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Great Lakes Article:

Evart bottles Ice Mountain deal
By Sally Barber
Cadillac News
Published March 29th, 2005

EVART - Evart city officials have approved a water purchase deal with Nestle-owned bottler Ice Mountain, but environmental groups hope state action will force a closer look at the legalities of the measure.

The Evart City Council unanimously approved a 10-year contract with Ice Mountain in a special council meeting Monday. Although the town meeting hall was filled to standing room only, and environmentalists have spoken out against the deal, no one present objected.

The water contract consummates a plan almost a year in development and negotiation. It allows for the sale of spring water to the bottler from one of the town's eight municipal wells. Ice Mountain plans to construct a pump station and transport the water to its Stanwood bottling facility by mid summer.

"As far as the city looks at it, they will be a customer as anyone else and be on a rate schedule as any residence or small business," said City Manager Roger Elkins.

Municipal well No. 5 will be dedicated to Ice Mountain with stipulations that the well could be reconnected to the city system if circumstances required. It also stipulates Ice Mountain could access other city spring-fed wells if the dedicated well was for some reason unable to produce the agreed-upon capacity. Well five is permitted to pump 500 gallons per minute. Ice Mountain has indicated it will look at using 250 gallons per minute. The company will pay the city a $200,000 establishment fee, as well as associated construction and operational costs.

In order to provide for future city growth, and to ensure compliance with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulations, the city has approved installation of a ninth well capable of producing 1,000 gallons per minute.

Other points outlined by the water agreement define access to wells, upgrades to the exteriors of water system-related buildings, landscaping, wellhead protection and security.

"Their security measures are higher than the city's and they want the right to implement them," Elkins said.

Council also approved a General Development contract outlining benefits of the partnership to the city, including improvements to wellhead protection, relocation of the Department of Public Works, new recreational facilities for the school district, fairground improvements and the possibility of locating a permanent bottling plant in Evart.

When negotiations began a year ago, Elkins said Nestle told the city they were willing to pick up the costs for relocating facilities, but they "made it clear it is not an open-ended checkbook." Elkins said the general agreement does not provide specific financial commitments on the part of Nestle and those details are still to be worked out.

"This is a very important next step in the project," said Deb Muchmore, spokeswoman for Ice Mountain. "It's probably the most significant of the agreements."

The two contracts approved Monday are contingent on agreements between Ice Mountain and Evart School district and Osceola Fair Board approved earlier this month. Those contracts outline property transfers, construction of new ball fields and practice fields, and improvements to Thompson Park. Relocation of facilities promotes Ice Mountain's intention to protect the water source in the area and provide green space. Construction on the fair and school projects will get under way this spring and be available for use in 2006.

However beneficial the deals are for the community, environmental groups across the state are objecting to the Evart/Nestle arrangement on the basis that the commercialization of the water resource could lower water levels, damage fisheries and impact the integrity of the Great Lakes. They say the agreement between Nestle and the city of Evart allows for the sale of water outside of the Great Lakes Basin and as such is unlawful without a review by the seven other Great Lakes States, under the Water Resources Development Act.

"We can't go against it for the benefit of one community," said David Holtz, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. "We're asking the governor to follow the agreement."

A coalition of four environmental action groups, including Clean Water Action, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Public Interest Research Group in Michigan and the Sierra Club, is appealing to the governor to address the Evart deal and Michigan water policies.

"If we allow it to go unchallenged, how long will it be before we have a 1,000 Nestles exporting public water?" Holtz asked.

The groups also question the legality of converting a portion of a municipal well field facility to private use given the water resource is a public resource developed under state statue for users of the municipality, not for sale or profit.

Terry Swier is president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, a grassroots organization that in 2003 triumphed in a lawsuit against the Ice Mountain Stanwood plant. The lawsuit resulted in restricting plant operations, making a secondary water source a priority for the company. While the recent focus has been on Evart's measures, concerns are not limited to the community's water policies.

"Evart just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said.

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