EVART — Osceola Township will continue its legal battle against Nestle.
"This will be a long, drawn-out affair," said Tim Ladd, the township's supervisor, after the board voted Tuesday evening to appeal a judge's recent decision in favor of Nestle Waters North America. "I think this process is going to take at least two years."
The international company and Osceola Township have been battling over whether the company can build a booster station in the township at a church camp. The booster station would help the company pump more water from the White Pine Springs Well if the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gives the OK.
The township had previously decided not to give Nestle a permit to build what the company calls "a small, 12-foot-by-22-foot building to house a booster pump."
Nestle took it to court, and in late December, a Mason County judge (who'd been tasked with hearing the case after local judges recused themselves) sided with Nestle.
"Nestlé Waters North America firmly believes that the Circuit Court decision was appropriate," said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, a natural resource manager for Nestle's Ice Mountain brand, according to an emailed statement late Tuesday.
But the township's attorney disagreed. So did several members of the community and non-resident water activists who showed up to the township's special meeting Tuesday evening.
Richard Douglas, the township's zoning administrator, spoke during a public comment period before the township went into closed session to consult the township's lawyer.
The case wasn't about water, Douglas said. It was about a violation of the township's zoning ordinance, an industrial building on property zoned for non-industrial purposes.
Some residents said the judge's definition of "public" was too broad.
"I interpreted the public as the residents of Osceola Township, not everybody else," said Maryann Borden, a township resident of more than six decades.
After the public comment period, the township board returned and voted to take the case to the Court of Appeals.
Supervisor Tim Ladd said it could take six months "give or take" for the Court of Appeals to accept or deny their request for an appeal. If the court of appeals refused to hear the case, the township could then ask the state supreme court to hear it, Ladd said.
Jenny Rounds, the clerk, was the lone "no" vote on the board.
In extensive remarks, Rounds cited concerns that funding for the lawsuit could dry up. The township had previously said it would follow the judge's decision, and there's something to be said for following through, she said. She mentioned Nestle's financial support for township clean-up days.
Rounds also questioned whether the judge's decision was an interpretation of the township's zoning ordinances that "we don't like" versus a "true error" on the judge's part.
Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, vowed not to let the company "bully" the township simply because it could afford lawyers.
Money for the lawsuit has been coming in from various sources, according to Martin Nieman, the township treasurer. Locally, people have donated $4,000.
Harriet Bieri, a township resident who belongs to Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, is one of the donors.
"I just think it's a worthwhile project," Bieri said.
The money's also been coming from afar.
One organization promised $7,500 but delivered $30,000, Nieman said. A Muskegon woman donated $1,000.
"I mean, I don't even know who this lady is," Nieman said.
Nieman said it's not the first time the township has had to fight zoning issues and it won't be the last.
"If we bail out on this one ... I think you'll regret it," he said.