Two advocacy groups are accusing Nestlé Waters Canada and the Township of Centre Wellington of a "scheme that will jeopardize the local water supply."
Nestlé appeared before the township council in December to propose a partnership to operate the well the company bought in August in the town of Elora, Ont.
- Nestlé says it wants to partner with Centre Wellington on Middlebrook well
- Nestlé says Middlebrook well for 'future business' and Aberfoyle backup
- Township of Centre Wellington tried to buy Elora well now owned by Nestlé
But SaveOurWater.CA and Wellington Water Watchers claim the company is attempting "a back door deal" with the township "that would in effect privatize the community's water supply."
"An arrangement with the township and Nestlé about the Middlebrook well could allow Nestlé to be exempt from the new regulations. This attempt to circumvent the moratorium disrespects the intent of the provincial government to revamp regulations for this industry," Libby Carlaw of SaveOurWater.CA said in a release, which also announced a public meeting on Jan. 11 in Elora by the two groups for citizens concerned about the issue.
Mike Nagy of Wellington Water Watchers said if there are backdoor meetings, "we demand that they be stopped immediately."
"Nestlé and [the township] need to listen to the community which has already said 'No,' to Nestlé and to respect and honour the moratorium," Nagy said in the release.
Nestlé and Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton both denied to CBC News they are working on any kind of deal behind closed doors.
Nestlé asked to give up well
In August, Nestlé announced it had purchased the Middlebrook well in Elora. The well had already been for sale for a decade when Nestlé placed a conditional offer on the former Middlebrook Water Company in 2014. Nestlé was awaiting permission from the province to perform a pump test of the well when it was told a second anonymous buyer had come forward with a no-conditions offer.
- Nestlé should sell Elora well to local municipality, social action group's poll says
- Centre Wellington doesn't want province to expropriate Middlebrook well from Nestlé
Nestlé waived its conditions for a pump test and bought the well. It was later revealed the second buyer was the Township of Centre Wellington.
Linton said the municipality put in a no-conditions offer after receiving some unexpected money from the local Jack R. MacDonald Trust.
The Council of Canadians has called on the province to expropriate the well from Nestlé and give it to the local municipality.
Mayor Linton has told CBC News he does not agree with that idea, but Mark Calzavara of the Council of Canadians said Linton and the township have to play nice with Nestlé if they have any hope of one day obtaining the well for residents.
"They're between a rock and a hard place really, because they do want that well and they're looking, I think, to … make some sort of a deal with Nestlé going forward," Calzavara said in October.
Nestlé wants open dialogue
Nestlé said aside from appearing at the council meeting on Dec. 12, there have been no further discussions with the mayor or council members.
- Community water needs will be met first, Nestlé says of plan to share Middlebrook well
- Province needs water management program to protect resource, says City of Guelph
"We have invited them to our bi-weekly public office hours in the Elora office which will continue throughout the year," Jennifer Kerr, the company's director of corporate affairs, told CBC News in an email.
"We believe an open dialogue is the best way to collaborate in a manner that respects the interests of all stakeholders and encourage people to continue to submit their comments and stay involved in the process."
'Nestlé and [the township] need to listen to the community which has already said 'No,' to Nestlé and to respect and honour the moratorium.' - Mike Nagy, Wellington Water Watchers
Kerr said Nestlé is not trying to get around the province's proposed two-year moratorium on water-taking permits. That moratorium would mean no new permits would be issued, and existing permits could not be changed.
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The move came after outrage this summer when Nestlé applied to renew its permit for its water bottling facility in Aberfoyle, Ont., just south of Guelph and advocacy groups decried the fee of $3.71 for every one million litres of water taken.
"Nestlé Waters Canada respects the moratorium enacted by the Ontario government. We support the approach the government is currently taking to understand and set in place science-based regulations that will sustain the shared water resources and environment that support the prosperity of our local communities and the province," Kerr said.
'There have been no background deals. Period'
Mayor Linton was blunt when asked if he was having secret meetings with Nestlé.
"Simply put, nothing is going on," Linton said in an email. "While it seems that some find some enjoyment in creating a stir about nothing, there have been no background deals. Period."
Linton said the township is being "open and transparent about our actions on this file. However, I do not feel the need to react to every piece of misinformation that is out there."
He said the township's focus currently is to focus on their water requirements. In November, the council approved the long term water supply master plan funding in the in the capital budget to be completed by December 2018.
As well, a Grand River Conservation Area scoped tier 3 study is underway. That study will give details about how much water is available for the municipality now and in the future using information from a tier two study that identified subwatersheds that have a moderate or significant potential for experiencing stress related to water taking. That study should be completed by March 2018.
"Both of these projects will provide us with a better understanding on our long-term water needs," Linton said.