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What had been anticipated to be an hours-long discussion of the Nestlé Waters North America, Inc. 1041 permit renewal application by Chaffee County Commissioners ended in a short one-hour session and a unanimous decision by the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) to order an economic impact study (EIS). The contract proposal will be reviewed during a 1 p.m. Dec. 8 BoCC meeting.

The decision means that the Dec. 31, 2020 expiration of the Nestlé Waters North America, Inc. 1041 permit, which has already been extended multiple times since Oct. 2019, will once again be extended, possibly through April 2021. The BoCC made the decision to request the study after listening to comments from the public that implied that the 1041 permit is economically one-sided.  Their conclusion; supplementing the decision with economic information is a logical step.

Arrowhead brand bottled water, one of several Nestle Water brands. Courtesy image

The motion by Commissioner Keith Baker, seconded by Commissioner Rusty Granzella and unanimously passed, was decided upon after commissioners learned that an EIS was done in 2009 when the original 1041 permit was approved. None of the current commissioners has seen that original EIS, but Granzella asked that it be located so they could review it.

“We’ve talked about this and the 1041 regs related to the environment, water quality, and availability,” said Granzella. “We’ve gone through the wildlife, the plant life, the road safety, it seems like economics is the next area of concern.”

“Based on the study’s projected turnaround time, we could continue the existing permit time to a date-certain, at that Dec. 8 meeting,” said Baker. “As we referenced before, things have changed in the world, that potentially impact our view of the standards and the decisions … it’s a measured approach, one we can pursue so we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”

The 1:00 p.m. Nov. 17 BoCC meeting on this controversial Nestlé 1041 permit was a continuation of several meetings over the past year, the latest held on Nov. 10,  Chaffee Asst. Attorney Daniel Lee confirmed that the BoCC faces a decision with more than one option. The BoCC can either deny the permit, approve the permit, or approve it with conditions.

The decision was not without some still-unanswered questions. There is no confirmation that the economic impact study has been put out to bid, rather than awarded to a favored vendor. There is not yet any assurance that the study will be done by a consultant with no ties to Nestlé. In fact, there appeared to be a reference from Nestlé that they might want a hand in determining the scope.

“I think I heard Daniel say April, we’d have to think how we would manage through that timeframe,” said Nestlé Regional Manager Larry Lawrence. “We might not do an analysis of our own — but we’d like to understand the parameters of this. Otherwise, we’re in full support of your direction on this.”

While the Nov. 17 meeting didn’t include many public comments, there were a variety of opinions expressed in the Zoom meeting chat function, most by those opposed to renewing the permit, even in a revised form.

The naysayer comments ranged from questions about “traffic, air pollution, lots of externalized costs”, to a comment from Angie Thompson that “Recycling programs a great, but still does nothing to limit the manufacture of millions of bottles, or address the fossil fuel pollution created in their creation and transport.”

Another person asked about royalty fee to Chaffee County for each bottle sold and fantasized about what a local spring water business could make.

In this meeting and prior meetings, not all public comment has been negative. Many supporters of the permit have spoken up, citing the statistics on the full return of water to the Arkansas River, the investment in improved and expanded fishing sites, parking areas and safety improvements to CR 300, ecological and riparian repairs to the site.

Public expectations on what the BoCC can, and cannot take into account in their decision were pointed out. Attorney Tom cautions the commissioners that in their deliberations ” it’s not like we’re going to disregard the comments, but we have to follow what the law on 1041 regs say we can look at.”

“That’s important,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “Sometimes I feel like there can be conflict; a challenge between due process and coming up with the best possible decisions. This is an example, someone might have a great idea, but because of due process and protecting the rights of the applicant, they aren’t able to get the idea to us.

Nestlé Waters North America, Inc. is a business unit of Nestlé Waters. It produces and distributes numerous brands of bottled water across North America, ranging from continent-wide brands to regional brands. The water brand from the spring water being pumped at the Ruby Springs property owned by Nestlé  in Chaffee County is the Arrowhead Spring Water brand.