Photo by Andrew Selsky, AP
PROTESTORS gather in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Sept. 21. The group is protesting plans by Nestlé to build a water bottling plant in the town of Cascade Locks, months after Hood River County passed a ban on industrial-scale water bottling companies.
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Columbia River tribal members dressed in traditional regalia came to the Oregon State Capitol on Wednesday to protest persistent attempts to bring a Nestlé water bottling plant to Hood River County, where voters rejected the plan in a ballot measure in May.
One protester, Anna Mae Leonard, of Cascade Locks, repeated the five-day hunger strike she underwent in front of Cascade Locks City Hall in August 2015.
Although 69 percent of voters in Hood River County voted to ban commercial water bottling, 58 percent of voters in the city of Cascade Locks voted against the measure.
Despite that vote, Cascade Locks City Council gave staff direction in spring to review legal ramifications and options in order to continue a relationship with Nestlé.
Meanwhile, the water exchange is still pending at the state level.
Under the bottling plan, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would swap with the city a portion of water that comes from Oxbow Spring, which supplies an ODFW fish hatchery and goes into a creek that feeds into the Columbia River.
The city would then sell that spring water to Nestlé. The application for the water exchange is pending before the Oregon Water Resources Department, said fish and wildlife department spokesman Rick Swart.
First, ODFW is seeking to clarify its point of diversion at Oxbow Springs through a water transfer application. The OWRD is expected make a decision on that motion by the end of the month, at which point the legislative process leading to the actual water exchange with Cascade Locks will kick in.
“The final order for the water transfer is due out by the end of October,” Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman told the Hood River News in an email. “Then the water exchange process will begin. The Department of Justice and the Water Resources Department is outlining the exchange process as we (speak).”
Opponents of the bottling plant say the state should have dropped the water exchange plan. They suspect the state is trying to leave the door open for Nestlé and ignore the county vote. Protesters believe the water swap will harm salmon, which the tribes use for food and at traditional gatherings.
“We were pretty surprised that in spite of the landslide victory of ballot Measure 14-55, which would protect the water from huge water bottling corporations like Nestlé ... that the governor, Oregon water resources and fish and wildlife would not honor and respect that,” Leonard said in an interview.
Jode Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, went inside the capitol building to try to meet with Gov. Kate Brown.
Walking up a sweeping staircase with supporters in tow, he went into an anteroom of the governor’s offices, where Brown was making a proclamation about Hispanic Heritage Month before a room full of onlookers.
The governor posed for a photo with attendees and left through a back door before Goudy, wearing beaded moccasins and a vest decorated with bison images, could approach her.
Christopher Rieck, a Nestlé spokesman, said the company is pleased that many voters in Cascade Locks opposed the measure banning commercial water bottling, even though most of the surrounding county was for it.
“However, we fully respect the democratic process,” he said. “With respect to any future legal actions, Nestlé Waters does not currently intend to pursue its own legal challenge to this measure.”
Andrew Selsky, Associated Press, and Patrick Mulvihill, Hood River News, contributed to this article.