Hundreds attend DEQ hearing on Nestle water pumping permit

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BIG RAPIDS, Mich. -- It's a controversial topic that's been debated for months: Should Nestle be able to increase the amount of water they pull from Osceola County to 400 gallons a minute?

The Department of Environmental Quality received more than 50,000 comments on the issue, and hundreds of people showed up to a public hearing Wednesday at Ferris State University to voice their opinions.

Nestle supporters say the increase in pumping water would bring jobs, while those against the proposal say it's no different than a pipeline that would take water outside the state.

"I am a Michigan person, born and raised, so my special place is on a lake," said Arlene Anderson-Vincent with Nestle. "This is a continued opportunity to do our best in Michigan and continue to add jobs. We have 270 employees now, and we are excited about that."

Anderson-Vincent said the company is responsible about water, and according to their hired scientists there should be no adverse effects in pumping 200 more gallons per minute than the current rate.

"If this were a pipeline in which they wanted to take 400 gallons per minute and pipe it to Arizona or some place out West, I think this auditorium and other people in Michigan would have an uprising about that," said Ruth Ann French.  "But in reality, they are filling plastic bottles and hauling it away."

While Nestle isn't monitored in how much water they bottle, they are required to report it to the state. The DEQ monitors how the operation affects wetlands, streams, lakes, and wells near Nestle's pumping sites.

"We are still trying to figure out how do you draw a line when a wetland has been affected," said Andrew LeBaron with the DEQ. "We kinda have gotten these lines, which is very complex and technical, for streams and rivers.  But we don't have that for wetlands."

Aside from the environmental aspects, others at the meeting weren't happy about Nestle lining their pockets off a natural resource.

"They are not paying very much annually for the right to do this," said Joyce Petrakavitz. "It's an outrage really."

Nestle currently only has to pay the DEQ $200 annually for a water usage fee.

"I have land in Osceola County inland, and I pay $300 a year for property taxes, and I probably use only 400 gallons a month, if that," said Pamela Gilbert. "We are just giving it away."

Even though Nestle is the first bottling company asking to pump water at this rate, other people have done it. Farmers regularly pump water at this rate for crops, but some argued Wednesday that that's okay, because the water returns to the ground and doesn't leave Michigan.

The chance for public comment ends next Friday, April 21, at 5 p.m. At that time the DEQ takes all of their information and makes a decision whether to grant the permit.

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