Commissioners postpone Nestle decision to Aug. 5

nestleNot yet.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of consultant, legal fees and county staff time, thousands of pages of written reports and public testimony, and dozens of hours of oral testimony boiled down to just 3-1/2 hours of deliberation yesterday as the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners considered Nestle Waters North America proposal to harvest water in Chaffee County.

In a meeting that seemed focused more on how, rather than if, to approve Nestle’s proposal, the three-man board of commissioners spent the bulk of their time today debating proposed conditions of approval for the project that seeks to extract 65 million gallons of spring water from Chaffee County for transport to Denver where it will be bottled and sold under Nestle’s Arrowhead water brand.

In the end, the hearing was continued to Aug. 5 to give staff time to draft legally enforceable conditions addressing key concerns commissioners have with the proposal. The draft proposed conditions are scheduled to be presented to the Commissioners on Aug. 3 for consideration at a public hearing two days later. The week of July 27, staff will provide an update on its progress and if it needs more time, the commissioners’ meeting may be pushed back to Aug. 19, the date staff originally proposed but which was objected to by Nestle project manager Bruce Lauerman.

Lauerman said he asked for an earlier hearing date because he thinks the conditions are largely formulated and hoped to keep things moving. He explained Nestle had hoped to be in production in Chaffee County by the end of 2009. He said it would take four months from the time of final approval for Nestle to build the necessary infrastructure for the project.

By nature a rather quiet man, Commission Chair Frank Holman had little to say during yesterday’s deliberations. Fellow commissioners Dennis Giese and Tim Glenn did the lion’s share of bantering and sparring over such core issues as the project’s impact on water rights, wetlands, economic development and fiscal impact to the county.

The first and lengthiest debate of the day centered on concerns about the project aired by Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga. At issue is Nestle’s lease of project replacement water from Aurora and that lease’s potential to negatively downstream Upper Arkansas River water rights holders, especially in the event of a severe drought.

[The Citizen will provide more detailed reports of this and other key issues debated yesterday in subsequent posts.]

Interestingly, both Nestle opponents and those who hope to see the project approved were unhappy with what they heard during the hearing. Forty-one year resident, realtor and vocal private property rights advocate Karen Adams said she thought the 1041 regulations were too ambiguous and should be thrown out. She said she’s not interested in “ throwing out quality,” but thinks it’s wrong that someone can’t do what he or she want with their property unless all their neighbors approve.

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.

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