It was standing room only for a good portion of Monday night's marathon city council meeting in Mount Shasta as Crystal Geyser representatives shared their plans for the former Coca Cola plant.

It was standing room only for a good portion of Monday night’s marathon city council meeting in Mount Shasta as Crystal Geyser representatives shared their plans for the former Coca Cola plant.

After presentations by the company and their consultants, hydrogeologists and engineers, California Trout, and the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council, several people said they were dissatisfied with the company’s responses to their questions.

“I came here tonight with an open mind,” said Jen Matthews during the public comments session. However, she said, Crystal Geyser’s “lack of answers” were disappointing. She added that in her opinion, conducting an Environmental Impact Report would be “a good PR move.”

She was one of many members of the public seeking a full EIR before Crystal Geyser begins its production of juices and teas in the bottling facility on Ski Village Drive, just outside Mount Shasta’s city limits.

The five-hour meeting was often contentious, with mutterings and exclamations from the audience. People filled every chair and lined the walls, some holding signs demanding an EIR.

When Mayor Tim Stearns read aloud a comment from a submitted slip, “I support Crystal Geyser and love its products,” someone in the audience blew a loud raspberry.

The EIR issue

Crystal Geyser was asked if they will consider voluntarily performing a “complete and impartial” EIR to ease minds in the community. Richard Weklych, Crystal Geyser’s executive vice president of manufacturing, said the county has determined no EIR is necessary since juice manufacturing is a permitted use of land within Siskiyou’s heavy industrial zone.

CH2M-HILL’s Heather Waldrop said she has never heard the term “voluntary EIR” and said several times that the county determined there is no legal basis to require one.

When asked pointedly, Judy Yee, Crystal Geyser’s executive vice president of marketing, said an EIR would delay the Mount Shasta project.

Crystal Geyser was asked if they would be willing to put their assurances in writing regarding extraction and effluent limits, and how they would address possible problems with nearby wells as a result of their pumping.

Weklych said Crystal Geyser doesn’t anticipate any impact to the aquifer or nearby wells as a result of its operation, based analysis performed by CH2M-HILL. He said the company already has monitoring systems in place for its well and Big Springs, and they plan to continue gathering data.

Weklych said if there are problems with nearby wells, the company “will deal with it at that point.”

Crystal Geyser’s plans

Yee said the company is “investing for the future” in Mount Shasta. She said the their facility in Calistoga isn’t slated for closure, though the one in Valencia would probably close after the Mount Shasta plant is established.

She said Crystal Geyser is looking to consolidate, and Mount Shasta was their choice location because of available space and ability to “bottle at the source,” which is one of the company’s “basic tenets.”

Yee said Crystal Geyser decided to purchase the former Coca Cola plant because it was “existing, permitted and available,” with a “pristine, licensed water source from a healthy, sustainable aquifer.”

Crystal Geyser plans to manufacture four products: Juice Squeeze, Sparkling Mineral Water, Tejava Premium Iced Tea and Metromint. All will be bottled in PET plastic bottles, Yee said.

The company uses no artificial sweeteners, just fruit juice, and is considering going organic, she told the audience in response to a question. She said some of their products are GMO free.

An estimated 60 new jobs

The company says it will begin with an estimated 30 to 40 jobs. After ramping up, there would be an estimated 60 jobs offered, said Weklych.

He said the jobs will be “highly skilled” and “competitively paid.” Though Weklych said it is too early to estimate a ballpark salary figure, the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council predicts the average annual wage will be $32,400.

Yee said employees will all be eligible for medical and vision benefits and a 401k plan which Crystal Geyser matches up to six percent.

A Supervisor’s take

District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela stood at the microphone to say Crystal Geyser will provide an estimated $80,000 to $95,000 a year in property taxes to Siskiyou County’s general fund. He said he was in favor of a joint meeting between the city and the county but was in the minority.

Three Mount Shasta city councilors were at the meeting: Mayor Tim Stearns, Jeffrey Collings and Michael Burns. Other speakers included Paul Reuter with PACE Engineering; Drew Braugh from Cal Trout; Pete Rude and Martin Barackman from CH2M-HILL; and Tonya Dowse, Monte Mendenhall and Eric Levesque from SCEDC.

Public comment

During public comment, some people stepped forward to say they support Crystal Geyser and growth of the local economic base, including John Kennedy, Jr., who was representing his father, Dawn Snure and Gary Woods. Doug Cole presented the council with a petition from residents and businesses who support “positive employee opportunities” and “diverse, sustainable economic opportunities.”

Many more comments came from those who expressed concerns about Crystal Geyser’s planned use of Mount Shasta’s water, potential pollution, excessive truck traffic, and possible corporate malfeasance.

Dale LaForest, a member of the Mount Shasta Tomorrow group, said he found what could be a serious problem for Crystal Geyser’s project application: a county regulation that would supercede the zoning that permits heavy industrial at that site. He said because bottles will be manufactured on site and solar power may be used, conditional use permits will be required, triggering discretionary action and an EIR.

Several speakers urged the panelists to watch the documentary “Blue Gold: World Water Wars.”

“Things are changing. This isn’t time for business as usual. It’s time for business as optimal,” said McCloud resident Angelina Cook, who urged Crystal Geyser to change the corporate way of doing things to protect Mt. Shasta as a water source.

Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu said her tribe has a special relationship with Mt. Shasta’s water and pointed out their sacred spring is dry. She cautioned Crystal Geyser against pumping water from a volcano when so little concrete information is available about how its hydrology functions.

For more information

Yee acknowledged her lack of answers to some of the audience’s questions and offered a direct email: mtshasta@crystalgeyser.com and phone number (530-926-5900) for those who want more information.

She said Crystal Geyser plans to launch a dedicated website (crystalgeysermtshasta.com) to the project which should go live on Friday, March 28.