I would like to take this opportunity to present a few facts in light of the Letter to the Editor making [alleged] false claims about Nestlé Waters North America’s intentions and operations in Chaffee County, penned by Ms. Swacina.
First, Ms. Swacina insinuates that we have been pushing for extensions of our permit in an effort to keep operating while avoiding a public hearing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our 1041 permit was up for a ten-year extension in September 2019, and we have been ready to participate in a public hearing since it was originally scheduled last October.
We have been looking forward to having an open dialogue with the residents and officials of Chaffee County about our operations and community contributions over the past ten years. For a variety of reasons, however, the County postponed the public hearing on our permit several times – from October to January, then to April. In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Colorado, it was clear that a public meeting would be more complicated to conduct. While we asked that the public hearing be conducted virtually, since the technology exists to do so, we respect the decision of the county staff and commissioners to postpone the public hearing on our permit renewal to October 20.
By the time our hearing date arrives on October 20, we will have had a public notice period of nearly 300 days, significantly longer than the required 30 days’ notice period. Throughout that time, we have met with a variety of stakeholders to answer questions, offer support, and provide tours of our spring site.
Second, Ms. Swacina does not seem to be aware that our permit compliance information is, and always has been, fully available on the county website through our Annual Reports. These reports provide comprehensive monitoring details of water levels, riparian and wildlife habitat monitoring, contributions to the County, taxes, and utilities paid, and other information directly related to the conditions of our permit.
Along with our natural resource management team, science-based data collection and analysis are completed by Colorado-based professionals with backgrounds in geology, biology, habitat restoration, and engineering. Several of the studies conducted onsite over the last ten years have been done by professional educators and students at Colorado Mountain College. County staff and their consultants review and verify all of this data. However, Ms. Swacina questions our motivation in paying for scientific consultants.
During and since our permit application in 2009, we have been required to provide extensive monitoring information and data collection (ecological, environmental, financial, traffic, etc.). This necessitated not only paying our own consultants but also paying for additional consultants hired by the county to review all that data as part of our application process. We continue to fund a budget for the county to use their own consultants to review and comment on the information and scientific analysis we include in our Annual Reports. These consultants retained by the County help to ensure that the County and its citizens have the transparency and data they need to ensure that the permit has been fully vetted and meets all the requirements set forth by the County and the State.
The only area of our permit requirements where we have struggled, particularly in the past two years, is related to hiring local truck drivers. Despite generous compensation packages from our transport partner, Coleman, which include extra bonuses and other incentives, and a massive uptick in advertising for the job openings, we were unable to attract enough local drivers to meet the 50 percent requirement in 2018 and 2019 (we fell short by two to three percent). We immediately let the county staff know and committed to maintaining our advertising and local hiring efforts (which we have done). It is our hope that in 2020, we will be able to once again reach the goal of maintaining a workforce of 50 percent local truck drivers.
In closing, our company, which I’ve been a part of for nearly 20 years, has worked hard to support this community, as we do in all the communities where we operate. In Chaffee County, our $500,000 endowment to the Buena Vista Community Education Assistance Fund and Save Our Schools Salida has directly distributed more than $270,000 to support scholarships, teachers, classroom supplies, equipment, and more.
We have donated bottled water when needed, most recently to Chaffee County Emergency workers during the Decker Fire last fall, and we continue to financially support community needs when asked. To date, in 2020 alone, we have supported Trout Unlimited, Boys & Girls Club, Chaffee County Community Foundation, Arkansas River Water Basin Forum, Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation, Friends of Browns Canyon, Quilts of Valor and more. Our philanthropy has been consistent and will remain consistent, and we are proud to be a community partner in Chaffee.
As always, our door is open and as soon as we are able, we’d be happy to host site tours at Ruby Mountain Springs and answer questions from anyone interested in learning more. We have already invited Ms. Swacina to tour the site and discuss her concerns with us, and we hope she will take us up on this offer.
Natural Resource Manager – Western Region
Nestlé Waters North America