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Today is the final day for public input on Cascade Locks/Fish & Wildlife water rights swap

May 13, 2015

Opponents of Nestlé’s proposal to build a bottled water plant in Cascade Locks are taking their complaints to the governor.

A group including Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, statewide labor leaders and environmental groups plan to drop off boxes filled with thousands of protest letters at the state Capitol Thursday. The letters will ask Gov. Kate Brown to reject a proposed water swap that would grant Nestlé access to a spring near the Columbia River Gorge town.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which owns water rights at Oxbow Springs, has agreed to trade some of its rights to the city of Cascade Locks in exchange for an equal portion of city well water. The city would then sell the spring water to Nestlé, and the company would bottle 100 million gallons per year for sale across the northwest.

Thursday is the deadline to submit public comment regarding the water rights swap.

The water rights swap is a new approach for the agency, which had initially agreed to trade water gallon-for-gallon, but keep its rights at the spring. Nestlé officials floated the idea for the new approach, which would eliminate a requirement for the State Water Resources Department to consider impacts on the public when deciding whether to approve a swap.

The new approach rankled Nestlé’s opponents, who had already sent thousands of protest letters to the state. Under the new plan, those letters would have no bearing on state water managers’ decision.

Proponents of the deal — including most of the Cascade Locks City Council — say the city badly needs the 50 jobs it is expected to create, as well as the huge property tax revenue boost that would come from the $50 million plant.

Deanna Busdieker, the lone Cascade Locks City Council member to oppose the deal, will be on hand at Thursday’s press conference.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s decision to go forward with the deal has also grabbed state legislators’ attention. Last month, nine of them sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown expressing “concern” about the new approach and the underlying concept of selling Oregon’s water to a multinational corporation.

“This transaction is problematic for two reasons,” reads the letter signed by Sen. Michael Dembrow and Dembrow and Reps. Lininger, Phil Barnhart, Peter Buckley, Lew Frederick, Ken Helm, Alissa Keny-Guyer, Nancy Nathanson and Barbara Smith Warner. “First, it has been structured in a way that avoids crucial public interest review. Second, it establishes a dangerous precedent regarding the use of Oregon’s water.”

In pursuing the deal, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have said they are following the orders of former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and will continue to do so in the absence of further direction from the state’s leadership.

Brown has yet to sound off on the Nestlé deal. Her predecessor, John Kitzhaber, was also quiet on the issue.

— Kelly House

khouse@oregonian.com
503-221-8178
@Kelly_M_House

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/05/nestle_opponents_to_drop_boxes.html

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