The Spring Township Water Authority meeting on Wednesday got a bit heated.
About 100 community members packed into the township building's board room, with many overflowing into the hallway, to share their concerns about the proposed Nestle Waters factory in Spring or Benner townships. Board members fielded questions for about an hour in a room that was filled with tension and frustration from both sides.
"Your customers and your constituents are here demanding that you listen to their concerns," Courtney Morris, of Pleasant Gap, said.
The bottling facility would receive water from the STWA, with Nestle Waters purchasing 150 million gallons of water per year at $4.75 per 1,000 gallons of water, according to Nestle Waters Natural Resources Manager Eric Andreus. When Nestle Waters first announced its plans in early January, the company said it would purchase the water at a rate of $4.50 per 1,000 gallons. The rate for all STWA customers recently increased by 25 cents, so Nestle Waters will also be paying the new rate — $4.75 per 1,000 gallons.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
STWA Chairman Doug Weikel said that raise wasn't influenced by the Nestle Waters proposal, saying that it was determined in the fall before the company came into the picture.
Throughout the meeting, audience members said the STWA hasn't been transparent or communicated enough with local residents about its dealings with Nestle Waters. They specifically highlighted the authority's newsletter, which they said made no mention of the company or the proposed water bottling plant. Several people also asked that any documents tied to the proposal be made easily accessible to the public. Weikel said those documents can be accessed by submitting a Right-to-Know request.
"Nothing should be confidential about this because it affects the public," Lynne Heritage, of Axemann, said.
Heritage handed the board a petition signed by more than 650 local residents in opposition to the project.
The audience was also adamant about a need for more public input into the matter. Board members said they hear the community's concerns.
"We're listening now, and we'd be more than willing to listen to more," Weikel said. "I want it to be meaningful, and I want it to be on the facts. I don't want those facts to be misrepresented."
Wade Jodun, of Mill Hall, expressed worries that Nestle Waters would have too much control over the township's water. He urged the board to have a lawyer who's specialized in contract and/or water law look over the STWA's term sheet with Nestle Waters before any final agreements are made.
"I would venture a guess that if you square off in court against Nestle, you are going to put yourself at a considerable disadvantage," Jodun said.
The Bellefonte Area School District Board of Directors on Tuesday adopted a resolution in support of Nestle Waters' proposed bottling facility. It would result in about $159,250 in annual direct local taxes to the school district, according to the resolution.
"Nestle represents potential opportunity for district partnerships in education with possibilities ranging from (and not limited to) internships/externships; nutrition, health, and wellness; technology, global, environmental sustainability and water conservation education," the resolution states.