Chaffee County Commissioners continued their Nestlé North America Waters 1041 permit hearing Thursday with two meetings, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., during which they took public comment via Zoom.
While most comments were against continuing the permit, some spoke in favor of Nestlé.
Most of the comments were from residents of Chaffee County, but there were some Zoom calls from as far away as San Francisco and Michigan, both speaking against Nestlé.
Dave Blazer with the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp. was the only in-person speaker to address commissioners. The meeting was held at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds.
Blazer said Nestlé has “demonstrated themselves as significant partners” within the county, citing their donations to Salida and Buena Vista school districts and other local non-profits.
Dominique Naccarato, Greater Arkansas River Nature Association executive director, spoke on behalf of the GARNA board. She said they voted 100 percent in favor of denying the permit.
Naccarato said if commissioners decide to approve the permit, GARNA would like to see a shorter length than the previous 10 years; increased monitoring by county planning staff; limiting the amount of water to current levels of use, which are about half of the original amount approved; and that all future contributions to the county should go through the Chaffee County Community Foundation.
Some of concerns raised during the public comment period included:
• Nestlé damaging the aquifer with their removal of the water.
• Nestlé’s use of single-use plastic bottles.
• Possible sale of Nestlé North America Waters to an unknown party in the future.
• Nestlé’s global footprint, both financially and through their use of plastics.
• Nestlé’s failure to meet previous conditions, such as reporting on time, failure to hire 50 percent of their drivers from Chaffee County and not putting the land into a conservation easement.
• Lack of trust in the data provided by Nestlé from their monitoring wells.
• Nestlé not meeting one of the requirements from the 1041 regulations, proving “a need” for the water.
One comment came from Robert Parker who compared the original permit from 2009 as the county being an auto sale lot and Nestlé picking up a top-of-the-line Corvette while leaving a broken down Pinto as collateral, and now, showing up again asking for another new Corvette.
Shane Dixon of Poncha Springs spoke in favor of Nestlé, saying he was one of their drivers and working for them allowed him to bring his family back to Chaffee County.
He said he was concerned that if the county did not renew the permit, he would have to leave.
Others who spoke in favor of renewing the permit mentioned points such as:
• Nestlé’s restoration of the of Bighorn Springs and Ruby Mountain areas.
• Concern if Nestlé was to sell the area it could be turned into subdivisions.
• Nestlé’s work with the county to improve County Road 300 and support lobbying the Colorado Department of Transportation for improvements of Trout Creek Pass.
• The two current and one future fishing access points along the Arkansas River.
• Nestlé purchased their water rights from the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, water which could just divert to other rights holders down the river.
Larry Lawrence, Nestlé regional manager for the western region, addressed the commissioners at the end of the night, to rebut some of the comments made.
Lawrence said that while he wasn’t involved in the original permit, it wasn’t “rubber stamped” as one speaker said, but it went through multiple hearings, the data was reviewed by independent consultants, and Nestlé has meet all of the original 44 conditions, save for a two year period when they had trouble hiring drivers.
Lawrence said the conservation easement was not one of the original conditions, but that Nestlé has been working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to set up an easement.
He also said that Nestlé has no plans to purse tax credits for the easement, which he had been asked about previously.
Steven Sims, water attorney for Nestlé, spoke on the 1041 regulation requiring a “need,” saying that in 2009 the commissioners agreed that it was not applicable to the permit.
Sims said this regulation applies to water utility providers, where the utility is supplying water to a specific area.
Since Nestlé is not a utility provider, and does not have a service area, the regulation was not applicable, pointing out that county attorney Jennifer Davis said the same during the opening of the hearings.
Lawrence said to help with the driver compliance problem, Nestlé was providing four full scholarships to Colorado Mountain College for a truck driver training program.
He said he had also been in contact with Angel of Shavano recycling and would be willing to work with them to help plastics recycling in the county.