginal increase in property taxes.
If the podcast of the broadcast becomes available, I’ll let you know.
March 27, 2009 Comments Off
Nestle Waters’ Chaffee County water extraction project has generated a lot of ink in a short time; citizens of the area got a late start, but they’re making headway against a Nestle water extraction project that offers little long-term economic benefit to the area.
Now New West – a fast-growing regional online news site – offered up a critical story (that included a mention of StopNestleWaters.org):
Even for those inclined to side with hard science, one side’s expert says one thing and the opposing group’s expert says something different. It appears that the residents of Chaffee County are rightly suspicious of Nestle’s claims.
This isn’t the first time Nestle has felt residents’ ire in a location where it wanted to bottle water. The blog, StopNestlewaters.org educated me about tax breaks available in Florida that make it one of the most bottled-water industry friendly states in the country (why am I not surprised here)? Inevitably, the battle becomes one of an underfunded citizenry against experienced, expensive lawyers and consultants.
The last sentence is perceptive; in small rural towns, Nestle’s legal firepower, fulltime operatives, and PR legions are typically facing a rag-tag group of volunteers, often utilizing paid or pro-bono legal help.
Worse, the Chaffee County project reveals a larger regulatory problem. When confronted by a consultant questions about the long-term viability of the project in the face of climate change or drought, the Nestle response was “we’re not required to study that.”
No they’re not. And no, they won’t.
UPDATE: This excellent article in the Salida Citizen illustrates what the local papers seemed to have not noticed – the county is under no obligation to issue a permit to Nestle, and that the 1041 permitting process includes consideration of impacts like increased truck traffic.
March 26, 2009 Comments Off
I wrote and submitted this to the SalidaCitizen.com site, which published it yesterday. Chaffee county is the site of yet another Nestle pumping project, and citizens are organizing against the plan, though – per usual – it’s coming late in the process.
The questions being asked by Chaffee County citizens about the impacts and sustainability of the Nestle pumping project clearly need to be answered.
Weighing the somewhat sparse economic benefits of the Nestle pumping project against the environmental, noise, pollution and safety impacts is vital. Yet what’s missing is a discussion of the nature of doing business with Nestle itself, and what it means to invite the world’s largest food & beverage multinational into your community.
The news, sadly, isn’t all that good.
The recent triumph of Nestle’s legal team in Fryeburg (ME) underscores the dangers of dealing with a company armed with almost unlimited legal resources. There, a group of citizens appealed a planning commission approval of a 24/7 truck loading station in an area zoned “rural residential.”
The original permit was overturned on citizen appeal, but Nestle – not content with the outcome – filed a lawsuit (which they lost) and four subsequent appeals (they lost all but the last). Their high-powered legal team finally found the loophole they wanted, and won.
In Mecosta County (MI), a citizen’s group sued Nestle (and won) over the obvious damage being done to a wetlands by Nestle’s pumping (damage which Nestle’s original data should have predicted). Stung by the loss and unable to win in court, Nestle only reduced pumping after a judge issued an injunction, and then filed a lawsuit challenging the rights of Michigan citizens to file enviornmental lawsuits to begin with.
In McCloud (CA), opponents of Nestle’s proposed water bottling plant won a lawsuit challenging the original contract, but found themselves staring down the barrel of a Nestle-generated subpoena which granted the company access to their private financial records.
That was quashed by the court, but the message had been sent to opponents, and the town of McCloud – like so many others – has been plagued by a painful factionalism of its residents ever since (a trait shared in many towns).
In Florida, Nestle heavily lobbied state officials to allow them to pump 3x the recommended amount of water from a drought-stricken spring, overruling the opinions of local water agency people concerned for the area’s water table.
Other examples abound, but the tendency is clear; despite heavy doses of “good corporate neighbor” spin, local control often disappears when Nestle arrives.
When questioned about their issues in other rural towns, Nestle’s representatives generally offer a non-responsive “we’re doing fine in many places.”
What’s fine for Nestle isn’t necessarily fine for rural communities who’d like to retain local control over their roads, water, lifestyle and economic choices.
What happens when Nestle decides to tap another water source in the county, and the county’s residents decide the impacts of the additional truck traffic aren’t wanted? Will Nestle quietly accept a no?
Evidence suggests they won’t.
Chaffee County’s residents clearly have many questions to ponder – one of which remains the legal risks of involving themselves with a multinational that has never hesitated to use extraordinary legal means to get what it wants in other rural areas.
March 23, 2009 3 Comments