Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge updates: ODFW hears testimony on Nestlé, legal proceedings begin

It has been a while since our last update on the campaign to keep Nestlé from bottling and selling millions of gallons of public water in the Columbia Gorge, but Bark and the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition have been busy!

ODFW hears testimony on Nestlé
Last February’s day of action against Nestlé sent a clear message to the ODFW- it cannot ignore the public controversy surrounding Nestlé’s bottling proposal. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is the agency responsible for the permitting process Nestlé needs to construct its plant, but the agency’s Commission had yet to be educated on the issue. Our successful organizing compelled them to dedicate space at their September Commission meeting to hear from a variety of stakeholders on the proposed water exchange. This meeting in and of itself was a win, as ODFW had told us point blank that the Nestlé issue would never be an agenda item at a meeting. Nonetheless, this is exactly what happened at the September 6th Commission meeting in Salem.

The ODFW Commission invited Bark and other representatives of the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition to present our points of contention with the proposal. Additionally, they invited specialists from the Oregon Water Resources Department to explain the minutia of water rights, and representatives from the Port of Cascade Locks to explain the upgrades necessary to the City’s water infrastructure to facilitate the bottling plant. Finally, Dave Palais of Nestlé was invited to speak. His weak testimony presented information about the supposedly sustainable track record of his infamous company. Although the ODFW did not make a formal ruling following this hearing, the day was significant as it marked the first time the state agency had heard from stakeholders in a public setting on this issue.

Legal action begins
Meanwhile, our legal case has been moving in tandem with public pressure on the ODFW. On October 15th legal proceedings began in earnest on the contested case hearing brought by Bark and Food & Water Watch against the ODFW’s Water Transfer Permits T-11108 and T-11249. An administrative law judge heard oral arguments from Crag Law Center (representing Bark and Food & Water Watch) as well as from the defendants, ODFW. The next step in this process is the submission of written arguments from both parties, and the judge will issue a decision on our legal challenge as early as mid-December. If the judge rules in our favor, it will be a big win: though Nestlé will not be blocked from building a water bottling facility, the process for the corporation to access public water from Oxbow Spring will become much more difficult. If the judge does not rule in our favor, we are ready to continue our legal challenges on subsequent permits, as well as other action to stop Nestlé from accessing our Mt. Hood water for its private profit. We'll keep you posted as this campaign and legal challenge progress.