Opponents of the Nestle water bottling plant in Cascade Locks rally in support of a ballot measure that banned commercial water bottling in Hood River County.

Opponents of the Nestle water bottling plant in Cascade Locks rally in support of a ballot measure that banned commercial water bottling in Hood River County.

Cassandra Profita/EarthFix

Nestle’s plans to build a commercial water bottling plant in another Northwest town is stirring up more controversy. Waitsburg, Washington’s mayor resigned this week amid accusations of backroom deals and protests of the plan by many area residents.

Nestle wants to build a water bottling plant in the Northwest. It first looked to Cascade Locks, Oregon, but voters in Hood County effectively blocked that plan.

In a second-go at a deal, the company has turned to the 1,230-population town of Waitsburg, Washington, about 20 miles east of Walla Walla.

The preliminary plan would tap about 150 million gallons of water each year from local springs and groundwater wells. The plant would support the company’s Arrowhead Spring Water and Nestlé Pure Life brands. The company says it would create 50 jobs at the $50 million bottling facility.

The town held a community discussion on Tuesday, with a standing-room-only crowd mostly opposed to the proposed project. Many residents voiced concerns at a community discussion this week about a large corporation taking water from their community.

Opposition to the deal caused the town’s mayor Walt Gobel to unexpectedly step down, as he urged the community to not reject all possibilities for economic growth. Some residents called for his resignation after the City Council learned in July that he and other city staff had met with Nestle and that the company was planning to help repair leaky pipes near the town’s springs — without a contract. The company did repair mountain roads and clear away heavy brush, blackberry vines and timber that impeded access to local springs, at no cost to the city, Gobel said.

Gobel said Nestle asked for confidentiality during initial feasibility meetings, but he refused a second request and brought the matter to the City Council in its June executive session.An online petition to stop the deal has received 1,261 signatures as of Thursday.

The City Council will continue discussions about the plant at its August 17 meeting. No decisions have been made yet.