County Commissioners grant Nestlé opposition group ‘up to one hour’ at 1041 hearing

Chaffee County Commissioners agreed to allow an opposition group “up to one hour” to present its case against approval of the Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit extension.

The public hearing will take place at 5 p.m. Oct. 20 and 9 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds to accommodate as many people as possible while maintaining public health protocols for COVID-19.

Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water LLC requested the extra time to speak, and commissioners granted the request during their Tuesday, Oct. 6, meeting.

At the public hearing, commissioners will consider whether or not to approve a 10-year extension to Nestlé’s 1041 permit, which allows the company to pump groundwater and haul it to Denver for bottling.

The commissioners previously established a 3-minute per-person time limit for public comments at the hearing but agreed to accommodate requests for more time from large groups or organizations.

The Unbottle Facebook group currently has 672 members, and its online petition has garnered 1,785 signatures.

Assistant County Attorney Daniel Tom said one other group requested extra time prior to the deadline but had not yet followed up.

During the commissioners’ discussion about how much time to allow for these groups, Commissioner Rusty Granzella suggested five minutes.

Commissioner Keith Baker said he thinks five minutes is insufficient and that he prefers to err on the side of more public input.

Unbottle co-founder Tom Bomer of Salida told commissioners that the group would like “up to one hour” to present objections to the permit extension “immediately following the Nestlé presentation.”

Granzella asked Bomer if the group wants an hour for speculation versus presenting facts. “I don’t want an hour of speculation.”

Bomer said the group’s representative would be talking about “documents used to create this permit,” ways in which those documents weren’t properly followed, and important issues that were not considered in 2009.

County Commissioners Chairman Greg Felt asked if the group had consulted with the county’s legal counsel to ensure that the facts to be presented are relevant to what can be considered under 1041 regulations.

Bomer said his group communicated with County Attorney Jenny Davis about legitimate 1041 considerations but added that he believes there are other issues that the commissioners need to take into account.

Commissioner Baker noted that the Unbottle group had followed the commissioners’ guidelines, had properly organized as an LLC, and had made their request prior to the Oct. 1 deadline.

Once the commissioners agreed to allow Bomer’s group an hour for its presentation, Commissioner Felt said he would encourage people speaking at the hearing not to repeat concerns that had already been expressed.

Attorney Tom noted that people can submit written comments and that there is no limit on the length of written comments.

Tom also reported that reservations for attendance at the Oct. 20 meeting have already reached capacity in the main building at the fairgrounds but that 28 seats remain available in the main building for the Oct. 22 meeting.

For both meetings, 100 seats remain available for overflow attendance in the north building, where attendees can view the hearing via live feed while awaiting their turn to speak.

Everyone can attend both meetings online via Zoom video-conference. Links are available at the county website.

Joe Stone