(This opinion editorial appeared in the Mount Shasta Herald on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 in response to Mayor Geoff Harkness’ writings the previous week.)
We appreciate Mayor Harkness’ willingness to engage a variety of citizens on issues surrounding the Crystal Geyser plant. It’s important to consider the bigger picture: encouraging sustainable local jobs balanced with conserving our economically and aesthetically attractive natural resources.
It is particularly crucial to protect our water resources now, as we see firsthand the impacts of four years of drought and climate change including a reduced or nonexistent snow and ski season, melting glaciers, mud slides, lower water tables, hotter and drier forest and grassland conditions, and intense wildfires.
Local citizens were initially surprised, and felt blindsided by the Crystal Geyser ribbon-cutting photos. They quickly formed the W.A.T.E.R. group, now (formerly – ed.) a fiscally sponsored project of our organization. Dedicated volunteers and experts have studied California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations, and hold contrasting opinions about whether the City of Mt. Shasta (and other agencies) can require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
To clarify: the City has not “lost” Economic Development Agency funding – it’s still there, redirected differently for overall sewer improvement projects. As Mayor Harkness correctly noted, there would be City fees and requirements should the plant seek more capacity to dump their industrial waste. Now, there is a question mark as to whether Crystal Geyser plans to use their own leach fields for wastewater instead, which could threaten local water supplies with pollution.
Let’s be real: no matter what, re-opening this plant won’t put a dent in local economic challenges. It’s a simple real estate deal for a multinational corporation. They can relocate a few low paid employees to this badly sited, shuttered facility, which they bought for a relative song. They’re ahead, once they shut down and sell real estate in higher cost areas. And they’d like us to just watch as trucks go by, while hoping our wells don’t go dry and ignoring the serious local and global environmental impacts of plastic water bottling.
Is this concern “anti-business”? We don’t think so. The point of an EIR is transparency and information, so citizens and elected officials can make good decisions on essential trade-offs involved in this operation before it’s too late. Of course, if Crystal Geyser will not tell us their ultimate plans, and also will not accept legally enforceable limits to protect us, our community shouldn’t just blindly say yes.
People who visit, invest and live here mostly aren’t those just “all about the money” – if that’s the main consideration, there are other places they can sit in traffic. We’re about a balanced and healthy lifestyle, with clean air and water, abundant nature and a spectacular mountain.
Clearly, we too recognize there must be sustainable jobs for that balance to exist. That is not a disagreement.
Let’s become “change-friendly”. New technologies allow creation of high paying positions, mainly requiring knowledgeable workers and fast Internet connections. Let’s encourage, not disparage natural visitor attractions. Economic development efforts must focus on enhancing such conditions as a higher priority, bringing much greater results. We can live excellently with an intelligent, shared vision of the amount and type of change we want.
Change is exciting and inevitable. Managing it requires courage, good ideas and thoughtful discussion; thinking out of the box as we break with the past. It’s about doing it ourselves; big corporations won’t look out for us. Strong natural ecosystems are diverse and vibrant, and this surely also applies to economic systems. Let’s do find common ground, and get started on the new path to abundance.
Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center