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.

The piece continues:

There has been opposition voiced against this project by those who live outside of our community, and we’ve listened and heard their concerns. But we believe there is no harm in pursuing this project and will wait for the data to reveal the true answers to our environmental, traffic safety and fishery concerns. We are disheartened to hear that groups who do not represent Cascade Locks are advocating that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife not take part in a water exchange with the city of Cascade Locks that would allow this project to proceed.

Of all the factors motivating people who live outside of Cascade Locks to voice their opposition to the potential Nestle plant, assuming to know what’s best for Cascade Locks is not one of them. It may feel like outsiders meddling with city business, but the reality is that the environmental impacts of such a plant could affect many people and ecosystems in and around the Gorge. Other impacts, like increased truck traffic — up to 200 truck trips a day during peak summer season according to Nestlé’s reports and website — would affect many more Oregonians than just those living within Cascade Locks. Most importantly, the water that Nestle wants to extract and bottle is a public resource belonging to all Oregonians, which clearly gives all Oregonians a stake in the decision making process.

Lee concludes by suggesting that opponents of the proposed Nestle plant are jumping to unfounded conclusions regarding the negative effects of such a plant:

They are assuming, without waiting for the data and facts, that a bottling facility would be harmful to the environment. These groups seem more concerned about the project’s sponsor than the potential affects, good or bad, of a bottling facility.

Nestle has a long and negative track record when it comes to respecting the communities where it wants to bottle. Nestle has often employed strong-arm tactics to obtain and retain water rights, and it has violated  its contracts by continuing to extract water, even after negative impacts to the surrounding ground and surface water supplies have been discovered.

It is important to acknowledge that testing and collection of data is an important step in assessing the potential environmental impacts of the Nestle plant. However, it’s also important to be aware and cautious of the yet unknown effects of extracting the volume of water that Nestle desires, including the possible ecological effects further downstream. This follows what is known as the Precautionary Principle, which has successfully guided numerous policy decisions, environmental and otherwise, throughout the years. To fall short in that responsibility would be reckless. Nestle, a foreign corporation motivated by profit, clearly does not have the City of Cascade Locks or its citizens’ best interests at heart. This is why all Oregonians should come together to keep Nestle out of the Gorge and out of Oregon’s water.

The original article appears at http://bit.ly/9qdBAU.

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