BY BROOKE KANSIER
LUDINGTON DAILY NEWS — Oct. 7, 2017
OSCEOLA TWP. — A long-fought debate between Nestle Waters and Osceola Township will be heard in court on Wednesday, Nov. 15, according to staff of Susan Sniegowski, 51st Circuit Court Judge appointed to the case.
Sniegowski is the fifth to be appointed to the case, which turned to court after the Osceola Township Planning Commission shot down a Nestle Waters pipeline booster station, a vital piece of infrastructure needed to make that increased extraction possible.
Before Sniegowski, four 49th Circuit Court judges — two in Osceola County and two in neighboring Mecosta — recused themselves citing various reasons, including former employment or past legal work for Nestle Waters and its affiliates.
According to the Osceola County Clerk’s Office, Nestle Waters filed its brief on Sept. 14, and Osceola Township submitted its documents on Sept. 28.
Sniegowski will travel to hear the case at the Osceola County Courthouse.
Nestle Waters is being represented by attorney William Horn and Osceola Township will be represented by attorney William Fahey.
In October 2016, Nestle Waters came before the Osceola Township Planning Commission with its proposal for the booster station, which would be built along an established pipeline the company has operated since 2011. The commission discussed the issue over the span of several meetings, finally taking a vote at a public hearing in April 2017.
The station was unanimously denied.
The project is vital to Nestle’s ongoing effort to increase the amount it pumps at the site, White Pine Springs Wellhead No. 101, from 250 up to 400 gallons per minute, The Associated Press reported.
The commission — and later the Osceola Township Zoning Appeals Board, which failed to overturn the denial after a split vote — said the proposal did not meet requirements to be a public necessity or convenience.
A Nestle Waters official said the company is confident that decision was reached in error.
“We believe that the plan we proposed satisfies all applicable zoning standards,” Ice Mountain Natural Resources Manager Arlene Anderson-Vincent said in a statement. “This booster station would have the least impact to the local community and environment, out of all our options.”
If Nestle Waters is successful in its appeal, the pipeline booster station would be built along a line running between White Pine Springs Well No. 101, in Osceola Township, and a loading dock about 3 miles away. From there, the water is trucked to a bottling facility in Stanwood and sold throughout the region.
Shortly before bringing the booster station proposal to the planning commission, Nestle Waters requested a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality to increase that pumping to 400 gallons per minute. Without that permit, Nestle Waters cannot pump more than 250 gpm at that site, according to company officials. The application, first submitted in July 2016, is being handled by the DEQ’s Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division.
If Nestle fails in its appeal, it will have to find another way to hit that 400 gpm — its current infrastructure at the wellhead cannot transport water fast enough to meet that capacity.
A booster station works by increasing pressure in the pipeline — water enters the line at high pressure, but slows as it moves along. The station, placed at a halfway point, keeps pressure high to keep the water moving quickly.
The wellhead is one of two operated by Nestle Waters in the state, though DEQ public information officer Melody Kindraka said the company has other, non-wellhead extraction sources. In 2016, Nestle extracted 1.03 million gallons of water daily from Michigan sources, according to DEQ records.
Nestle’s request to increase its pumping at White Pine Springs wellhead No. 101 has drawn its own controversy, partially because the well is in the vicinity of Native American fishing areas, along with concerns about nearby wetlands. Two coldwater trout streams are also fed from the same reservoir.
The office has held several public comment periods and hearings on the application, which yielded more than 81,000 comments.
During the review process, the DEQ is evaluating “one, whether the water is safe to drink, and two, that there are no adverse impacts on the resources in the area,” Kindraka said.
In June, the office requested more information from Nestle on the impact on wetlands surrounding the wellhead.
“The Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter to Nestle in June requesting some more information in relation to the permit, and at this time, we are waiting to receive that information back from Nestle,” Kindraka said. “They have indicated that they will have that information by the beginning of November.”
Until that happens, no action can be taken on the permit.
The DEQ has no deadline to make a decision on the issue.
“This is actually the first time the state has received a permit application under section 17,” Kindraka said. “So, being the first time, we are certainly trying to do our due diligence.”