Group upset over bottling firm's role in springs forum

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 12:03 a.m.
OCALA - Next month, an array of scientists, academics, state and local officials, and concerned citizens will gather in Gainesville for a three-day conference to discuss the nature and fate of Florida's springs.
Before sessions begin on two of the days, attendees will be fed a continental breakfast featuring a variety of pastries and other goodies.
And in between forums, the crowd can munch on cookies washed down with a swig of coffee or bottled water.
But what has upset at least one environmental group is not the potential contribution to tooth decay, but the fact that the complimentary sweets and drinks will be supplied by an arch-enemy, Nestle Waters, bottler of 72 different brands of water sold around the globe, including Perrier, Zephyrhills, Deer Park, Great Bear and Poland Spring.
The event planner, Karen Crawford of CMC Associates in Tallahassee, said Nestle paid the state Department of Environmental Protection $3,500 to sponsor two breakfasts, three session breaks and an evening reception during the conference, which runs Feb. 5-7.
The conference is hosted by the Florida Springs Task Force, a committee that includes state water regulators assembled by DEP in 1999 to study the condition of the state's 600 springs.
Nestle got involved, Crawford said, after invitations were sent to the sponsors of the last springs conference, also held in Gainesville, in February 2000. Zephyrhills bottled water was among them, as was the Silver Springs attraction.
The funds go to offset the state's cost of putting on the meeting, DEP spokeswoman Kathalyn Gaither said.
"I have a problem with this as I bust my butt 3,660 hours per year for eight years for free to protect Florida's springs while the state springs 'Task Force' lays out the red carpet for Perrier/Zephyrhills bottled water," Save Our Springs President Terri Wolfe, recently wrote in an e-mail to her organization. Save Our Springs Inc. is a Pasco County-based nonprofit with 400 members dedicated to preserving Florida's springs.
"I really wanted to attend this event. (The) discussion agenda is most interesting, but as my husband said, 'Forget it Terri, you could chew through a stainless steel muzzle,' " added Wolfe, whose struggle against the Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water Co.'s pumping from Crystal Springs earned her a feature in the Jan. 13 issue of People magazine.
"Public supply (is) in chronic shortage status and our spring protectors (are) snuggling up to the bore-hole bottlers."
Jane Lazgin, spokeswoman for Nestle's Connecticut-based operations in America, said she wasn't aware of opposition from any mainstream environmentalist group. That, she added, Nestle would address. She dismissed Wolfe's objections as invalid and illegitimate, based, she said, on Wolfe's misinformed complaints about the Zephyrhills operation near her home.
"We're part of that stewardship commitment, too. We're part of the springs equation," said Lazgin. She maintained there's no conflict although Nestle is sponsoring the event for a regulatory agency.
Lazgin, the Nestle spokeswoman, said that Nestle, which made $4.4 billion and controlled 16 percent of the world's bottled-water market in 2001, is welcomed by the springs task force because of its work and expertise in protecting springs.
Having Nestle involved, Lazgin said, "is moving forward the protection of the springs."

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