Nestle Waters officials held a public meeting Monday to discuss a possible bottling facility in Centre County. Hundreds of people showed up to see what they had to say.
“There’s always a lot of emotion tied to natural resources,” Bellefonte Mayor Tom Wilson said.
Throughout the sometimes-tense event, which was held at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, audience members would erupt with applause after a certain question was asked or shouted out and sometimes waved signs signaling their opposition to the proposed factory.
Nestle Waters is hoping to build a $50 million bottling facility for its Deer Park brand bottled water in either Spring or Benner townships. The company would purchase about 150 million gallons of water per year from the Spring Township Water Authority at about $4.50 per 1,000 gallons, the CDT previously reported.
After a short presentation by Nestle Waters Natural Resources Manager Eric Andreus, he, along with Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Tara Carraro and Allentown plant Manager Mike Franceshetti answered audience members’ questions, which were written on pieces of paper and drawn out of bowls.
Several questions brought up concerns over a lack of water resources in the event of a drought.
Andreus said in that case, Nestle Waters would “abide by the restrictions put forth by the Spring Township Water Authority.”
The community’s water needs would come first, he said, so the well dedicated to Nestle Waters would then be turned back to the community.
“We’re committed to ensuring a long-term sustainable use of water,” Andreus said.
Kelli Hoover, of the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, said the company officials didn’t address many community concerns.
“It was spin, and they didn’t answer a lot of the questions,” Hoover said. “They didn’t answer the harder questions, like ‘Will you at any point try to go over (the amount of water) you already asked for?’”
Lynne Heritage, of Axeman, said Nestle Waters is assuming that the community wants them here, but she disagrees.
“They made it seem like they’re going to be miracle workers and bring jobs here,” she said. “We don’t need their jobs.”
Other questions dealt with how wild trout fishery would be affected and if workers would eventually be replaced with robots.
Andreus said an environmental analysis showed that there wouldn’t be an impact on Spring Creek wildlife. As for the possibility of introducing more technology in the factories, Franceshetti said that wasn’t out of the question, though the current operation definitely requires humans.
Carolyn Bingham, of State College, said she thinks that everyone is a bit jaded with the marketing aspect of the proposed plan, however, she’s happy that it’s making community members engage.
“I think it’s mostly beneficial that people are meeting and talking to each other — neighbors are meeting neighbors, meeting people who are asking questions,” Bingham said.
Wilson said many people in the Centre Region are worried about how the factory would affect the Spring Creek watershed, but he said he’s confident that Nestle Waters will be a good steward.
“I trust the hydrogeologists who have worked on this project,” Wilson said. “I think they’ve studied it pretty completely.”
The Sierra Club Moshannon Chapter and the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition will also host a public forum, “Say No to Nestle,” from 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday at the CPI, 540 N. Harrison Road, Pleasant Gap.