Quiet visitor packs potent question for Cascade Locks

A soft-spoken, retired librarian from Michigan arrived in Oregon on June 24 to bring with her a giant-sized and common-sense message: “Buyer beware.”

In this case, the “buyer” — or perhaps “seller” — Terry Swier is addressing is the town of Cascade Locks, which is in negotiations with Nestlé Waters North America over the installation of a water bottling plant.

The Cascade Locks City Council will soon be asked to decide on a proposed Nestlé plant that would bottle 100 million gallons of water per year from the town’s aquifer and nearby Department of Fish and Wildlife Oxbow Spring.

Concerns over the proposal center on something highlighted by Swier in her visit: Can a small town afford to protect itself in the event of a contract dispute with a large multi-national corporation?

Swier offered details on her community’s experience and her nonprofit’s legal battle with Nestlé while speaking at the Cascade Locks City Council meeting June 25.

“We have over a million dollars in legal (and hired-expert) debt to pay off as a result of an eight-year, multi-court legal battle with Nestlé,” said Swier.

Swier founded the nonprofit group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, which went on to win many points of its suit against Nestlé, which finalized in 2009.

As a result, Nestlé was required to lower the company’s water pumping and reduce negative impact on lakes, streams and groundwater near the town of Mecosta, Mich., home to another Nestlé bottling facility.

The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately decided in favor of MCWC’s right to sue, saying that Nestlé was appropriately challenged. Nestlé had argued against MCWC’s right to sue to protect local water resources.

Michigan supreme court ruling

To read the final Michigan Supreme Court ruling go to: http://1.usa.gov/QBRaD4. Lower court rulings are also available.

The final Supreme Court ruling also upheld an earlier court ruling that reduced Nestlé’s plant pumping to nearly one-half of previous levels.

According to Swier, MCWC opted “not to ask for reimbursement for legal costs” in the settlement with Nestlé — instead focusing on forcing either a complete stoppage or a monitored, reduced water-draw from the private property pump site controlled by Nestlé.

“We will be paying off our debt for many years to come,” said Swier, “but we do feel that we have protected our watershed for future generations.”

While the details of the watershed differ between Michigan and Oregon, the larger question of how a small town might handle a large corporate lawsuit lay at the heart of Swier’s message to Cascade Locks.

Swier and MCWC members organized when they learned of the deal between Nestlé and a local landowner which would pump 210 million gallons of spring water per year, for decades, from the local aquifer. That aquifer connected to multiple lakes and streams and impacted multiple property owners.

“It has been proven in the courts that irreparable harm would occur to the waterways due to pumping by Nestlé,” said Swier. Michigan lower court records concur with Swier’s statement.

Cascade Locks Mayor Lance Masters heard Swier’s short presentation to the City Council on Monday night.

“It is pretty clear she has been through a long, drawn-out struggle in her community in Michigan,” said Masters in a follow-up interview. “She shared how difficult the struggle was and she highlighted a few key points that we will add to our research.

“One thing is that we hadn’t yet talked about — and I hate to speculate on this — but if there is a breach of a contract or an agreement, how does the city pay for the legal work required?” said Masters. “We don’t budget that much for a city attorney for our existing needs.”

Port Commission President Jessie Groves issued a statement about Swier’s visit and said in part, “We are deeply cautious of these outside groups who have decided to use our hometown to forward their national agendas.”

According to Swier, she continues to travel anywhere she is invited to speak, out of a “sense of responsibility to any small community who is dealing with Nestlé or water issues.” She has also testified before Congress.

For her recent visit to Oregon, Swier was flown in to speak in Cascade Locks and Portland by Bark, a Portland nonprofit and one of two groups protesting the proposed use of Oxbow Spring waters in the Cascade Locks Nestlé operations.

Swier also spoke to community members at an informal gathering earlier in the day at the Charburger Restaurant. Tiffany Pruitt, a former Cascade Locks City Council member, was in attendance at the Charburger gathering.

“I am not 100 percent against this project but I am very concerned about our city council doing their own, independent, due diligence work and not relying on Nestlé for information,” said Pruitt. “A memorandum of understanding is not enforceable and, if there is a problem, who is going to lose — the huge corporation or the citizens?”

“The Port and City of Cascade Locks are undertaking rigorous due diligence on this opportunity and have engaged experts in a variety of fields to assist us in this effort,” said Groves’ statement.

Masters confirmed that an analysis of several water bottling facilities is slated to be contracted out to the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, although Mecosta was not on the proposed list for examination.

“We will conduct a thorough analysis of what has happened in towns who have had good relationships with Nestlé and those towns where relationships have gone sour,” said Masters. “It would be good to put her town on our list of cities to investigate.”

Masters later restated the importance of collecting information which reflected a true perspective on other towns’ experiences, and went on to say, “If we get something less than that, we’re going to have to find another way to do that due diligence.”

On June 26, Swier also spoke at an afternoon “Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge” rally at Terry Schrunk Plaza in Portland, where approximately 250 people gathered to hear her message.

“I would caution the residents of Oregon and Cascade Locks to ask hard questions of Nestlé and of their appointed government officials,” said Swier.

Cascade Locks, in desperate need of living wag

e jobs, reportedly reminded Swier of her hometown’s economic situation.

“I live in one of the poorest counties in Michigan with 29 percent of the families below poverty level. I understand the economic and job situation that is also facing the people of Cascade Locks,” Swier said. “It is still important to ask hard questions.”

Swier’s 167-word statement to the city council on June 25 concluded with the following: “Get what you want, not what Nestlé wants. Remember, Nestlé is here in Cascade Locks for its own profit.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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