With cases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 on the rise in Colorado and in Chaffee County, the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) made the decision during their Oct. 13 meeting, to limit the number of people who can attend the Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit hearings in person, due to increasing numbers of local COVID-19 cases. Rather than the 175 total attendees that had been planned, given current COVID conditions, in-person attendance will be restricted to 28 in the south building and 40 in the north building.
The commissioners, Chaffee County Public Health and county staff discussed attendance options for the Nestlé hearing, as well as concerns about the potential to create a “super-spreader” event during an uptick in COVID-19 infections in the county.
“We have legit public health concerns, a plan to handle this, a high degree of public interest and passion surrounding this application,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “But from a practical function, I feel like we have a low degree of urgency in terms of addressing this application – we’ve just extended it for a year. I know that people who oppose this wish they hadn’t gotten that extra year of operation. But still, the actual urgency of this application has to be weighed against the other things we are dealing with.”
In recent days, Chaffee County Public Health Executive Director Andrea Carlstrom has called the rise in COVID-19 cases, and the evident community spread “extremely concerning.” She has reminded the community of our primary focus; to do everything we can to keep the schools open for in-person learning, so that businesses and the local economy can remain open as well. “What I will say is we’ve seen the significant impact of increased incidents of COVID-19 has on our county and its operations. Now is not the time to be lax.”
“I’d say there are safeguards that can be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus … we do have concerns regarding the number of people in a place at one time. We’d be holding tremendous responsibility and accountability on those attending the meeting to follow public health requirements,” added Carlstrom.
The county also has concerns related to the impact of a large, in-person public hearing and running the upcoming Nov. 3 election. “We’ve got an uptick in cases already, there are concerns of staff contact with the public,” said Assistant County Attorney Daniel Tom. “We don’t need personnel sick before the election.”
The 1041 permit hearings are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, and 9:00 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds south and north buildings. The BoCC during a lengthy discussion about where the county priorities lie, decided to add a third hearing opportunity, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Thursday evening, Oct. 22, to allow all who wish to speak during public comment to do so. The hearing will be a combination of in-person and virtual meeting, in the manner in which the county has been conducting meetings for months.
After considerable discussion, the commissioners arrived at the following decisions:
- Limit in-person attendance to County staff, Nestlé Waters staff and designated Nestlé opposition group.
- Limit in-person public participation at the Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall (south building) to 28.
- Members of the public that have technological difficulties may attend in-person at the Fairgrounds to watch the live Zoom feed in the north building. The north building does not have heat, or restrooms. Capacity for seating in north building is 40.
- Encourage public participation online via Zoom or through teleconference.
- The 5:00 p.m. Tues., Oct. 20 meeting will consist of presentations by county staff, Nestlé, consultants, and the organized Nestlé opposition group.
- The Thurs., Oct. 22 meetings, at 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. will be for the purpose of receiving public comments.
- To be placed on the list to give public comment on the Thursday, Oct 22 meetings(am/pm) text to 719-221-1579, your name, address, Zoom username and the meeting you are attending.
The original 1041 permit hearing was scheduled for Oct. 2019, and for a variety of reasons, including the past seven months of COVID-19 pandemic, it has been repeatedly postponed.
While postponing it again was considered, the sentiment was that if the county could find a way to proceed allowing all public comment to be heard, it should do so.
“What’s the down fall of postponing,” asked Commissioner Rusty Granzella. “It’s minimal.”
“Going back almost a year, I’ve said my priority is public health. Everything else is second to that, even economic recovery,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “There’s no economic recovery if you’re dead. We’ve been discouraging public gatherings, so holding ourselves to that standard makes sense.”
The county stresses that all members of the public will be able to give public comment regardless of whether they have texted the above number; the list is maintained to assist in the process. The public is also reminded that they are allowed to submit written public comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Board of County Commissioners has tried to strike a balance here between a transparent and accessible public process and protecting the health of all participants,” said Felt.
Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health emphasized, “It’s absolutely necessary for everyone that is allowed to attend in person to follow all of the public health requirements.” Chaffee County Fairgrounds staff enforce public health safeguards.
To access the Nestlé Waters hearings:
Download and install the Zoom Application: Go to https://zoom.us/download and click on “Zoom Client For Meetings”.
Note: the Meeting ID number is: #109 079 543. It was inaccurately listed in the county’s press release and Salida Pulse.
Once the download is complete, proceed with approving installing the Zoom application onto your computer, phone or tablet. Zoom meeting ID information is available at www.chaffeecounty.org on the home page in the right-hand column. Go to ‘Oct 20’ and ‘Oct. 22’ to click on the Zoom link to join.