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Great Lakes Article:

Judge orders DNR study of Perrier site

License for proposed wells near the Dells is ruled valid

Associated Press


Portage - The state must conduct a new study of the environmental impact from two wells it said Perrier could drill for a bottling plant the company had planned to build, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Marquette County Circuit Judge Richard Wright, who heard the case in Columbia County, also ruled that the permit the state gave the Perrier Group of America to test the high-capacity wells off Big Spring was valid.

Perrier has decided to build the plant in Michigan but has not given up the rights to use the wells for a future project.

Wright said the state Department of Natural Resources would also have to gather public input on the new environmental assessment.

The DNR granted the Connecticut-based Perrier group a permit to dig two high-capacity wells east of Wisconsin Dells in September 2000, despite public opposition.

The company had planned to use the wells for a $100 million water bottling plant at Big Spring in the Town of New Haven. Though it has decided to locate the plant elsewhere, Perrier is still conducting tests on the pumps.

The proposed wells could pump up to 500 gallons a minute. The DNR will use information from the tests to determine a pumping rate for the wells that won't harm the environment.

Concerned Citizens of Newport, which opposes the wells, filed a lawsuit against the Perrier Group of America and the DNR last year, asking Wright to invalidate the permit. The suit argued that the DNR failed to adequately study the environmental impact that the high-capacity wells could have on the environment.

Wright denied the request to throw out the permit. He also dismissed a portion of the lawsuit filed by the Ho-Chunk tribe that claimed the DNR failed to consider the tribe's cultural ties to the springs and the land around them before it granted the permit.

Wright did not require the DNR to study the environmental impact in more detail. But he left that option open for regulators if they determine the new information they gather warrants one.

Glenn Stoddard, an attorney who represented the group, said the ruling supports the citizens group's contention that more environmental testing should have been done.

"I'd say it's a real slap in the face to the DNR," he said.

But Jill Jonas, director of the DNR's bureau of drinking water and groundwater, said the department already had planned to gather most of the information to determine a pump rate.

The judge's ruling will simply require the information to be put into a new report and a period for the public to comment on the information.

Perrier spokeswoman Lynn Morgan said the company had no immediate plans to build a bottling plant at the Adams County site.

The Michigan plant is scheduled to open later this year. She said that if the company decides it needs another Midwestern plant, it could consider building it in Adams County.

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