REED CITY, Mich. (WOOD) — A Mason County judge will soon decide whether to uphold or overturn a decision that prevents Nestle Waters North America from building a booster station for its Osceola County well.
Nestle will need the booster if it gets approval from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to increase its water pumping at the White Pine Springs Well No. 101 in Osceola County to 400 gallons per minute. At that rate, the pump could pull 576,000 gallons of water per day in Osceola County. Nestle currently averages 1.1 million gallons per day total from four water pumping sites in northern Michigan.
Nestle is arguing the township’s decision misinterprets the zoning ordinance, adding that the board first approved the White Pine Springs well house and pipeline in 2008.
“What is clear is in 2008, the township issued a zoning permit for a similar building (and) the water pipeline to which the pump would be connected under the terms of an ordinance, which haven’t changed in a meaningful way since then,” Nestle’s attorney William Horn argued Wednesday in Osceola County Circuit Court.
The township argues the property where Nestle wants to put the booster is classified as an agricultural district and the pump doesn’t meet its zoning requirements.
“Nestle has no choice but to relocate the facility or come back to the township and try to rezone this facility to a different zoning district,” William Fahey, who has represented the township for several years, told 24 Hour News 8.
“I understand businesses try to make money — that’s why businesses exist. They do have to comply with the same rules the rest of us have to comply with and in this case it’s the zoning ordinance,” he continued. “We don’t treat Nestle any differently than any other business in the township. They simply have to follow our rules and we’ll apply the zoning ordinance the same way we do to anyone else.”
Nestle’s attorney declined an on-camera interview, but the company released a statement (PDF) after the hearing.
The judge said she’ll give a written opinion on Nestle’s appeal at the beginning of December.
PROTESTING THE LAWSUIT
Before Wednesday afternoon’s hearing, more than two dozen people held a silent protest outside the courthouse in Reed City.
Organizers showed a petition started by SumofUs.org requesting Nestle drop the lawsuit. The petition has gained more than 100,000 signatures.
“I think it’s disgusting that they’re appealing the township’s decision,” protester Jessica Arquette said of Nestle. “Being from Michigan, we have a huge responsibility to protect the water. We have 99 percent of North America’s fresh water source right here surrounding our state of Michigan. If people from Michigan don’t do it, no one else is paying attention.”
Maryann Borden was one of the protesters. She was featured in Target 8’s May investigation focusing on Nestle’s history in Michigan. She has opposed Nestle’s operations since the company first showed interest in 2000.
“It’s hard to keep going when you’re up against such a force as Nestle. They own everything in the world. I can’t pick up a candy bar or anything without having Nestle on it,” she said.
In an email, the MDEQ said it “is working to thoroughly assess the data as quickly as possible” to decide on Nestle’s application. According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, MDEQ spent more than $34,900 between March and August 2017 processing the application, which would be the first of its kind in Michigan if approved.