CL Council talks water exchange legal fees Monday

Elected leaders in Cascade Locks are still considering the legal ramifications of a water exchange needed to bring a Nestlé bottling plant to town, according to budget plans.

Cascade Locks City Council expects to adopt its 2017-2018 budget at Monday’s meeting, and the fiscal plan includes a renewal of legal fees that could be allocated to defend a water exchange between the city and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife — and pave the way for Nestlé.

City Council meets at 7 p.m. in the upstairs chambers of City Hall, 140 WaNaPa St.

Gordon Zimmerman, city administrator, explained that the budget up for discussion on the June 12 agenda includes a $20,000 line item for legal fees required outside of the city attorney fees, a rate that has been in place for a few years.

“This money has been included in the budget for the last three years. It may be used for any legal expenses required by the city involved with our water department,” Zimmerman said.

A May 2016 countywide voter measure, 14-55, banned large-scale commercial water bottling operations, but the city has continued to investigate its legal options regarding Nestlé. The “gallon-per-gallon” water exchange at Oxbow Springs the plan would hinge upon is stalled following a review process by Oregon Water Resources Department.

A related component of the plan inched forward last October when the OWRD approved a water transfer that clarifies ODFW’s diversion points at Little Herman Creek. The creek feeds Oxbow Springs, a waterway Nestlé has eyed since 2008 as a possible source for spring water to sell under its brand.

The transfer added two new diversion points, and broke down ODFW’s water right definition into two parts — one with 9.5 cfs (cubic feet per second) and another with 0.5. The smaller one could be involved in the actual water exchange.

Council members have directed staff to continue with the exchange process, Zimmerman explained.

“If and when that process is completed, the council will determine if any legal challenge or defense is necessary,” he said.

Council members voted to keep heading in that direction after the election last May, citing the will of voters within the Cascade Locks precinct, the only area of Hood River County where Measure 14-55 failed.

The measure has not been tested in court, though attorneys from the city and county have researched options their respective governing boards could take if any party introduces a legal challenge. Measure 14-55 was a change to the county charter, and questions remain as to whether that amendment would override Cascade Locks’ own city charter, Zimmerman explained.

The plant would be sited on port-owned property within city limits. Oxbow Spring lies in the city’s urban growth area.

Proponents of the Nestlé water bottling plant have lauded the economic development and jobs it would bring to town. However, the plan drew years of controversy and protests over what opponents said amounts to privatization of water resources, culminating in last year’s “Water Protection Measure” vote.

For details on the city budget and other items on Monday’s agenda, visit Click the “Agenda and Minutes” tab and then “City Council” to access recent meeting packets.

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