Lawsuits seek to stymie Crystal Geyser

Skye Kinkade

The battle over Crystal Geyser’s facility just outside Mt. Shasta City limits on Ski Village Drive will continue May 10 with a hearing in Siskiyou County court regarding the project’s Environmental Impact Report.

Crystal Geyser initially announced its intention to open the facility to bottle fruit juices with much fanfare in 2013. However, legal challenges have so far foiled its plans.

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe and WATER (We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review) have filed two lawsuits to prevent the project, both of which are moving through the court system, said WATER spokesperson Raven Stevens.

The first, an opening brief filed on Feb. 22, is against Siskiyou County and the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors, as well as Crystal Geyser Water Company as “real parties in interest,” challenging the EIR which was approved on Dec. 12, 2017.

The second, filed on March 29, is a writ of mandate directing the City of Mount Shasta to vacate its approval of an Industrial Waste Discharge Permit for the Crystal Geyser facility.

Crystal Geyser was asked about its plans for the facility and whether they have changed over the past six years. The company said it cannot comment until the lawsuits have been settled.

Siskiyou County lawsuit

In the suit against the county, WATER contends that the EIR does not specify an upper limit for the amount of water Crystal Geyser may use. They also contend the review was inadequate related to water supply, water quality, traffic, noise, hazards and hazardous materials, air quality, climate change, aesthetics, light and glare and land use.

They also contend that the EIR violates the county’s own land use plans and ordinances.

Crystal Geyser said it is “confident the court will uphold the county’s certification of the EIR,” which relied on “extensive environmental evaluation,” including “a voluminous record of over 50,000 pages” and assistance from experienced individuals in studying impacts of the facility.

WATER patently disagrees. “In (approving the EIR) the county violated fundamental mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act and its own land use plans and ordinances,” the organization said in a statement.

WATER pointed out that Crystal Geyser is situated next to a residential neighborhood and “well within historic aboriginal territory of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe,” including near springs that are sacred in the culture.

The brief challenges the county’s assertions that it cannot regulate any amounts of Crystal Geyser’s ground water extraction or the operation of the bottling facility, WATER said in its release.

Crystal Geyser said the EIR was extensive and complete.

“The final EIR alone consists of 7,220 total pages, which include 5,494 pages of technical appendices and 392 pages of response to comments,” the company said in a statement. “In addressing the hydrogeologic impacts of the Project, Richard C. Slade & Associates prepared two studies authored by two hydrogeologists with a combined 71 years of experience in the field of geology and hydrogeology, in evaluating the noise impacts of the Project, Bollard Acoustical Consultants were retained to bring nearly 25 years of experience in the evaluation of noise impacts to the Project, and the traffic impact analysis was authored by Abrams Associates Traffic Engineering Inc, with over 30 years of experience providing traffic impact analyses.

WATER’s brief maintains that the project contains “a misleading and unstable project description and impermissibly narrow project objectives” and asserts the EIR’s impacts analysis is “totally insufficient.” It also contends that the county “violated AB52, a recently enacted amendment to CEQA, by not completing the required consultation and by not taking the Winnemem Wintu’s cultural and sacred values into account.”

“By approving the faulty and inadequate EIR and not requiring Crystal Geyser to be accountable, Siskiyou County is set to give away a corporate subsidy worth megamillions of dollars; exposing neighbors and possibly the City of Mount Shasta to pollution and groundwater depletion; and facilitating the damage and destruction of Tribal Cultural Resources sacred to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe,” WATER said in the release.

City of Mount Shasta lawsuit

WATER and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe claim that the city could have refused to issue the IWDP but instead relied on the county’s EIR.

“Importantly, the City of Mount Shasta ... formally endorsed Assembly Joint Resolution AJR39 that memorialized the Winnemem Wintu’s historic status as a Recognized California Indian Tribe,” WATER said in their release. The city “did not make CEQA-required ‘independent findings’ regarding the environmental impacts of the IWDP nor regarding the tribe’s AB52 consultation, and did not take into account the adverse effects the permit would have on the tribe’s sacred and cultural values that were disregarded” in the EIR.

WATER also contends that city consultants “wrote extensive and critical comments for the EIR that were never withdrawn and the county never resolved the city’s issues in the Final EIR,” and that the city council approved an IWDP that was different from the draft circulated with the EIR.

“Issues and concerns that the city itself raised in comments on the EIR, concerning the project’s effects on noise, traffic, aesthetics and light pollution were ignored by the council” and “council ignored the direct and indirect effects on the tribe from the IWDP and a Crystal Geyser connection to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Mount Shasta City simply failed to live up to any of its obligations as a CEQA responsible agency,” WATER stated.

Court schedule

The opening brief for the case against the county will be heard in a Siskiyou County courtroom in Yreka on Monday, May 10 and presided over by Judge Karen Dixon.

The writ of mandate to the City of Mount Shasta is also scheduled to be heard by Dixon on the morning of June 7.