Facts Matter: Cascade Locks leaders discuss obligation to inform public on Nestle' plant

Near the end of the second official Cascade Locks Joint Committee on Economic Development meeting April 25, a consensus was reached on the importance of ensuring the public had access to the facts on the Nestlé Waters bottling plant proposal.

JCED members, including Port Commissioners Brenda Cramblett and Jessie Groves; City Councilors Mark Storm and Randy Holmstrom and Mayor Lance Masters, differed in their approach to creating that access.

Groves offered that residents could read the Nestlé website or visit with Nestlé representative Dave Palais to learn about the project.

Mayor Lance Masters later in the discussion expanded that concept, asserting that the committee had "an obligation to provide independent" sources of information, beyond Nestlé materials.

Masters stated that the group should also make available materials and studies produced by groups opposing the project, as well as any research collected from other communities who have had dealings with Nestlé, both positive and unsatisfactory.

Before Masters' direction to provide an independent information source, Port Manager Chuck Daughtry said, "We are hearing a mantra of beliefs out in the world that don't have anything to do with the project at all. We should focus on what are the impacts here in Cascade Locks ... How can this benefit the people who live here in town?"

Masters responded by saying, "I don't think it is wise to divorce ourselves from the larger societal issues that are being discussed."

Daughtry interjected, "The politics of this are weighing on us heavily."

Master's responded, "I think that this is part of the equation ... I think that if we determine that this is the best opportunity for our community that we recognize we are stepping into the politics of the issue. I don't want to pre-determine anything. This is just part of the issue. I also don't think that we can allow those larger issues to pave over our local concerns."

City Councilor Storm added, "We need to educate ourselves on the impacts for ourselves."

City Councilor Holmstrom added, "We do need the ability to respond to questions ... We need someone to respond ... I know we can refer them to the Nestlé website."

Groves added, "At what point do they (Nestlé) start to sell themselves to the community instead of us selling Nestlé to the community?"

The group determined that it should develop a fact sheet. It was at that point that Masters focused on the concept of providing independent information.

A clarification was provided to Holmstrom by City Attorney Rueben Cleaveland, on the legal boundaries between JCED responsibilities and those as a city councilor.

Cleaveland said, "The role of the (City) council is to consider facts as they are presented to the council." He advised that if an elected official has knowledge on a matter that will be voted upon which has been obtained outside of council - including investigations conducted as part of JCED due diligence - that this should be disclosed.

Daughtry and interim city administrator Paul Koch were directed to develop a work plan incorporating language from draft job descriptions created for JCED (and sub-committee members) who would be working the Nestlé proposal.

That language includes the following: "...members shall be selected based upon their ability to be objective, look at all the options and ability to be focused on what is best for the community."

The next JCED meeting will be held May 24, 7 p.m. at Cascade Locks City Hall.