Eight key themes upon which the county and Nestle Waters North American still disagree were the focus of the latest public hearing on Nestle’s application to harvest water here for bottling under the Arrowhead water brand.
Lingering county staff concerns over Nestle’s compliance with 1041 permit regulations were grouped into eight themes: planning documents, traffic, economic impacts, wetlands and wildlife, groundwater, water rights, air quality and visual quality. To secure approval for its project, Nestle must get approval from the County Board of Commissioners for a special use permit to build the infrastructure for the project and 1041 regulations designed to mitigate impacts to natural resources.
Nestle has already complied with or agreed to the majority of a lengthy list of conditions of approval suggested by the county Planning Commission, paid staff and contract consultants. Most of Tuesday’s public hearing focused on whether a few, but significant, remaining criteria within the county’s exhaustive 1041 regulations had been satisfied or not. Following is a brief summary of some of the more contentious issues covered during the hearing that started at 1 p.m. and concluded around 11 p.m.
• Legal survey of 15-acre exclusion. During public testimony, local attorney Jay Hake asked why Nestle had not provided a legal survey of the 15-acre parcel that Nestle wants to exclude from the 130-acre Ruby Mountain site. Nestle asked for the exclusion due to a provision in its option to purchase the land that would set aside the 15 acres upon which the current landowner could build up to two residential homes with subdivision and other applicable approvals form the county. While Nestle has provided a map with the approximate location of the property, the uncertainty of its precise location is a factor in the county’s concern for 10 of the 26 requirements county staff believe Nestle has not satisfied. During lengthy debate, Nestle project manager Bruce Lauerman expressed dismay that he was not previously advised by the county to submit a legal survey for the acreage in question. Resolution: Lauerman agreed to provide a metes and bounds description of the 15-acre exclusion area.
• Bighorn Springs exclusion. Citing a lack of adequate baseline data, County water counsel Jim Culichia said he recommends excluding the Bighorn Springs from the project. Culichia explained that Nestle is required to “demonstrate no impact” but can’t do so because of a lack of baseline data, which Culichia said is a problem that can’t be remedied by simply monitoring after the start of the project. Pumping will have some impact on the springs, Culichia said. Without adequate baseline data, when changes to the spring do occur, Nestle could argue that the change was natural rather than a result of Nestle operations which would mean Nestle could avoid mitigating the impacts. Resolution: Unresolved.
• Ruby Mountain Springs additional data. Culichia concurred with hydrology consultants Geomega that additional tests would be needed to provide the county with a better idea of the impact to the aquifer under conditions that more closely resemble Nestle’s proposed operational plan. To date, Nestle pump tests have only been performed on one test well while the operational plan indicates two wells will be pumping at the same time. Culichia said Nestle did note it had recently performed a pump test of that well at higher rates but had not shared the data with the county. Importantly, Culichia said the other proposed well that has not undergone tests is closer to the river and the aquifer could, and likely will, react differently when both wells are pumping. Resolution: Unknown at press time.
• Traffic. County staff are concerned that Nestle’s traffic study shows some level of service parameters approaching Department of Transportation rated Level of Service D. Martina Wilkinson, Nestle traffic engineer explained that her study confirmed findings by the Colorado Department of Transportation found that Nestle’s proposed 25 trucks per day (50 total both ways) will have a negligible impact on traffic on the 12-mile stretch of US 285/24 between Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass. Wilkinson also explained the intricacies of conducting traffic studies as she responded to questions from the public on two main lines of public inquiry, safety and impacts on tourism. Resolution: Nestle agreed to the proposed staff condition to cooperate with the county to encourage CDOT to make improvements, specifically climbing lanes on Trout Creek Pass. Nestle would not agree that it should financially contribute to such improvements. A request by this writer for Nestle to consider modifying truck schedules to avoid peak summer tourism weekend traffic was declined by Lauerman, who explained he prefers to make decisions on “facts not emotion.”
• Community benefit. Nestle agreed to allow wade-fishing access to the Arkansas River near the project but did not believe providing fishing access across the project land would be in the best interests of wildlife, the wetlands and potentially the spring water quality.
Nestle said that for tax benefit, a permanent conservation easement would have to be voluntary rather than a government-imposed condition of approval; without naming names, Lauerman said he had been in discussion with some area land conservation groups.
Nestle agrees to allow controlled access to the wetlands portion of its property to school groups for educational study of the wetlands and wetland interpretive opportunities.
The county accepted Nestle’s own suggested condition of approval calling for the corporation to provide an initial philanthropic endowment of $500,000 plus $25,000 future annual contributions to support local charities and non-profits. When asked by Chaffee County Citizens for Sustainability co-founder Michele Riggio if Nestle had anything in writing about such a fund, Lauerman replied that he had been in discussions with a local group that was seeking to work with an organization in Denver to help manage the fund, but said he left next steps to that group and had not heard anything from them recently. He said Nestle would work with that group or another group or an economic development group.
Lauerman said he agreed “in principle” to work with the county to set up a project mitigation costs to cover expenses the county can’t anticipate but might incur as a result of the project.
The public hearing continues May 21 at 1 p.m., location TBA. According to the mandated timeline, the deadline for conclusion of the public hearing is May 15. At the county’s request, Nestle agreed to a timeline extension. Once pubic testimony is closed, the Commissioners have 60 days to deliberate and announce their final decision.