As a member of Columbia Riverkeeper, we thought you’d appreciate this story of corporate greed and community resistance.
Big kudos to the people of Lewis County who are taking on Crystal Geyser and winning!
Email goof leaks corporate playbook
It’s rare to get a glimpse inside the multinational corporation playbook, but water bottling giant Crystal Geyser lays bare its strategy: if the local community does not support its extractive project, bring on the astroturfing and extortion!
Crystal Geyser purchased land to build a controversial water bottling plant on the Cowlitz River in Randle, WA. Chief Operating Officer, Page Beykpour, intended to send a strategy email to the CEO, Ronan Papillaud, but instead emailed the local paper. The Daily Chronicle, like any good media outlet, published the email.
The COO emailed his boss to say, “As this project stands, it is dead because the opposition has successfully convinced officials and media against us.” That’s right. Residents organized to protect their community and the Cowlitz River, including an inspiring grassroots effort by the Lewis County Water Alliance. Instead of respecting the community and moving on, the COO laid out three strategies.
- Strategy 1: Beykpour wrote, “Hire a PR firm solely for the purpose of gathering grassroots supporters.”
Translation: Nobody likes our project so let’s buy support.
Buying fake grassroots support is astroturfing. In case his CEO was not familiar with this old chestnut of a corporate strategy, the COO gave him a primer. “Once we have gained enough people, we mobilize them in the same fashion as the opposition (reach out to County officials, media, governmental agencies). Along these lines, I’ve already lined up local contractors and their subs to gather their employees.”
- Strategy 2: “We sue the subdivision [next to the proposed bottling plant] for their damage to the aquifer due to irrigation and septic system failures. Hopefully, this gets them to the table and they are prepared to have an open minded conversation . . . .”
Translation: We have a lot of money to pay high-powered law firms to bring baseless lawsuits to intimidate the neighbors. Make no mistake. This is extortion—trying to obtain something through threats and intimidation.
- Strategy 3. “A combination of one and two.”
You can’t make this up!
This astroturfing and extortion approach is disgusting. Crystal Geyser provides a raw look at corporate greed and contempt for local people. If you have millions of dollars you can hire a PR firm to manufacture support. This may include buying advertising, creating scholarships, and sponsoring the little league team. Crystal Geyser’s “sue the subdivision” strategy is dark and cynical, but also not surprising. The COO writes they have “nothing to lose” in putting the neighbors through this painful lawsuit. Perhaps Crystal Geyser’s lawyers will alert their clients it is unethical to sue people for the purpose of intimidation. Don’t count on it. These same lawyers threatened to sue the Chronicle “for all damages affordable by law” for printing Mr. Beykpour’s email, stating incorrectly “it is against the law for you to print it.”
Crystal Geyser, which has bullied other towns, is obviously bad at this—they missed the memo that you’re supposed to line up support before you announce the project. But many other corporations have perfected this dark art. Here on the Columbia River where I work, fossil fuel companies are targeting communities with refineries and shipping terminals for coal, oil, and fracked gas. When big polluters roll in, our cities and towns are at a huge disadvantage. The corporations have slick lobbyists, a squadron of attorneys, and consultants who give all the right answers. They do the rounds with local politicians. First they get everything lined up, then they announce the project to the public.
The best way to protect our communities and rise above this tactic is through strength in numbers. By joining a local environmental group, you are standing up to protect clean water and local voices. You are empowering real grassroots organizers and community members to engage in our democracy at the local level, where all is not lost yet. And unlike Crystal Geyser’s embarrassing gaffe, non-profit organizations are proud of our playbooks. In fact, we shared our playbook in our last newsletter.
Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted August 5, 2019, to impose a moratorium on permits seeking water extraction in rural Lewis County and certain standalone food and beverage manufacturing applications — much to the appreciation of a large gathering of Lewis County Water Alliance members who have fiercely voiced their opposition to a proposed Crystal Geyser water bottling facility in Randle.