Monthly Archives: February 2011

We are all the locals

The Op-ed A bottling facility at Cascade Locks? Let the locals decide, written in April of 2010 by Tim Lee, president of the Port of Cascade Locks Commission, argues that the decision of whether or not to establish a Nestle bottling plant at Oxbow Springs should be left up to the residents of Cascade Locks and that other Oregonians should stay out of it. Lee’s argument is half correct. The problem is, he left out a large number of “locals” who would be affected by the bottling plant: the rest of the state of Oregon.

Lee begins by discussing the lack of jobs and tax revenue in Cascade Locks and the assumed positive effects of a Nestle bottling plant in town:

Rural Oregon is hurting. Even before the recession that’s affecting the entire state, Cascade Locks has been working for decades to make up for lost timber jobs… Without a strong tax base, our community has been struggling each year to fund such essential services as police and the volunteer fire department, services necessary to our community’s ongoing viability. Last year, our high school was closed for lack of enrollment, and residents have had to move out of town to find employment… One of our most promising opportunities right now envisions building a water bottling facility.

The need for job creation and economic growth cannot be ignored since this affects Oregonians on a daily basis. But there’s a misconception here that people who oppose the construction of the Nestle bottling plant are somehow also opposed to jobs and economic growth for the City of Cascade Locks and the State of Oregon. This could not be further from the truth. The real issue is that a Swiss-based corporation wants to establish a facility that will extract Oregon water, put that water in an energy-intensive plastic bottle, and ship it out of the Gorge in the back of a semi truck. The vast majority of profits from this operation would leave, not only the state, but the U.S., as well, providing little in the way of large-scale economic benefit for more than a handful of Oregonians. Additionally, many viable alternatives exist for growing Cascade Locks’ economy, including tourism and small-scale development that will yield greater long-term effects. Economic arguments aside, the Oregon spring water that Nestle wants to bottle is a public resource that belongs to all Oregonians and should therefore not be sold off to increase a foreign corporation’s profits.

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Nestle Waters: A history of backroom deals and exploitative extraction practices

Beyond all of the reasons why the proposed Nestle bottling plant is bad for Oregon and the City of Cascade Locks (addressed in greater detail here), it is also important to remember that Nestle has a bad track record in real communities across America.

This article, from an April 2008 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, profiles the fight over a proposed Nestle bottling plant in McCloud, California. Both McCloud and Cascade Locks were seen by Nestle as attractive potential sites for bottling plants because of their abundance of water and high unemployment rates. In McCloud, however, the initial dealmaking process between city council members and Nestle representatives remained hidden from the public until after the fact:

Few of McCloud’s residents knew about the agreement. That is, not until September, 2003, when board members posted a notice in McCloud’s post office announcing a town meeting to unveil the plan. Local business owner Richard McFarland did a double take when he saw the flyer. Like many in McCloud, he knew the town had long wanted to sell its water. But this was the first he’d heard about a contract or Nestlé. For McFarland, as for others, the name Nestlé raised a red flag. Wasn’t this the company boycotted in the 1970s for promoting infant formula over breast milk to mothers in the Third World? Plus, Nestlé was the biggest food company in the world. How much water would they be sucking out of what many considered a sacred mountain with a world-class fishing river and a sensitive hydrology?

McFarland wasn’t opposed to a new industry coming to town. But he had lots of questions, especially since his reclaimed-lumber business abuts the old mill. A few days later, on Sept. 29, he and 100 other residents piled into the elementary school gym for the Nestlé town meeting. As they waited for it to start, a TV beamed a continuous loop of CEO Jeffery extolling his company’s environmental credentials. Many assumed a discussion would be had, questions fielded, and the community would then work together to assess options. They thought they were there to hear about a proposal. But after Kampa and Palais did their PowerPoints, the crowd was dumbfounded when the gavel struck and Dragseth and the other four board members voted unanimously to sign the contract right then and there. The deal was done.

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