Enough Water for All in Orting?

MELISSA SANTOS

The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.

Published: 11/01/08 11:30 p.m.

Orting officials are continuing talks about building a bottled water plant in the city–and they are considering how the project could affect their roads, water supply and revenue.

Chris Kemp, a project manager with Nestlé Waters North America, says Orting would receive $375,000 in new tax revenue in 2010-2011 if his company builds a plant there.

Over 10 years, the plant would bring the city $2.1 million, mostly from development and utility taxes, Kemp said. The plant would employ 53 people, as well as create 42 to 58 other jobs that would support the facility.

“That’s essentially money that could stay in Orting,” Kemp told the City Council on Wed.

Mayor Cheryl Temple said financial considerations are huge for the city of about 6,000, which had a general fund budget of $3.7 million in 2008. She said the city is more interested in having a business rather than another housing project settle on the proposed bottling plant site. A developer was poised to build a 500-unit condominium complex on the land, but backed out when the housing market dipped.

“It’s hard to bring business to this town,” Temple said. “Why would we turn them away without even talking to them?”

Nestlé is eyeing Orting for its first plant in the Pacific Northwest because of the city’s three mountain springs. Company officials first looked at a site in Enumclaw, but the City Council there voted to end discussions with the company in June. They have also met with the Black Diamond City Council.

In Orting, the proposed site for the plant is the 50-acre Engfer farm along Highway 162 in the north part of the city. Kemp said the plant would add about 205 daily truck trips on the road between the months of May and Aug., Nestlé’s busy season. Total traffic, including trips by commuting employees, would increase by a total of 230 to 310 trips daily depending on the time of year.

He compared that to the 3,000 daily trips a 500-unit condominium development would generate.

“The difference in numbers is fairly staggering,” Kemp said.

However, residents and council members had lingering questions last week about whether the local water supply could support a two-line, 250,000-square-foot Nestlé plant. They also wanted to know what toll the plant would take on the environment.

Kemp said the company has not completed water volume and quality tests, which will determine whether Orting’s water supply is sufficient to meet both the company’s and the community’s needs. Nestlé also still needs to do environmental impact studies as part of the permitting process.

If talks move forward, plant construction would be completed in 2010 and it would open in 2011, Kemp said.

“We’re just taking small steps,” said Temple, adding that the city is still months away from a decision. “We’re still exploring.”

Only a few council members have taken a strong stance during these early stages of talks. Councilman Joachim Pestinger said he supports the bottling plant because it could create less traffic congestion than a housing development.

“If you have condominiums, people will travel during the rush hour,” Pestinger said. “I want the city to reserve the right to limit the traffic during peak hours. I see that as a benefit to not have all these cars on the road but have some trucks during the least busy parts of the day.”

Councilman Dick Ford said he is concerned about Orting giving away its spring water, which he said is a precious natural resource the town should safeguard for future generations.

“It was under our parents’ and our grandparents’ stewardship, and now it’s under our stewardship,” Ford said. “It was passed to us, and we ought to protect it and pass it on.”

Nestlé Waters North America reigns as the top purveyor of bottled water in the U. S. with sales of $3.8 billion last year. On the West Coast, it markets mountain spring water under the brand name Arrowhead. It has 26 bottling plants throughout the country and is looking to build its first in the Northwest.