Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation responds to EGLE Decision in Nestle Contested Case – November 23, 2020
The decision by the Director of EGLE to completely dismiss the Contested Case filed by MCWC and the Grand Traverse Band (GTB), and allow Nestle to keep the permit issued by the Snyder administration’s MDEQ, shows an appalling disregard for all the people who have spent the last four years opposing this permit. The decision is highly punitive and the process nullifies the participation of citizen groups in future cases. Does the State now believe it will no longer need to hold hearings, take public comment, make public notice on environmental issues of great concern to citizens? Will future permits simply be granted behind closed doors with no right to make input? The implications of this ruling and the process that produced it go far beyond simply the issue of bottled water permits and threaten democratic participation in general.
The narrow interpretation of law which allowed the dismissal was not only unnecessary, it was unjust. After taking us through a two year process to establish jurisdiction with the tribunal at EGLE, participation in a full hearing with rebuttals and exceptions filed after the Judge’s ruling, we are informed that we should not have had a contested case hearing and all is void. The State changed the rules midstream and we should have instead have spent the big bucks to take our case directly to the circuit court, an option requiring even more money than the expensive contested case.
The review process for the Nestle permit to expand production to 400 gallons per minute was in fact probably the most extensive in the department’s history, as they claim, not because they were being so conscientious but because there was such a public outcry demanding the permit be denied. The comment period was extended several times, written comments totaled over 80,000, all but a handful opposed to Nestle. Six hundred people showed up to the hearing in Big Rapids to testify. Only a few employees supported Nestle. Even after all this, MDEQ granted the permit based solely on data provided by Nestle’s computer models. Of course we contested along with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. The law did not allow such a decision based only on computer models provided by Nestle.
The slap in the face we received November 20th was an assault on all those who expect government agencies to serve in the public trust and protect natural resources for future generations. We call upon the Environmental Justice Advocate Regina Strong to finally respond to our complaint filed with her office on December 5, 2019.
We particularly call on the Attorney General to dig out the formal Complaint (see attached) we filed with her office on June 29, 2020 asking for a full investigation of Nestle’s operation in Osceola Township, put it closer to the top of the priority list, and either take it on herself or assign it to a deputy in her office who is not working for the old regime at EGLE. We want a response in line with the campaign promises made two years ago. We want new eyes and a fresh start since we are told we must start over, and we do not expect to be accumulating more bills to pay for the work of the State. The taxes we pay should be enough to cover the work of government. We want the Attorney General and the Governor to make sure they have seen our complaints and will respond.
We also want access to all the monitoring data from the US Geological Survey which is now being collected as a condition of the permit, including the baseline data collected prior to increased pumping. Only citizen oversight will make it possible to assure that state agencies are working on behalf of citizens and the natural resources they are pledged to protect in the event that Nestle is allowed to exercise the permit and pump at 400 gallons per minute. We expect to see “the vast amount of data” supposedly used to justify implementing the permit to increase pumping at White Pine Springs.
We will continue gathering our own real-life data out in the world of real life creeks, ponds, wetlands and wildlife. We will continue to work for environmental justice and the right of future generations to have access to clean, affordable, water that is for life, not for profit. We will continue to welcome the financial and activist support of all those individuals and groups this decision by EGLE has dismissed.
Peggy Case MCWC President