Nestlé protesters pick up the pace

— CASCADE LOCKS — At a typical protest one might expect to see people holding signs, chanting slogans and encouraging cars to honk in support.

A protest against a proposed Nestlé water bottling plant in Cascade Locks had all those things, but it wasn’t your typical protest.

As the main element of the protest, a group of around 20 runners ran all, or portions, a 50-mile rim-to-rim distance of the Gorge on the Oregon and Washington sides.

By 1 p.m. Wednesday a group of about 30 anti-Nestlé protestors had gathered to greet the runners as they descended from the peak of Chinedere Mountain down Pacific Crest Trail into Cascade Locks before crossing over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington to go up Table Mountain.

Also there to meet the protestors were several members of the Cascade Locks City Council and the Port Commission supportive of efforts to continue developing the Nestlé project.

While the protestors waited for the runners, both sides engaged in dialogue, with the protestors explaining why they opposed the projects and the city representatives framing the city’s economic situation and need for jobs.

Prior to the protest run, Cascade Locks Mayor Lance Masters, along with the members of Joint Work Group, a collaborative effort between the Port of Cascade Locks and the City Council, and state government representatives including state Rep. Mark Johnson of Hood River, went on a Nestlé-funded trip to visit a Nestlé bottling plant in Sacramento, Calif on July 25.

Port Commission president Jess Groves said that the group got to visit with workers at the plant, see how the bottling operation works and get a sense for the equipment used.

Groves said he came away impressed with cleanliness and safety procedures at the plant, as well as an educational initiative through Nestlé which offers students at a local community college the opportunity to train on machinery used at the plant.

“In general I don’t want to see someone who doesn’t understand anything about Cascade Locks or who doesn’t understand what a water bottling plant is come in and blanket say you shouldn’t do this,” Masters said of those protesting the plant.

Following the protest run, supporters met at the Charburger Restaurant in Cascade Locks for a discussion with Food and Water Watch representatives about their concerns about the plant.

Food and Water Watch representative Julia DeGraw said the group is not opposed to economic development in Cascade Locks but “are against the bottling of water. Period.”

Food and Water Watch and other opposition groups are currently appealing an Oregon Water Resources Department Decision to grant the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife two water rights transfer permits for 9.5 CFS and .5 CFS at the Herman Creek Fish Hatchery. The transfer is a key step in moving the bottling plant to fruition.

While the anti-Nestlé protestors and runners were meeting following the run, proponents of the plant held a rally in downtown Cascade Locks emphasizing the need for jobs in the city.

The group stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant to meet the runners as they returned and to continue the dialogue.

“They actually took the time to stop and talk to us and hear what we had to say,” Groves said.

Masters said he estimated around 50 people attended the rally.

“The great thing about it was a group of people who maybe haven’t agreed on anything in Cascade Locks for years were standing there talking and supporting the same thing,” Masters said. “My hat has to go off to the port and others from the community who helped organize that event.”

Groves said the rally was an example of community spirit he hadn’t seen in awhile.

“It was friendly, there was chanting going on,” Groves said. “Since we lost our high school I think we’d lost our community spirit a bit, but I really saw it.”

For those running in the protest, the pain and injuries they endured on the run were worth it.

“I had to come out to support the efforts of all these good people,” said Sandra Calm of Portland. “The world does not need more plastic bottles.”

Run organizer Nick Triolo of Portland said that while the form of protest may have been a bit unconventional, it was a way of getting people involved who may not be big on traditional activism.

“I don’t feel comfortable protesting on the streets with placards but do feel comfortable in the mountains,” he said.

Triolo added that in addition to enjoying the trails in the Gorge, the group wanted to make it clear it wants to see Cascade Locks succeed economically.

“We wanted to express our support for their local economy; we want to see small towns thrive,” Triolo said. “We wanted to let them know that it’s our stance that Nestlé isn’t the only option or a good option.”

Masters said the city is still working on determining whether Nestlé was a good option for the city and getting the best deal it could should it decide to go ahead with the project.

“I think a lot of us were really happy to share the Cascade Locks story with a lot of people,” he said of the opportunity to talk with the protestors. “Some people were willing to listen and others had made up their mind, but on the whole it was a very agreeable experience.”

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