Chaffee County Commissioners heard a final round of public comments during the latest episode in the BlueTriton Brands 1041 permit saga Tuesday in Salida.
Until recently, BlueTriton was Nestlé Waters North America.
Public comments at the hearing were limited to two economic reports and the 2020 Nestlé annual report about its Ruby Mountain Spring operation, which supplies spring water for the company’s Denver bottling plant.
Most of the hearing was devoted to a presentation by three representatives from Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water: cofounders Tom Bomer and Jennifer Swacina as well as John McGowan, all of whom reside in Salida.
McGowan, a financial advisor, commented on the two economic reports presented by Harvey Economics and BBC Consulting, commissioned by Chaffee County and BlueTriton, respectively.
McGowan encouraged the Commissioners to approach the permit decision as an investment of resources and ask:
- What is the expected financial return?
- What is the impact to local stakeholders?
- Is it a good fit with local resources, values and vision?
McGowan described BlueTriton Interim CEO Dean Metropoulos’ track record of purchasing beloved brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, improving company value through marketing and cost-cutting, then selling the company, typically within four years.
He said the economists who prepared the economic reports “ignored major market forces and risks that Nestlé S.A. didn’t ignore,” including investor pressure to meet sustainability targets that would have been unachievable without the sale of Nestlé Waters North America.
McGowan also said he has “no faith” in the Nestlé hydrology reports because they have not been audited by independent experts.
McGowan’s examination of the three investment questions led him to conclude, “This is not a good investment of Chaffee County resources.” Specifically, he noted:
- Both economic reports show “little to no economic benefit” from BlueTriton operations.
- Approving the permit runs the risk of Chaffee County appearing complicit in the global plastic pollution crisis.
- Given BlueTriton Interim CEO Dean Metropoulos’ investing record, the County will likely see “a revolving door of new owners.”
- The County doesn’t have adequate resources to effectively manage a relationship with a $4-billion corporation.
- The BlueTriton spring-water operation is at odds with important local community values.
In addition to the BlueTriton operation being at odds with community values, Swacina pointed out that the operation is “incompatible with our Comp Plan,” which calls for the County to become a model for sustainability.
Swacina cited the economic analysis conducted during the original 1041 permitting process in 2009, which acknowledges “the significant value to natural spring water, not just water. The Augmentation Plan will replace natural spring water with water. However, there is still a permanent loss of this special natural resource.”
Swacina also submitted an email from recently retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Aragon as evidence that Nestlé requested the lot line adjustment on the acreage slated for a conservation easement, not CPW, as the Nestlé annual report indicates.
Given the timing of the pending conservation easement implementation, “It sure seems like the conservation easement is being held hostage,” Swacina said.
“In summary,” Bomer said, “as long as this 1041 permit is in place, the commissioners and the citizens of Chaffee County are complicit in all of the negative outcomes that flow from it,” including air pollution from trucking the water to Denver, plastic waste from single-use water bottles, augmentation using water from a “drought-stricken” watershed, and replacement of spring water with lower-quality surface water.
Bomer also criticized County management of the permit as “inadequate” and accused county staff of sometimes acting “like an arm of Nestlé Waters North America.”
Bomer emphasized that, following the sale of Nestlé Waters North America and subsequent name change to BlueTriton Brands, “Nestlé Waters North America no longer exists as an entity registered to do business in Colorado.”
“There is no upside to transferring and extending this permit to BlueTriton Brands,” Bomer said. “Please do the right thing, and put an end to this permit.”
Following the Unbottle presentation, the Commissioners heard additional public comments, and most of those who spoke expressed opposition to the permit extension, including Shae Whitney of Salida.
She said she owns a small water company in Chaffee County that has provided more local jobs than Nestlé has and recently invested $1 million in her business to eliminate plastics.
Responding to a previous statement that BlueTriton water bottles are recyclable, she said, “That’s not true. That’s simply not true anymore,” and cited the 2019 decision by China to stop accepting plastic waste from the U.S.
Whitney said BlueTriton could use alternatives to plastic for their water products but that they refuse to do so because they are entirely profit-driven. She also said of the company’s sustainability initiatives, “That’s a lie.”
Brothers Brady and Troy Carlin of Buena Vista also spoke against extending the 1041 permit. Both are involved in sustainable agriculture and said the water would be put to better uses for local businesses and agriculture.
Francie Bomer of Salida told the Commissioners that their decision must align with the Comprehensive Plan visions and goals, and “this doesn’t do that.” She urged the Commissioners to deny the permit transfer under Section 4.6 of the permit.
Several people expressed concerns about increasing demand for water due to population growth and worsening drought conditions across the West.
Bryan Rigsby, Buena Vista property owner and hydrogeologist with S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, said he has worked for 10 years doing monitoring at the Ruby Mountain Spring operation and believes the company is “responsive and engaged.”
He said Nestlé has “supported technical work that goes beyond what is required by the permit” and has operated the Ruby Mountain Spring facility within the terms of the permit.
“The extensive monitoring that is conducted by Nestlé will effectively alert the company and the County to spring-water production-related changes in the aquifer should any occur,” he said, “and that has not occurred at this point.”
Linda Lafford of Buena Vista said Nestlé has provided important financial support for Chaffee County Quilts of Valor, which makes quilts for military veterans.
Lafford called Quilts of Valor “a labor of love that we wouldn’t be able to do without Nestlé support.”
Karen and Reed Dils of Buena Vista both expressed support for extending the 1041 permit with Karen mentioning the benefits from the fishing easements and the net gain in water flows in the river. She also questioned the validity of some of the opposition group’s facts.
Reed expressed frustration with the lack of knowledge among people opposing the permit extension when it comes to Colorado’s system for managing water resources.
The deadline for written comment submissions was May 27, and a substantial majority of those comments oppose an extension of the 1041 permit for reasons already mentioned.
Written comments submitted by Joseph Teipel, executive director of the Chaffee County Community Foundation, state that BlueTriton/Nestlé “has contributed $25,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation.
Teipel commented that the first donation of $10,000 was paid to GARNA for a waste audit report, and $15,000 went to the Community Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, which “allowed CCCF to provide direct assistance to hundreds of Chaffee households, small businesses, and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic.”
Rebecca Biglow, a professional hydrologist from Salida, wrote in favor of extending the permit. Her letter to the Commissioners states, “I have found that ecosystem conditions have not been negatively impacted by Nestlé’s use” and that the operation “has benefited the county in retaining open space that functions as habitat for a variety of wildlife.”
She concludes, “The vocal opposition to the Nestlé/BlueTriton Brands 1041 permit renewal is composed of recent migrants to Chaffee County who are not informed of or understanding the full scope of Colorado water law.”
Other written comments in support of extending the 1041 permit came from the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., D.G. Coleman employees who drive the tanker trucks that haul Ruby Mountain Spring water, and employees at BlueTriton’s Denver bottling plant.
The commissioners agreed to continue the 1041 permit hearing to 1 p.m. June 15, when BlueTriton representatives will have a final opportunity to comment.