County commissioners prepare for Nestlé hearing

Chaffee County Commissioners began formal preparations for the Oct. 20 Nestlé public hearing during their Sept. 1 meeting.

The commissioners decided to hire two water experts to evaluate Nestlé’s 1041 permit application and discussed pandemic-related options for facilitating the meeting.

Tapping Water Experts

County Attorney Jennifer Davis recommended that the commissioners hire a legal expert and a hydrology expert. The Nestlé Waters North America 1041 application involves “technical water issues that warrant having experts,” she told commissioners.

Davis said the county hired water attorney David Shohet of Monson, Cummings and Shohet and engineer Gary Thompson of W.W. Wheeler and Associates for the original Nestlé 1041 permit application in 2009, and she recommended hiring them again for the upcoming hearing.

Davis told commissioners that Nestlé’s original 1041 permit required the company to create a fund to reimburse the county for expenses incurred as a result of the permitting process.

She said the fund currently has approximately $170,000 and estimated that hiring Shohet and Thompson might cost between $12,000 and $16,000.

While the Colorado Division 2 (Arkansas River Basin) engineer can review certain aspect of the permit application, Davis said a hydrology expert is needed to review Nestlé’s historical data and factors such as impacts to the aquifer and wetlands.

In addition to paying for the consultants, the reimbursement fund will also be used to reimburse the county for the cost of staff time spent reviewing the application, said County Finance Director Dan Short.

Planning Pandemic Contingencies

Public health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the commissioners to discuss options for the Oct. 20 hearing, a discussion that they agreed to continue until their Sept. 15 meeting.

The Nestlé hearing was originally scheduled for April 21 at the Buena Vista Community Center and was postponed due to the pandemic.

At this most recent meeting, commissioners agreed that the community center does not have sufficient capacity for the hearing, given public health guidelines for social distancing.

Davis said the original Nestlé 1041 hearings in 2009 experienced large attendance and required multiple meetings; therefore, county staff will need plenty of time to plan and prepare for the Oct. 20 meeting.

She said that a possible venue would be the Chaffee County Fairgrounds, where the larger building could accommodate 100 people with social distancing. Since that building doesn’t have restrooms, portable toilets would be needed.

“You’d still need to have a plan as to how to handle it if attendance goes over 100,” Davis said, “and it raises due process issues. We need to make sure that everyone who wants to be at the meeting has an opportunity.”

Commissioners and county staff discussed a range of possibilities, including using both fairgrounds buildings, meeting via videoconference, having people sign up in advance, and meeting on multiple days.

Chairman Greg Felt suggested having all presentations at an online meeting then taking public comments the following day at an in-person meeting with proper social distancing provisions, including overflow seating with a live video feed.

Commissioners Baker and Granzella supported Felt’s suggestion and discussed scheduling the in-person meeting at a time of day when the most people would be able to attend.

Baker also emphasized the need to protect public health and recommended posting a video of the presentations on YouTube to provide maximum opportunities for participation.

Joe Stone