Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Eldred Township BOS votes to overturn illegal water extraction amendment, after Nestle appeals for understanding that they want to retain ready access to lots of clean water

Tonight the BOS heard comments from the community on whether to pass an amendment that has the effect of removing water extraction as a use in its commercial zoning district - it was only added in 2014 due to a totally illegally passed amendment.  This would retain water extraction as a use in the industrial district, where it was always permitted.

In opening public comments, citizen Don Moore went over a summary of the litany of errors that resulted in passage of the 2014 amendment.  Eldred Township Secretary Sharon Solt should have caught that the amendment was not authorized by the board, and that it had not been authorized to be advertised by the board.  Also, that the amendment wasn't even submitted to the board.  She should have alerted the board to all of these deficiencies.  Regional planning body CJER made multiple errors, as well as its solicitor and planning consultant.  Finally the Monroe County Planning Commission made multiple serious errors, including Senior Planner Christine Meinhart-Fritz who has been since been promoted to Director.  Mr. Moore concluded that the due process rights of Eldred's residents were thoroughly violated by the manner the amendment was passed.

A few other residents spoke, asked that the Supervisors approve the amendment, and thanked the board for taking a stance that the amendment was needed and that it should be passed.

Editor's note: It must be emphasized that the only reason this amendment was not overturned in June or July of 2015, after the Eldred Planning Commission recommended it, is that neither Supervisor Solt or Supervisor Gretchen Gannon Pettit would support Supervisor Clausen's motion to consider the same.  The next time you see one of these two people, you can thank them for throwing your community into turmoil, allowing Nestle to proceed under an illegally passed ordinance, wasting unknown 10's of thousands of taxpayer dollars on legal fees and consultants, wasting additional funds of citizens who filed the court appeal, and allowing Nestle to invest over $100,000 in a project proposal that should never have seen the light of day.

Then Nestle rep Eric Andreus spoke, and he read a prepared statement.  Mr. Andreus went over Nestle's commitment to providing high quality water to its customers (who gives a damn?), and then stated that Eldred Township's industrial district doesn't provide the convenient access to the water it desires like the targeted site (who gives a damn?), and that Nestle believes its use is appropriate for the target site (which is in a commercial zoning district).  Mr. Andreus lamented that unlike the target site, there is contamination on or near parcels in the industrial district that would impair its ability to obtain the high quality product it seeks.  This reporter was so worked up after Mr. Andreus' comments that he reached for facial tissue

In response to Mr. Andreus's comments, Don Moore rose, and read aloud the intents of the Commercial and Industrial zoning districts:
Mr. Moore pointed out there is nothing "commercial" about water extraction, and that in land use one characteristic that qualifies a use as industrial is the daily movement of bulk amounts of materials (eg. several large heavy trucks a day).  Therefore water extraction is an industrial use, as it is considered in all the other townships that Eldred parnters with regionally in CJERP (Jackson, Chestnuthill, Ross and Polk).

Editor's note:  Mr. Andreus attempted to argue that Eldred Township's land use plan supports water extraction on the target property, but there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  The Comprehensive Plan's vision is that non-offensive uses will be located adjacent to village centers and residential areas.  The Zoning Ordinance implements this vision by zoning the target site Commercial, and other than the two-word ordinance change that was illegally passed, provides for non-offensive uses in the Commercial district.  Mr. Andreus has stated that Nestle believed in 2012 that its use was of a lighter intensity than manufacturing - but instead of arguing that before the Supervisors or Zoning Hearing Board publicly at an advertised meeting, the route taken was for the landowner's attorney to manipulate the system to change the ordinance by sending a letter directly to a planning consultant, and to change meeting minutes to suit his purposes.

Vernon Barlieb rose at this point to observe that while Mr. Andreus pointed out that Eldred's industrial district may have some contamination on or near it that would impact Nestle's ability to set up shop there, Nestle should have examined the Gower property much more carefully because there are many things (tanks, dumped fill material, etc) that have been buried within only a few hundred feet of Nestle's planned production wells over the decades.

Then Dale Weidman rose, and spoke about truck traffic, roads, and bridges as relates to Eldred Township's industrial zone.  His concern seemed to be that Nestle would have a tough time developing an operation there, because the roads and bridges would have to be upgraded to handle the trucks (who gives a damn?).  Mr. Weidman asked "who will improve the roads and bridges?"  What Mr. Weidman fails completely to realize is that there is no requirement that Eldred Township make a single infrastructure improvement to make Nestle's or anyone else's entree into the township more financially attractive.  If Nestle wants to make improvements so that it can rape the natural resources of Eldred Township and make windfall profits, it can pay for these improvements itself.

Mr. Weidman seemed quite disappointed with what several speakers had to say, shaking his head back and forth as if to say "they don't understand."  Actually, the room full of Eldred Township residents appeared to have a crystal clear understanding.  It wasn't clear why Mr. Weidman is concerned about Nestle's expenses if it decides to "take advantage" of Eldred Township's resources by developing a different area than proposed.
Correction 3/18: The spelling of Mr. Weidman's name has been corrected.

Gary Hoffman made an impassioned speech in support of the Eldred Township Planning Commission, stating that they had been thrown under the bus by the previous BOS.  What is now known is that the minutes of a planning commission meeting were doctored by landowner Gower's attorney, in collusion with the planning commission's secretary.  Mr. Hoffman listed characteristics he feels his colleagues on the planning commission have, including professionalism, attention to detail, and integrity.

Area resident Marissa Strohlein made a laser-focused slice-and-dice statement, which had its usual effective impact.  She implied that Nestle knew that its use was not permitted as early as 2012, and that in time she believes it will be found that Nestle worked quietly with others to achieve the 2014 ordinance change that permitted their use.

After the BOS voted 3-0 to pass the amendment, there was extended discussion of whether Eldred Twp should renew Nestle's lease of office space in the Community Center.  Numerous residents spoke in opposition, but a few pointed out that denying Nestle may result in legal repercussions.  Doc Baker suggested that if Nestle's purpose in leasing the office is to inform the public, then Nestle should really tell the community about its practices - not just what it wants the community to hear.  Donna Deihl suggested that Eric Andreus could move to space on the landowner's porch, or at the Kunkletown Pub, or at Gretchen Gannon Pettit's house - anywhere except the Community Center.  Many residents looked Mr. Andreus in the eye, and respectfully requested that Nestle leave the community center and allow Eldred Township to begin to heal.  It was very moving to this observer.  This is a wonderful community with very widespread and old roots - this project benefits fewer people than you can count on one hand, yet it impacts many.  Residents involved in and dedicated to their community are eager to wash the stench of Nestle out of their hair and off their skin, and return to expending resources to improve the community.

Curt Bush and Doug Borger pointed out that perhaps it is necessary to pause, and refocus on exactly what the purpose is of the Community Center.  Is Eldred Township seeking to be a landlord, or to provide space for community events.  Mr. Bush's suggestion seemed most wise - determine your goals and objectives, and this will determine if and how you will host tenants.

Helen Mackes rose and stated that she was always in favor of the Community Center.  The person next to this reporter had stated earlier that the community was almost entirely against buying the school and converting it to a community center, and that maybe five people were in favor of it - including two supervisors.  The neighbor smiled and nodded, and said "yep, she was another of the five."

After the meeting ended, a resident said that the Community Center brings in about $10,000 a year, but it costs about $50,000 to maintain.  Nestle is reportedly paying $400 a month rent, or $4800 a year - roughly half the reported income, if these estimates are correct.  It appears that a measured look is warranted, as Mr. Bush suggested, at how the Community Center will be funded and whether being a landlord makes sense.

It was agreed by the supervisors to give Nestle a one month extension of its lease at the Community Center, and obtain legal advice on whether kicking Nestle's ass out the Community Center's doors would result in any liability other than a scuffed shoe.

This amendment pertains only to future applications.  If Nestle's current application is successfully rejected by the Zoning Hearing Board and withstands appeal, then they can't file a new application for the same site.  The Planning Commission will prepare its final recommendations at tomorrow night's meeting, which include the rejection of Nestle's application.  The Zoning Hearing Board reconvenes on March 30 to resume testimony by Nestle.

If the Citizens prevail in their land use appeal of the 2014 amendment, it will make it void ab initio - void from the beginning.  Therefore, if Nestle were to be granted approval and a permit by the Zoning Hearing Board, a success of the appeal would mean that Nestle would not be able to proceed.  With the passage of the amendment last night, Nestle would have no options remaining except to descend on another community.


  1. Another very good write up. Thanks for all your help.

    1. You're welcome, Arlene. It was great to see the community come together last night. Hang in there - it's a good fight - one I believe you will win.

  2. great article so nice to read the truth for a change ....thank you for your help for our eldred twp community time to vote a certain supervisor out of office too i hope all of you remember what was done when its time for election. and im sure you all will