Today we go a little off topic, but a constant theme here is that water is precious. Fracking uses a lot of water, and water contamination is a serious threat when drilling is not carefully regulated. But water is water, and we shouldn’t be destroying the environment along the Beartooth Front to take an important source of water no matter what the purpose.
So it caught our attention that Park County, Wyoming, on the Beartooth Front just over the Montana border from Carbon County, is considering a proposal — I can’t believe I’m even writing this — from a New York entrepreneur to build a large water bottling factory near the beautiful Clarks Fork Canyon.
Philippe Lajaunie, who owns property at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains, just outside the Shoshone National Forest, is the New Yorker who wants to build the factory. His business claim to fame is that he owns the Brasserie Les Halles, a restaurant on Park Avenue in Manhattan that specializes in escargot, fois gras and steak tartare.
Problem is, according to the Powell Tribune, “The property lies within a county zoning district intended to promote ‘the retention of open space, agricultural land, wildlife habitat, riparian habitat and scenic areas.’ Major industrial projects — like the proposed water bottling plant — are not allowed. That means Lajaunie needs a variance, or exception to the rules, to move forward with his plans.”
If he gets the variance, he plans to build a 45,000 square foot facility with a 37-space parking lot. According to his attorney, “Mr. Lajaunie is really going to endeavor to build a facility that is in harmony with nature and with the site.” Right.
The good news is that at least two Park County Commissioners think this is a bad idea.
“That’s probably one of the most pristine, scenic spots in Park County,” said Park County Commissioner Tim French during a May 19 hearing. “I just don’t think that’s the place for a big major industrial use.”
Last month French and fellow Commissioner Lee Livingston prevailed by a 2-1 vote, blocking the variance. Problem is, two Commissioners weren’t in attendance. They’ll be back, and the variance will be back on the agenda.
Commission Chairman Joe Tilden was on board with approving the variance. Tilden said he has strong feelings about private property rights and noted the jobs and business the project could create.
“I think it can be done in a … very environmentally safe way that will blend in with the environment and won’t affect wildlife,” he said. That’s the same imaginary thinking drilling proponents use to justify ruining a place.
French countered that he, too, believes in private property rights and “the individual purchased the property knowing exactly what the restrictions on it were.”
(Read meeting minutes)
American Summit, the name of Lajaunie’s company, intends to market its water as bottled in the United States, and to compete against non-American brands Perrier, Fiji and San Pellegrino. Being bottled in Wyoming, according to Lajaunie, makes it — wait for it — more “environmentally sustainable.” The water is also (you can’t make this stuff up) “vegan certified.” No glutens or sage-grouse killed to make it.
Folks, water is precious. One of the most important arguments against fracking is that it uses scarce water at a time when much of the West is parched from drought. And anything that happens to waste water on the Clarks Fork in Wyoming will have an impact on Carbon County residents downstream.
This is a terrible idea. I’ll let you know if the Park County Commissioners decide to sell their souls to this New York restaurateur. Might even be worth a trip over the hill to let them know what you think.
If you’d like to contact them directly, here’s how to reach the Park County Commissioners: