MOUNT SHASTA, Siskiyou County (KPIX 5) — Snow-capped Mount Shasta rises more than 14,000 feet toward the heavens, while at the base of the mountain a battle rages that some say is of biblical proportions.
In fact, it has been compared to the story of David versus Goliath. “Yes, but David won so we’re hopeful on that basis” said Bruce Hillman who heads up the advocacy group called We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review or W.A.T.E.R. for short.
For three years, Hillman and other residents of Mount Shasta have protested, petitioned and even filed a lawsuit trying to stop beverage company Crystal Geyser from reopening a water bottling plant in their Siskiyou County town and using millions of gallons of water from the local aquifer.
Vicki Gold, with the advocacy group Water Flows Free, said “It’s just not a sustainable industry. Water belongs in the stream.”
“We just have to figure out what the pumping does to the local wells,” said Raven Stevens, who represents the neighborhood association near the plant site.
In 2013, Crystal Geyser bought a water bottling facility that was once operated by Coca-Cola and Dannon Water. Those companies laid off workers and shut down operations in 2010 and the plant has been sitting vacant every since.
Crystal Geyser has invested nearly $60 million into upgrading the building and has plans to hire as many as 60 workers.
But reopening, and using millions of gallons of water that comes from the melting snow on Mount Shasta has some residents upset. “You can’t put a monetary value on things that feed the community in a way that’s irreparable if you lose it,” said local writer Jonathan Hoefs.
“We’re confident that we will not have a significant impact on that resource,” countered Crystal Geyser spokeswoman Jill Harris. “We have a prolific aquifer here.”
Now after years of delays, Siskiyou County is requiring an Environmental Impact Report be conducted befor Crystal Geyser can reopen the plant.
“All concerns will be addressed and we’ll all be able to move forward with the facts” said Harris.
New to this battle is an ally for Crystal Geyser, a business group called Open For Business Mount Shasta. “All Crystal Geyser did was buy a water plant,” said spokesman Dorian Aiello. He said business owners are ready to respond to those opposed to the bottling plant reopening.
“It’s time for us to stand up and say ‘Wait a minute. We grew up here. We have families here and it’s just time to reclaim our heritage and protect this beautiful community,'” said Aiello.
But opponents like Hillman say they’re also trying to protect Mount Shasta’s beauty. “A lot of people live here, work here and visit here because of the natural beauty and the unpolluted environment” he said.
While the EIR might answer a lot of questions, it’s not going to come soon. The county says the process will push Crystal Geyser’s reopening well into next year.
Opponents say, despite the EIR, they may still file a lawsuit to prevent Crystal Geyser from opening the bottling plant.