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 environmental 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.
Mount Shasta, CA (near McCloud, CA)
Tom Chandler is the editor of Stop Nestlé Waters.