Water extraction remains focal point in Eldred
Eldred Township Supervisor Mary Ann Clausen made a motion in July for the board to hold a public meeting to determine where the correct zoning location should be for water extraction in the township. The motion would have put the question back into the hands of the planning commission.
Clausen was responding to pressure from residents, many of whom claim that they believe that the previous change from industrial to light industrial paved the way for Nestle NA to come into the township with a plan to extract hundreds of thousands of gallons of water daily.
Clausen’s July motion died on the floor for failure to secure a second.
The circumstances surrounding the change remains a question.
“Please show me where in the minutes the board made a motion to submit a change to this zoning to be advertised,” resident Vernon Barlieb has requested at numerous meetings.
“The changes to the zoning were the subject of a public meeting,” township solicitor Mike Kaspszyk said. But what Kaspszyk has also repeated on all of these occasions is that if the residents believe that there is any validity to their argument they need to seek legal counsel.
Clausen saw the screening of the movie, “Bottled Life,” a documentary which negatively depicts Nestle’s practices regarding water extraction throughout the world. She has also been seen in conference with Nestle’s hydrogeologist Eric Andreus.
This week, Clausen addressed the residents, “Last month many of you asked me to make a motion to schedule a hearing for the purpose of amending our zoning ordinance to change the definition of water extraction back to industry, as it was in the 2014 draft. There were a number of reasons why I felt I should not do that.”
“However,” she said, “I am very sympathetic to the arguments that were made, including the one that many of our planners believe that they did not have the information or time to consider the proposed change properly, and they would like another opportunity to do that.”
She said she would like to reconsider.
“I will make my motion, and if it passes I will then move that we request a written legal opinion regarding the likelihood that our amendment, if adopted, would survive any legal challenge which might be brought. We could request special counsel who practices regularly in this area to provide this opinion.”
Clausen’s first motion failed to obtain a second. Clausen made a second motion asking only for the legal opinion.
Clausen’s motion was seconded by supervisor Sharon Solt, who amended it to state that the second only applied if the township solicitor was the person to write the legal opinion.
Clausen rejected the amendment and the motion died.
When the floor was opened to public comment a number of residents spoke.
“When a legitimate business comes into town they advertise, they take out a billboard on the highway letting you know they are coming,” said Dr. Ramon Baker. “Not Nestle, they snuck into town like a thief in the night.”
“There are some obvious conflicts of interest here,” said E.J. Kleintop. “You continuing to deny these requests for a public hearing does not look favorably on you.
“We all need to remember that water is a dynamic resource,” Kleintop said. “Water continues to move so it is impossible to say who owns that water or when it belongs to any one person.”
“All of you raise good arguments,” said Kaspszyk. “But they should be reserved for a special exception hearing. At this time there is no application before the zoning hearing board for this project. When that time comes you will all have the opportunity to speak and to make all of these arguments. At this time there is nothing before this board to consider.”
Kleintop said, “But I would add one more thing for Nestle. We have been clear. We do not want you here. So when we do change the definition of water extraction, be nice, don’t sue us. You came into this area of your own choice, you invested your money at your own risk. ’Cause we are telling you now, we do not want you here.”
What is the benefit?
The question of how Nestle’s coming to Kunkletown might benefit the town and its residents has been brought up repeatedly. There are no jobs to be had.
The water will be extracted at hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, put into large tanker trucks, at a rate of 30 to 40 a day and transported along state roads that are already heavily traveled and not always well-maintained. None of the above items are in question.
“I understand that there are no jobs,” said Andreus. “But Nestle likes to be a good neighbor. One of the things I have done while I have been here is ask people I meet with ‘what does the town need, what could we do to help out the residents?’ ”
“We are proposing to set up a fund of $750,000 which we would ask the then supervisors to appoint a board to determine how that money could be used to improve the town.”
The statement by Andreus fell pretty flat and left some residents even angrier.
“Keep your bribe,” Barlieb said. “We can’t be bought.”
Status of test wells
Andreus said the “draw down tests” will be taking place tentatively next Monday. At this time eight residential wells are scheduled to be tested.
“There are about two dozen residential wells in the test area,” Andreus said. “We will have raw data within a few days, but it will take a little longer to determine the full impact of the test.”
Andreus explained in a separate interview that Nestle examines hundreds of potential sites for water extraction and only a few of those sites get to this point in the testing. Most sites that make it this far along are approved.