On Sunday the Grand Rapids Press ran an article by one of their staff reporters entitled “Town hopes for mountain of Goodwill.” “The Mountain of Goodwill” mentioned in the article is the Ice Mountain corporation which bottles and sells water. The city of Evart, about 85 miles of Grand Rapids, is looking to attract Ice Mountain to their community. Nestle Waters North America, the owner of Ice Mountain, is negotiating to buy water from Evart, likely paying less than $1 for every 1,000 gallons. By summer, the company wants to begin trucking it approximately 40 miles to the Ice Mountain bottling plant, south of Big Rapids. This deal would give Ice Mountain access to a well that pumps water at a rate of about 500 gallons a minute.
Ice Mountain has been a rather controversial topic in West Michigan. In Mecosta county Ice Mountain has been accused of pumping so much that water that the water table has been affected. They have received considerable resistance for citizens groups such as Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.
This criticism from environmental groups was mentioned, but only at the end of the article and the tone was rather negative toward them. Overall, the article painted this as a win-win for Ice Mountain and the town of Evart. The article starts by mentioning that Ice Mountain has offered to build new sports fields for the local high school. Later it quotes the school superintendent praising Ice Mountain for giving the schools 5000 free bottles of water. Now, the article never mentions what the possible negative results to the environment of Evart that could result from Ice Mountains presence would be, rather than choosing to focus on these relatively token gifts given to the city. In fact, the article is framed in such a favorable manner toward the City leaders in favor of this deal with Ice Mountain that the photo of the Evart City Manager is labeled “water lover”, a label not given to any of the environmental and water preservation groups in the article.
For more about water preservation in the Great lakes, check out the website for the Michigan Citizens for water preservation.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
By Ed White
The Grand Rapids Press
EVART — High school baseball and softball teams in this small northern Michigan town expect to play on 14 acres of new fields in 2006.
The outfields will have warning tracks, just like the big leagues. Pitchers will warm up in the bullpen. Players will lace their cleats in new locker rooms just steps from the diamonds.
“I’m tickled. It’s like Christmas,” Superintendent Howard Hyde said. “Our current fields are pretty nice but these are going to be better.”
The windfall comes courtesy of Evart’s water — and a company’s desire to buy it, bottle it and resell it under the Ice Mountain label.
Nestle Waters North America is negotiating to become Evart’s best-known water customer, likely paying less than $1 for every 1,000 gallons. By summer, the company wants to begin trucking it approximately 40 miles to the Ice Mountain bottling plant, south of Big Rapids.
It is willing to build ball fields and relocate at least 300 campsites at the Osceola County Fairgrounds to provide a natural buffer around Evart’s wells.
Nestle Waters wants this second source of water, partly because the wells that feed the plant in Mecosta County are restricted to a monthly average of 250 gallons per minute, the result of a lawsuit by a grassroots environmental group.
Unlike in Mecosta County, there is little opposition to selling Evart’s water for distribution elsewhere. Community leaders believe there may be a bonus down the road: a second Ice Mountain bottling plant and scores of new jobs.
“That’s really the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A future plant is the prize,” said City Manager Roger Elkins, who keeps a large map showing a possible site along U.S. 10.
Indeed, a Nestle Waters spokeswoman said it could be the “start of a long-term relationship.”
“We’ve been extremely well-received in Evart,” Deb Muchmore said. “The Ice Mountain brand continues to grow. Additional water capacity is needed.”
Evart, population 1,700, is 85 miles north of Grand Rapids, with U.S. 10 running through the center.
SpringHill Camps, a Christian camp just north of town, draws hundreds of young people each summer. The county fairgrounds here is the site of a dulcimer festival and the popular wood carvers roundup. A paved bike trail stretches for miles.
Evart’s economy is anchored by auto-parts suppliers and a dairy that ships milk to Meijer stores, together accounting for approximately 1,000 jobs.
The city’s courtship of Nestle Waters began less than a year ago. Collins &Aikman, a parts maker using more than 700 million gallons a year, warned that it might cut consumption by 90 percent because of changes in how it cools equipment.
“They purchase 90 percent of the water we produce,” Elkins explained. “There are fixed costs in a water system. If you don’t find other places to use water, it means rates could go up. I thought, ‘Gee, what are the other possibilities?’
“For the price of a stamp,” he said, “I sent a letter to Ice Mountain.”
The company sells bottled “spring” water, which means it must prove the groundwater is connected to a spring that flows to the surface, according to federal labeling rules. There also are internal standards for taste and quality.
‘These wells are theirs’
So far, Evart is passing the test. Three of the city’s seven wells near Twin Creek are drawing spring water, Muchmore said.
“These wells are theirs,” she said, referring to Evart. “The only unique arrangement is one of the wells would be dedicated to Ice Mountain. … The city gets a new customer, and rate-payer bills will be stable.”
Well No. 5 already has a state permit to produce as much as 500 gallons a minute, Elkins said. The water would be piped to a transfer station along U.S. 10, then transported by truck to the Ice Mountain bottling plant.
Nestle Waters is pledging to pay for projects to prevent contamination to the well field. A campground at the Osceola County Fairgrounds will be relocated.
In turn, new ball fields and a football practice field will be built across the road at Evart High School.
“They have been very generous,” he said. “They donated almost 5,000 bottles of water. … I have not heard one person say this is not right. As a superintendent, what they’re doing for schools — it’s a no-brainer.”
Evart hopes to have contracts with Nestle Waters within 30 days. Under the city’s standard rate structure, a customer who uses 100,000 gallons per quarter pays 88 cents per every 1,000 gallons.
A single 16.9-ounce bottle of Ice Mountain typically sells for less than $1 in stores. Nestle Waters’ parent is Nestle SA of Switzerland, the world’s largest food company.
Shouldn’t Evart charge more?
“It crosses everyone’s mind. It’s like a rich uncle — hit ’em up for everything,” Elkins said. “It wouldn’t be fair. The restaurant buys water from us and sells coffee at $1.25 a cup.”
Evart is the latest stop for a company that has been tangling with critics for years.
In Mecosta County, a group called Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, or MCWC, said high-capacity wells feeding the bottling plant were diminishing wetlands and a stream. A judge ordered the wells turned off, but the company won a reprieve from a higher court. The case remains on appeal.
Nestle Waters seems to be hitting no public turbulence in Evart.
Elkin received advice from the company on how to proceed. Muchmore advised him in an e-mail to “paint a vision” for residents, which would “provide a big block to any opposition.”
“Opposition tends to chip away by attacking specific details,” she wrote. “Let’s give them a big boulder to have to move.”
Is it legal?
MCWC has few members in Evart. The group’s attorney, however, has sent critical letters to the city and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Jim Olson compares Evart to Sherman, N.Y., a town that advertised its water for sale to anyone in 2001 before then-Gov. John Engler said it would be an illegal diversion outside the Great Lakes basin.
“Nestle does not use the water; it simply diverts and sells it in containers for private profit,” Olson wrote. “Until Michigan law is changed by the Legislature, municipal wholesaling of water for diversion and sale elsewhere should not be done.”
In Lansing, Jim Cleland of the DEQ’s Water Bureau said the state mostly wants to be assured that Evart will have enough water to serve other customers.
“How the water is used and where it goes, there is no regulatory structure that deals with that,” he said.
A member of the Nestle Waters legal team, Mike Haines of Grand Rapids, said Olson’s argument is “very fringe.”
Elkins recalled how the area was logged a century ago — a local writer called it “green gold.”
“The trees were shipped out of here. … I don’t see water as any different,” he said. “We see them as just another customer coming on line. You use the water as you see fit.”
© 2005 Grand Rapids Press.