More than two-thirds of voters in Oregon's Hood River County passed a local ban on commercial water bottling in Tuesday’s election.
The measure was designed to block Nestle’s plans to build a $50 million water bottling plant in the city of Cascade Locks.
Backers of the measure are calling their victory a landslide, and a triumph of David over Goliath. But so far, Nestle and its supporters say they're ready to accept that narrative.
Cascade Locks resident Aurora del Val led the ballot measure effort. On election night, she spoke to a cheering crowd in Hood River.
"Hood River County voters have spoken, saying we are a community that is not willing to export our water when we need it for our farms, families and fish," she said.
But Cascade Locks residents have spoken, too. Within their precinct, 58 percent of voters rejected the measure. That means in her town, del Val is in the minority.
Brad Lorang is an artist, Port of Cascade Locks commissioner, and the city's former mayor. Lorang said Cascade Locks has 18 percent unemployment, so he’s eager to see the jobs and revenue Nestle would bring to town. The election results tell him that a lot of his neighbors agree.
"At the end of the day, it should have been a local measure," he said “But the proponents of this bill they knew it would not pass locally, and that’s why they tried to harness power of the outlying community. The community of Hood River has a tendency of being much less conservative than Cascade Locks.”
Lorang says he’s hoping a legal challenge could overturn the measure and allow Nestle to proceed. An economic study found the company's water bottling project would deliver $23 million in economic value to the Cascade Locks area.
"That's definitely worth fighting for," he said.
So far, Nestle officials say they’re exploring their options.
After the election, Nestle's natural resource manager Dave Palais released a statement saying: “While we firmly believe this decision on a county primary ballot is not in the best interest of Cascade Locks, we respect the democratic process.”
In another statement, the No on Measure 14-55 campaign said: "It’s unfortunate that this measure’s passing completely voids local control, prevents the opportunity for job creation in a town with unemployment at nearly 19 percent, and takes away the rights of the City of Cascade Locks to make decisions about what’s best for their community."
Backers of the measure say they expect to see the company in court.
"That's they're last avenue of hope," said Chris Winter, a Crag Law Center attorney who helped write the ballot measure. "These multinational corporations don't typically give up easily."