Open letter to the Chaffee County Commissioners:
The recent “submittal” by Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) is yet another example of their failure to understand the current dynamics of our county. As was the case in 2009, they are trying to sweeten the pot, to entice us to extend a bad deal for another 10 years. That worked in 2009, but a lot has changed since then.
In their presentation on October 20th, the well-paid Nestlé attorneys made it perfectly clear they held that any new conditions imposed would be limited to cure their non-compliance. The only point Nestlé concedes noncompliance on is their commitment to hire local truck drivers. I do not believe that this point can be remedied. Their newly offered statement to “endeavor” to fill jobs locally doesn’t hold water.
What does it mean to them and, even more importantly, how would it be interpreted by a new owner? Saying they will “endeavor” to fill 100 percent of the jobs when they have not been able to fill 50 percent sounds hollow. Tossing a few dollars at an imagined truck driving school would not bring them into compliance, and is not an adequate cure.
Commissioners, you have heard from hundreds of your Chaffee County constituents who believe that Nestlé Waters North America is out of compliance in many areas, and they urge you to say no to this permit extension. There are just too many gaps and flaws, in this contract to move forward with it. The right thing to do is to deny the 10-year permit extension.
If, for some reason, you are determined to keep Chaffee County joined with Nestlé Waters North America, and their plastic bottling operation, you should, at the very least, start over with a brand new 1041 permit. That would be the only way to impose substantial new conditions, which more closely align with our county’s interests and vision.
First, you would have to “substantiate a need”. Then you could begin to negotiate significant financial benefits for the county; mandate the remaining land be placed into a conservation easement by a date certain or NWNA would face consequential financial penalties; reduce the amount of water withdrawn; extend a much shorter term and add a kill clause if you do not approve of a future owner, or if you just want out. If you do decide to renegotiate a new 1041 permit, stakeholders should have a seat at the table. That could include representatives from the Chaffee County Community Foundation, various non-profits, and ordinary citizens who have no financial horse in the race.
Nestlé Waters North America only needs this contract extension to bolster the sale price of the company. They have no long term commitment here. Despite all of their claims of philanthropy, and being good neighbors, they have failed to convince me that they have Chaffee County’s interest at heart.
Editor’s Note: This is a Letter to the Editor. It makes claims not confirmed by Ark Valley Voice, including that conditions imposed would be limited to cure Nestlé non-compliance, that Nestlé lawyers are well-paid, and that the county can demand that a conservation easement be designated to be “completed by a date certain”.