Chaffee County Commissioners will continue the public hearing for the BlueTriton Brands 1041 permit extension at 1 pm. today to deliberate permit conditions following preliminary approval of the permit July 6.*
Members of the public may participate in the meeting via Zoom videoconference or by calling 1-669900-6833 and entering meeting ID number 109 079 543. Limited space will also be available for in-person attendance at the County Courthouse Building, 104 Crestone Ave., Salida, in the Commissioners Meeting Room.
A preliminary draft of the permit with proposed conditions is available here, and as stated in a July 19 County press release, “Members of the public can provide feedback on the permit via email directly to the County’s legal department at firstname.lastname@example.org by close of business on July 27.”
According to the press release, the County Commissioners are “expected to conclude deliberations on the BlueTriton Brands permit extension at a public meeting on August 3rd before making a determination on the final permit conditions.”
After the July 6 vote to allow BlueTriton to continue using Chaffee County spring water for its bottled water business, Western Region Natural Resource Manager Larry Lawrence said, “We are pleased that the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners’ decision will give us the opportunity to continue operating in Chaffee County, and we look forward to working with the County as they finalize the permit conditions.
“We are committed to helping maintain the long-term sustainability of Ruby Mountain Springs and furthering our partnerships in the community.”
Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water Cofounder Jennifer Swacina applauded Commissioner Keith Baker’s dissenting vote in the decision but expressed disappointment in the outcome.
“(Commissioner) Greg Felt voted to transfer the permit to private equity despite saying he would not,” Swacina said. “I hope (Commissioner) Rusty (Granzella) will fight for conditions he has suggested, such as Chaffee County being paid royalties per gallon of spring water extracted.”
Swacina also expressed hope that the Commissioners will “implement conditions that GARNA and Trout Unlimited have suggested, such as a shorter-term permit and capping water withdrawals to about half of what is currently permitted.
“I think the water should never be permitted to be exported across state lines, and the public needs to know details about the land management plan currently being negotiated with Colorado Parks and Wildlife before this can move forward.”
On July 16, John Barth, attorney for the Unbottle group, issued a written response to the Commissioners’ preliminary permit approval. Barth’s communiqué includes:
- An assertion that the Commissioners have not followed “the required permitting procedures for the requested 1041 permit extension and ownership transfer.”
- An assertion that Commissioner Felt “has a conflict of interest with regard to this matter.”
- A list of conditions that the Unbottle group believes “must be included in any 1041 permit issued by the County.”
Given the alleged failure to follow the proper permitting process, Barth’s letter states, “All operations at the (BlueTriton) facility should immediately cease until such time that a legal 1041 permit has been issued.”
The letter then alleges that the Commissioners have “violated the law by approving the issuance of a 1041 permit for the Project before considering a draft or proposed 1041 permit and its associated conditions. Further, the Board has also violated the law by failing to provide for public notice and comment on a draft or proposed 1041 permit and any conditions of the permit.”
The letter requests that the Commissioners rescind preliminary approval of the permit, schedule a public hearing on the permit and proposed conditions, and re-open public commenting on the permit and conditions.
Regarding Commissioner Felt’s alleged conflict of interest, Barth’s letter points to Felt’s position as vice chair of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors and his co-ownership of ArkAnglers, a local retail outlet and guide service.
“According to a recent economic analysis by Ed Harvey,” Barth’s letter states, the Upper Ark District receives 20 percent of its profit “from selling augmentation water to Nestlé/BlueTriton,” thereby creating a conflict of interest for Felt.
The letter alleges an additional conflict of interest for Felt because of BlueTriton’s proposed provisions for fishing access to the Arkansas River, “which would benefit ArkAnglers,” and requests that Commissioner Felt “recuse himself from any further proceedings on this matter.”
The list of permit conditions requested by the Unbottle group includes:
- Requiring BlueTriton “to fully fund the (County) comprehensive plan’s sustainability program, the County’s recycling program, and also provide significant funding for the Chaffee County Community Foundation.”
- Shortening the term of the permit from 10 years to three.
- Requiring trucks hauling BlueTriton water to refuel in Chaffee County.
- Specifying a job quota requirement dictating that BlueTriton make up any job shortages with additional financial investments in the community “equivalent to the missing wages.”
- Requiring BlueTriton’s full annual reports “to be kept publicly available online, along with the raw monthly data.”
The complete list of proposed permit conditions is available here.
*Nestlé Waters North America was the original 1041 permittee, but the company name was changed when it was acquired by a private equity partnership.