Chaffee County Commissioners began deliberations in the Nestlé Waters North America 1041 permit hearing Thursday, Nov. 5, and continued the hearing until 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The Commissioners agreed to accept a document that Nestlé submitted Wednesday, Nov. 4, with proposed permit conditions more favorable to the county.

In accepting the Nestlé submittal, the Commissioners re-opened the hearing to public comments relevant to the new information.

Members of the public will be given an opportunity to comment on the Nestlé proposal at the beginning of the next 1041 meeting Tuesday.

During this most recent meeting, Nestlé Natural Resource Manager Larry Lawrence highlighted the recently proposed permit conditions, which include new conditions as well as changes to existing conditions.

Proposed changes include additional language relevant to transferring the permit that would allow the Commissioners to “impose additional conditions to ensure the transferee will comply with the Permit.”

The other proposed change would add an annual presentation by Nestlé to the annual reporting requirement, Lawrence said. “Our goal is to better serve the community by adding some transparency to the process.”

Lawrence described two tiers of proposed new conditions. Tier 1 conditions would apply unless Nestlé’s pumping volume exceeded 125 acre-feet per year, which would trigger Tier 2 conditions.

The proposed Tier 1 conditions include:

  • Additional immediate funding of $15,000 for each public-school endowment, annual funding of $3,000 each, and annual matching funds of up to $10,000 each.
  • A less restrictive condition for hiring local drivers along with a $50,000 fund “in support of the development of a mountain truck driver training and apprentice program,” annual scholarship donations and matching fund contributions.
  • Annual contributions to local organizations of up to $20,000, an increase of about 20 percent.
  • A donation of $10,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation and a $10,000-per-year matching funds program.

Tier 2 conditions would increase Nestlé’s annual funding commitments, including matching funds. The complete proposal is available here.

With public commenting reopened, several people attending the meeting via Zoom video-conference expressed their opinions about the proposal.

John McGowan of Salida said that corporations have funds for community giving programs, and based on his corporate experience, a multi-national corporation should be offering 5-10 times the amount of funding that Nestlé is offering.

Tom Bomer of Salida, cofounder of the local opposition group Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, said he and his group are “still diametrically opposed to extending this permit” and reiterated McGowan’s comments “should you consider accepting some variation on these proposals.”

Linda Erickson of Salida objected to consideration of the proposed permit conditions without allowing citizens time to review the new information.

After hearing public comments, the Commissioners provided assurances that members of the public would have an opportunity to comment on the new information.

They then began deliberations on the relevant 1041 standards, conditions in the original permit, and Nestle’s compliance with those standards and conditions.

The Commissioners also indicated that, when they continue the hearing Tuesday, they will want to enter into executive session to seek legal advice about questions raised during the hearing.

One of those questions is whether or not the standard requiring substantiation of the need for the project is applicable to the Nestlé permit.

The 2009 County Commissioners determined the standard did not apply. The Unbottle group insists that the standard does apply, while attorney Steve Sims, representing Nestlé, has said the standard only applies to water utility service providers. (See previous article.)

As Commissioner Keith Baker said, whether or not that standard applies is “fundamental to the entire question.”