Michigan’s Osceola Township is being sued by Nestle for expanded access to the township’s spring water supply. Nestle Waters North America is the world’s largest bottled water company. Nestle’s lawyers argue that the township had no right to deny the corporation’s application to build a booster station that would increase the amount of water it takes from its White Pine Springs well near Evart, Michigan, in Osceola Township. Nestle’s booster station would help move a larger supply of water from the well. The plans would increase the amount of spring water extracted to 400 gallons each minute.
In just weeks, Mason County 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan Sniegowski will hear oral arguments in the lawsuit against Osceola Township at the Osceola County courthouse in Reed City. Due to the potential conflict of interest, judges in Osceola and neighboring Mecosta counties recused themselves once the company appealed the zoning denial, MLive reports. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, November 15. At the hearing, the world’s largest bottled water company will go up against a small civil township located in Osceola County in Mid-Michigan.
The well currently supplies water for the corporation’s Ice Mountain brand, MLive reported. Ferris State University’s Torch reported that the company pays just $200 for administrative costs for the ability to withdraw millions of gallons of water from the well. Osceola Township denied Nestle’s zoning application. The township’s planning and zoning appeals boards concluded that the special land use application needed for the booster station did not meet their zoning ordinance requirements. According to MLive, the corporation appealed the township’s denial.
A plea listed on the fundraising organization SumOfUs’s website asserts that the small township is $30,000 in debt, because of the fight against Nestle. The report on SumOfUs states that Osceola Township members recently asked the fundraising platform for help raising money for legal fees.
Nestle’s lawyer from the Mika Meyers law firm states in the appeal that the planning commissioners misinterpreted the township’s own zoning ordinance. He says that the township chose to reclassify their application for a booster station in order to “de facto attempt to prohibit (and thus regulate) a large quantity water withdrawal,” MLive reported. The appeal paperwork states that the decision to grant Nestle a permit to increase the water extraction by 150 gallons per minute rests with the state of Michigan, not the township.
A recent Bloomberg article brought up a 1994 interview with former Nestle CEO Helmut Maucher published in the New York Times.
“Springs are like petroleum,” Maucher said. “You can always build a chocolate factory. But springs you have or you don’t have.”
Bloomberg reported that the White Pine Springs well near Evart isn’t the only place Nestle buys water for practically nothing.
“In San Bernardino, Calif., Nestle has long paid the U.S. Forest Service an annual rate of $524 to extract about 30 million gallons, even during droughts.”
In April, over 500 people showed up at Ferris State University near the Ice Mountain plant to participate in the DEQ’s public hearing on Nestle’s intent to access even more water from the Osceola Township aquifer system. Peggy Case, the president of a Nestle opposition group in Michigan, showed up at that public hearing. She pointed out that in just 11 years, Nestle has taken over 4 billion gallons of water for almost nothing, then sold it back to people within the state as Ice Mountain bottled water.
“Meanwhile, the people of Flint have been forced to use this bottled water for several years and are required to pay some of the highest water bills in the country for undrinkable water. The people of Detroit have experienced massive shutoffs since 2014, with up to 90,000 people shut off at times,” Case pointed out. “If Detroiters could pay Nestle rates, few would owe more than a dollar, and the majority would owe less than a dime.”
During the public comment period, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) also chimed in. They argued that removing that much water from the area will harm nearby Michigan wetlands, fish, and other aquatic life.
GBT representatives claimed that Nestle’s application for increased groundwater extraction does not take into consideration the existence of GTB’s treaty rights, confirmed in a November 2, 2007 consent decree. They stated that the well is located on land that was ceded to the United States in the March 28, 1836, Treaty of Washington. GTB reserves inland usufructuary rights to ceded land in Michigan and has an interest in Nestle’s plans for the aquifer system in Osceola Township.
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