OSCEOLA COUNTY, Mich. - Who exactly is taking Michigan's water at a monumental discount?
Right now, in a small northern Michigan county, Nestle Water, a Swiss-based company, is pumping out hundreds of gallons of water every minute from a well. The water is bottled and sold for profit. The state charges Nestle $200 per year.
Many Michigan residents believe the state is getting ripped off. They believe our most valuable resource is being depleted for next to nothing.
Before officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality made the final decision on the deal, they allowed public comment, and more than 80,000 Michigan residents said it was a bad deal. Only 70 people supported moving forward with the deal.
Yet, somehow, the MDEQ allowed Nestle to make its way into Michigan, leaving many residents wondering why.
Many people who learned about the deal from Local 4's Hank Winchester weren't happy about it.
"It's not fair," one resident said.
Nestle is pumping out 1.1 million gallons of water every day in Osceola County.
"They're literally taking millions and millions of gallons of Great Lakes water, in this case, out of the Lake Michigan aquifer, and bottling it, and who knows where they're selling it," Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said.
Miller is a former congresswoman and secretary of state. She's outraged by the Nestle deal.
"We need to be very careful about who we're allowing to just take it," Miller said. "If you're in Texas, you think the state of Texas lets somebody who has oil under their land just take it for free?"
Miller, like many Michigan residents, can't get past the numbers in the deal. The foreign-based company pumps 400 gallons per minute to make a potential profit of hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Nestle pays the state of Michigan $200 per year for permit approval.
"It's just crazy to me what is happening here," Miller said.
With so many people opposed to the Nestle water pull, how did the MDEQ give it the stamp of approval? Officials said the review process was the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.
It all comes down to a statute, and according to the current law, Nestle meets the qualifications.
"This was some rule that was promulgated by bureaucrats," Miller said. "They are appointed, by the way, by elected officials, so just follow the chain of command."
Those in the chain of command have raised questions of their own. Gov. Rick Snyder is at the top. He appointed the director of the MDEQ, Heidi Grether. She was brought in after the Flint water crisis was exposed.
Snyder's chief of staff during the Flint water crisis, Dennis Muchmore, who in 2015 proposed spending $250,000 to buy Nestle Water in Flint, is below Grether on the chain. His wife, Debra Muchmore, worked as a lobbyist and public relaions consultant for Nestle.
Debra Muchmore denied Local 4's request for an interview, but said she cut her ties with Nestle in 2015.
"Nestle, for instance, has increased their permit from 150 million gallons daily to 250 million gallons, and now 400 million gallons," Shelby Township Rep. Peter Lucido said. "When's it going to stop?"
Lucido proposed legislation to tack on a fee of 5 cents per gallon on bottled water. It could cost Nestle $20 million.
"They ship a lot of this water out of state, so it doesn't even come to Michiganders," Lucido said. "How is this 'Pure Michigan'? I think it's pure something else."
There's also growing concern about the environmental impact.
"Eventually, you start to have water diverting from an ecosystem that may impede upon farmers farming their land, or just the natural flow of water," Lucido said.
He said he hopes his legislation moves forward quickly.
"We have made a long-term investment in Michigan, and we take great care to operate in a responsible and sustainable way to preserve and protect our shared water resources and the surrounding environment for generations to come," Ice Mountain community relations manager Jason Manshum said in a statement.
Local 4 requested interviews with Nestle and the MDEQ, but they were denied.
Snyder denied an interview as well, but he shared a statement saying that, in light of the regulations and the controversial decision, he would be willing to work with legislative partners to review any changes sent to him, if they determine changes need to be made.
There are legal challenges being made not only in regard to what's going on with Nestle, but also to force politicians to make sure this doesn't happen again. The legal process can take some time, but the groundwork has been laid.
Nestle claims it is helping Michigan by creating jobs.
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