For the second week in a row, Randle residents showed up in force at a regular county commission meeting to ask their officials to help stop a proposed Crystal Geyser water bottling plant on the Cowlitz River.
At least 20 attendees sat in on the Monday meeting — usually a little-attended affair — with eight of them speaking up during the public comment period to urge commissioners to oppose the development.
“Tell (Crystal Geyser) to stop this process,” said Steve Jasmer, who lives near the site. “Save time, money, stress by all concerned. … It will ruin our area forever. You represent us. Stop this now. You have the power.”
While commissioners are — at the very least — seriously concerned about the proposal, it remains to be seen how much political weight they will put into the largely bureaucratic permitting process.
“You folks have come in and done your research, you’ve done the work, you’ve put in the time,” said commissioner Bobby Jackson. “We are still asking a lot of questions ourselves. … I am deeply appreciative of the fact that you came and you shared these things with us.”
Commissioner Edna Fund praised the strong activist spirit in Randle, comparing the Crystal Geyser situation to the proposed closure of the Mountain View Timberland Library last year — which also drew strong opposition from Randle residents.
“When you have something in your community you’re concerned about, you show up,” she said.
At a town hall meeting Wednesday in Randle, commissioner Gary Stamper — who represents the East County district that encompasses the proposed development — said the rural valley where the company’s newly purchased property sits is a “bad site” for a 100,000 square-foot industrial facility.
While the county’s elected officials are still doing their own homework on the permitting process (Crystal Geyser is waiting on state permits and has not yet submitted any paperwork to the county), they’re still determining what role they have in a process that could ultimately be determined by an unelected Hearing Examiner.
Stamper said he would likely submit a letter voicing his opposition to the Department of Ecology, though as a citizen and not representing the commission. The agency is currently accepting public comment as it reviews Crystal Geyser’s permit application to extract 400 gallons per minute from the site, which it must demonstrate is in the “public interest.” Fund said the commissioners would “probably” submit an official public comment as well, while urging the public to continue weighing in.
Tuesday, commissioners will discuss the issue with the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office and the county’s Community Development office, seeking to get a clearer idea of what the permitting process will look like and what legal role they may take.
Craig Jasmer, Steve’s son and one of the outspoken leaders of the Randle alliance opposing the plant, said he had heard from Ecology officials that the county had the ability to block the water right permit Crystal Geyser has pending with the state. Commissioners said they were interested in learning more about that process.
“We wanted a place where there was water, mountains, trees, life, that’s why we moved to Randle,” Zora DeGrandpre told commissioners. “The community, I’ve been absolutely astonished at the level of commitment in this community.”
While crediting the community involvement and pledging to explore all potential avenues to weigh in, Fund said it’s still “too early to tell” if the county will take action beyond the state’s public comment and allowing the permitting process to run its course.