Residents voice concerns over Nestle’s plans for production increase in Osceola County

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OSCEOLA COUNTY, Mich. -- Residents in Osceola County had the chance to make their voices heard about proposed changes at the Nestle water plant.

Nestle announced last month a $36 million expansion of its Ice Mountain plant in Mecosta County, which would increase the amount of water it pulls from a well in Osceola County from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute.

Osceola Township Hall was filled with concerned residents Thursday night who were there to get their questions answered about Nestle's proposed expansion.

"It's because of growth in bottled water," said natural resource manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent. "More people means bottled water growth. Sales are driving growth of our product. We're proud to make a Michigan product here that stays locally. Almost 90 percent stays within 250 miles of the plant. People are drinking more bottled water so there's a growth component."

Informational signs were scattered throughout the room, each one explaining a different aspect of the proposed 167 percent production increase.

"There's some questions, concerns and comments that we want to hear and get some information out there," said Anderson-Vincent. "We have a lot of information that we've collected from over 100 monitoring locations over 16 years. We're very confident in our increase and I know there's some concerns out there. We all share concerns about water so we're just here to answer those concerns and  questions."

The information is enough for some residents, like Dave Johnson.

"If you can make your decision based on the data and the fact that it shows they are not going to be hurting what we are dependent on in our everyday life, then there's nothing to worry about here," said Dave Johnson.

Johnson's home is on the edge of Nestle's property and he grew up fishing in the nearby streams. Nestle's data showing no impact on the water levels in the area over the past 16 years is enough to satisfy him.

"I'm seeing people stand in front of these boards for a significant amount of time and I'm confident that they're going to get the facts like I did. They're going to see that this isn't going to hurt anything."

Other people are taking the data with a grain of salt.

"This is a good PR show, it's very full of all kinds of interesting information designed to convince us that Nestle should be taking all this water out and it's perfectly fine and it won't hurt anything," said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. "I don't agree with that."

Case hopes those in opposition will share their concerns with the D.E.Q., who has an open comment period now through March 3.

"I just think it's really crucial that people get involved in the issue of privatizing water and pay attention to the lack of environmental assessment that gets carried out."

If residents missed the open house on Thursday, a second one is planned for next week, Jan. 10 in Mecosta County. They're planning on having additional open houses throughout January and February.

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