A spokeswoman for Nestle Waters North America, formerly Perrier Group of America, said plans for a bottling plant in the Big Spring area have been "put on the back burner" ever since a similar facility in Michigan went into production in May 2001.
The company will allow its high-capacity well permits to expire this month without developing the site.
The Michigan plant meets Nestle's spring water supply needs for its sales in the Midwest, but the company retains interest in property leases in the Big Spring area and wants to stay involved in discussions of groundwater regulations, said Lynn Morgan, a Nestle spokeswoman.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires high-capacity well permit holders to either "use it or lose it," said Morgan, and Nestle has "no plans to renew them."
The DNR issued permits to Perrier in fall 2000 to tap Big Springs in the Town of New Haven for two high-capacity wells on the condition that tests be conducted to determine the impact on the water table.
The DNR and Perrier were then sued in Adams and Columbia counties by residents and state environmental groups. The Perrier issue sparked a recall of an elected official who sided with Perrier.
In November 2000, then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson asked Perrier to abandon plans to bottle Big Spring water, citing local opposition.
Morgan acknowledged Tuesday that the resistance to the well plans may have been a factor in the decision to go to Michigan, where the company got a warmer reception.
Jon Steinhaus, a vice president of Waterkeepers of Wisconsin, whose suit against Nestle is pending, called the company's announcement, "very encouraging."
"This is the way it should have been. Hopefully, we've saved a very valuable water resource," said Steinhaus.
Ed Garvey, attorney for some residents who sued the DNR and Perrier, challenging the thoroughness of environmental studies, called Nestle's announcement "one of the most exciting developments."
"There was no chance of stopping this we when got started," Garvey said.
Perrier had wanted to pump 720,000 gallons of water a day from Big Spring, which Steinhaus said could have caused big problems for the area's existing water users.
"That's a lot of water to take out of the Fox River watershed, a watershed that's very shallow. No one can exactly say what would happen to the wetlands when you draw out that much water because it has never happened there before," he said.
Even though it was not required, Perrier agreed to conduct wetland and water quality studies, said Deputy DNR Secretary Franc Fennessy.
The company also agreed to set pumping volumes at levels that would not affect the water table, decisions that were a "significant gesture" by Perrier to protect the state's water resources, said Fennessy.
"Those studies were not complete and they would have had to invest a significant amount of money to do so," Fennessy said, "and I think it came down to a business decision for them to go to Michigan."
The environmental studies conducted in 2000 showed that Big Spring Creek is a stream under pressure from irrigation practices and runoff, and Nestle has retained a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher to develop a stream restoration plan, Morgan said.
The state's high-capacity well law has not been amended despite the controversy over Perrier's plans, but Fennessy said it should be made more environmentally sensitive.
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