Saturday, September 17, 2016

Nestlé debacle founded on illegally passed water extraction amendment cost Eldred Township taxpayers $89,500

It was reported today in the Times News that the total cost of the Nestle water extraction debacle to Eldred Township was $89,471.55.  This is in addition to the cost of the objectors' attorney, which this blogger does not know but estimates were roughly $17K +/- $2K.

The first observation is this is a bargain, compared with the cost the Nestle operation would have had to the community.  If only five landowner's lost $20,000 each in their property value, the fight to keep Nestle from taking advantage of an ordinance passed illegally through conspiracy, corruption and/or incompetence was worth it.  But the number of landowner's whose property values would have been affected would likely been several hundred.  There is no way to place a value on the loss of quality of life residents would have incurred.  Constant truck noise echoing off the Chestnut Ridge from 6am to 11pm seven days a week, the pollution of diesel exhaust, and residents stuck behind lumbering 40 ton trucks every 15 minutes would have combined to make life miserable.  Then when you come to sell your property, you get one final kick in the ass.

Two local individuals involved in the passage of the amendment were also instrumental in the decision to purchase the former school as a Community Center over a year prior to when it became publicly known Nestle was scouting the target site for water extraction.  What did these individuals know when?  The probability one or both knew nothing of Nestle's plans at the time they chose to support purchase of the school, which costs approximately $50,000 a year to support, is extremely low.  Therefore, it is likely they expected to offset the cost of the Community Center with the poorly defined $750,000 "trust fund" that Nestle pledged Eldred Township.  Over the 25-year expected life of Nestle's operation, that would result in a maximum $30,000 per year, not enough to even cover the cost of the Community Center.

Obviously, it is extremely unwise to plan for future income when there is no guaranty that income will exist.  To help guarantee it, there is an incentive to resort extraordinary (ie unethical) practices.

Returning to the cost to the township, as was suggested in the Times News article, the costs could have been far higher if the township and objectors had not been as proactive as they were in mounting a defense against Nestle.  Achieving victory without resorting to appeals and pursuing the civil action further saved more money than was spent.  The best spent money, in this blogger's opinion, was $10.830.77 to Hanover Engineering, which identified key weaknesses in Nestle's zoning application - weaknesses they could not overcome.  Unfortunately, lawyers are needed in these matters, escalating the costs dramatically.

Some residents appealed to the Eldred Supervisors at the September 14 BOS meeting to pursue a civil suit.  Assuming a complaint could be crafted that was not dismissed (not a certainty by any means), this would require depositions.  Depositions themselves are very costly.  It is rumored that some attorneys have advised that a civil action could cost more than the township already spent, accounting for the possibility of appeals, etc.  The downside of the citizens' lawsuit over the amendment being dismissed, is that the impending depositions did not take place.  That lawsuit was deemed to be legitimate by the court, but a potential lawsuit against one or more individuals for alleged wrongdoing - that is harder to imagine being certified.  The dismissal of that lawsuit was a major blow to Eldred residents' ability to find out facts already known.  But objectors in the lawsuit were in the same situation that Eldred supervisors were asked to consider - bear the cost of depositions without knowledge of what they would or would not reveal.  The objectors would have had to continue fundraising, which was reportedly becoming more difficult.  Their costs could have quickly more than doubled, at the county level alone.  Supervisors would have had to expend precious tax dollars.

To reiterate, $89.5K for Eldred Township and an estimated $17K for objectors was a bargain to get out of the Nestle debacle.  The effort was highly emotional for many in the community.  They feel violated and several understandably want justice.  Justice in matters that involve government officials can be hard to achieve.  Residents reportedly believe they have at their disposal an option to pursue a civil action themselves; if so, it is hard to criticize them for pursuing full disclosure of what happened and seeking to hold those involved accountable.

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