City wants sewer EIR to include Crystal Geyser plant

Skye Kinkade

Mount Shasta City Manager Paul Eckert announced last week that the city intends to expand the Environmental Impact Report on its sewer improvement project to include all of Crystal Geyser’s facility.

Crystal Geyser CEO Doug MacLean said the company will cooperate, even though it believes the extra studies are unnecessary because the facility will have a “negligible effect on the local environment.”

During the city council’s June 9 meeting, Eckert said PACE engineering, Northstate Resources, the city’s legal counsel, and outside legal counsel all considered the situation and unanimously advised that “it is in the best interest of our community and our taxpayers to expand the Environmental Impact Report.”

The EIR will look at factors such as traffic, noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater analysis, and possibly a health risk assessment, said Eckert. Cost for the study is estimated at between $125,000 and $250,000.

Eckert said it will be paid for with a portion of the $3 million Crystal Geyser gave the city as matching funds for an Economic Development Administration grant.

The council is scheduled to take action to expand its contract with Northstate Resources to complete the EIR at its next meeting on Monday, June 23.

Depending on the scope, an EIR can take anywhere from eight months to two years to complete, said Mount Shasta City Planner Tuli Potts.

Opposing viewpoints

“While we respect the city’s election to do an EIR for their project, we do not believe that an expanded EIR to address the Crystal Geyser bottling facility is necessary,” said MacLean. “There have been numerous independent studies and tests conducted and all have concluded that the restart of the existing facility will have negligible effect on the local environment.

“Crystal Geyser remains committed to the Mount Shasta community and, for that reason, will cooperate with the city’s efforts to move forward with their waste water treatment facility upgrade plans.”

Since November, when Crystal Geyser announced its purchase of the former Coca Cola plant on Ski Village Drive, Siskiyou County has asserted that no further environmental studies were required before they began operations, since manufacturing and bottling juices is a permitted use of the land in the heavy industrial zone.

Though members of the WATERS group say they are pleased the city has “finally realized what the law is,” they believe Crystal Geyser should pay the cost of the EIR above the amount they’ve already contributed for the sewer improvement project.

WATERS members also believe the EIR should go out for competitive bidding.

WATERS member Roslyn McCoy said the study is of great importance and costly and should go out to bid to ensure the best firm will be completing the work.

McCoy believes the city should officially take on the capacity of lead agency for the project in a legally binding agreement.

“This can’t be left as a gentleman’s agreement anymore,” said WATERS member Bruce Hillman.

During public comment at the June 9 meeting, McCoy asked the council if they will become the lead agency for the project. Mayor Tim Stearns said the city will, since they are expanding an EIR process currently underway for the sewer improvements.

Councilor Geoff Harkness said the two projects will now become “one and the same.”

Potts said Mount Shasta will be defined as the lead agency in the EIR.

Next steps

Potts explained how the expanded EIR process will work:

Once a contract is approved for the study, a scoping process will identify exactly what elements will be studied, and the extent to which each element will be scrutinized.

A Notice of Preparation will be published, followed by 30 days for public comment, Potts said.

During this time, agencies, responsible jurisdictions (such as the county, Cal Trans, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers) and the public are encouraged to submit comments to help determine what the draft EIR will encompass.

After that, the firm performing the study reviews the comments to refine the scope of the EIR and a draft EIR is prepared. It would include impacts of the operation, as well as possible mitigations that may be needed to lessen the impacts to negligible levels. This is followed by a 30 to 45 day comment period.

The firm would then respond to comments and a final EIR would be brought before the council for action, said Potts.

Council comments

Stearns said it took time for the city to work through jurisdictional and legal issues which they previously “were not at liberty to discuss,” before reaching the decision to expand the EIR.

Councilor Tom Moore said he’s “in total favor” of an EIR, and he’s glad Crystal Geyser is, too.

Councilor Michael Burns said he’s also in favor, but also feels “a little disappointed” at the public’s “lack of faith and trust” in the council. He said the councilors have not been “asleep at the switches” and are doing due diligence on the proposed Crystal Geyser operation.

“I’m happy to say that city staff, council, and our attorneys have not taken a political or emotional approach to this, but rather a rational and focused understanding of the facts,” said Harkness.

Councilor Jeffrey Collings said there are more than two sides to the issue, and “common ground is the only way forward.”

He said a “deal” should be struck to protect the environment and the aquifer, then open the plant to bring much needed jobs to the area.

“There are some people... that don’t want the plant under any set of circumstances. I can find no common ground with that position,” he said, adding that the council wants to protect Mount Shasta’s resources as much as anyone.