Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project: Commissioners approve final permit

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From The Mountain Mail (Jennifer Deneven):

Resolutions had been tabled at the Aug. 19 meeting at which commissioners approved the project, pending county staff developing appropriate language. Commissioners also approved the Chaffee County cost reimbursement fund, into which Nestlé will make payments from which the county can draw to offset costs related to the project. A portion of the project related to an easement along CR 301 was tabled pending commissioners receiving appraisal information. The easement will be included on a regular business agenda for commissioners…

[Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability board member Lee Hart] mentioned 20 standards not met by Nestlé’s initial application and questioned whether county-imposed conditions would ensure Nestlé’s compliance since they use the word “should” instead of “will.” Commissioners charged us with being the watchdogs-we’ll show them what a watchdog is like,” she said.

Here’s Lee Hart’s report from the Salida Citizen. From the article:

Of the dozen or fewer people who testified in favor of Nestle over the course of its public review, almost without exception, all stood to enjoy direct financial benefit from approval of the project. I hope these good, hard-working folks and neighbors understand that the opposition to Nestle was never about them. Like any private property owner in this country, the ranchers can sell their land to whoever they believe gives them a fair price for it. What happens after the sale is no longer the seller’s responsibility. However, when the new landowner proposes to change the existing uses on the land, in particular in this case when the property is deemed to be “an area of state interest,” then the matter must be considered by elected officials during a public process in which the public has a chance to air their concerns about how that new land use designation may impact them, for better or worse.

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.

More Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project coverage here and here.

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