Crystal Geyser Mistakenly Emails Internal Memo To Chronicle
Above photo: The property at 807 Peters Road in Randle has been purchased by Crystal Geyser, which intends to build a bottling plant along the Cowlitz River — a plan that has drawn fierce opposition from nearby residents in the rural area.
Randle Bottling Project Likely ‘Dead’
STRATEGY: Company ‘Long Shots’ Could Include Public Relations Campaign, Suing Community
In an email accidentally sent to The Chronicle but apparently meant for the company’s president, Crystal Geyser Chief Operating Officer Page Beykpour said the company’s planned water bottling operation in Randle is likely “dead because the opposition has successfully convinced officials and the media against us.”
“I can tell you 100% in its current proposed nature, it will get rejected,” Beykpour wrote. “The County may even change the zoning to disallow our operations on the property. We are fortunate not to have been sued yet.”
The email sent to The Chronicle was addressed to “Ronan,” likely CG Roxane President Ronan Papillaud. Beykpour claimed, apparently intending to address his boss, that The Chronicle was “in bed with the opposition.” The message also outlines the company’s possible strategy for “long shot” options to try to salvage the project.
The first option mentioned by Beykpour is to hire a public relations firm to gather “grassroots” support, a response to the overwhelming community opposition the project has already generated. He said he had contacted someone who had put him in touch with an organizer who was “of the people.” Once the company has mobilized enough people, Beykpour said, it could bring pressure on government officials and the media to “change the conversation.”
Option No. 2 was a more hardball approach.
“We sue the subdivision for their damage to the (aquifer) due to irrigation and septic system failures,” Beykpour wrote. “Hopefully, this gets them to the table and they are prepared to have an open minded communication about the site being off property but piping distance away. When I’m (sic) Washington we looked at a good location piping distance away, but even if you hide the building, we cannot escape the truck traffic complaint for others who have joined this group.”
Beykpour added that either strategy was unlikely to succeed, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop the company from trying.
“All of the above are super long shots, but from my perspective worth it,” he wrote. “We will face the same all over Washington and Oregon, unless we find the unicorn site. All we lose if we pursue this strategy is time and internal resources, and some minimal costs associated with the PR firm and filing a lawsuit. The biggest risk is negative PR from a lawsuit, but frankly, if substantiated we have something to rest on. Otherwise, I say we dump this site. Please let me know your thoughts.”
Earlier in the email, Beykpour referenced a message with The Chronicle that he believed to be off the record, though the conversation was never specified as off the record, in which he stated other “there are other potential uses for this property that have been considered by other buyers.” He said that he hoped the information was leaked by The Chronicle “to possibly motivate the subdivision to come to the table.”
He did not respond to a question asking about potential other uses or sales.
Crystal Geyser’s proposal, which was first made public this spring, was to build a 100,000-square-foot water bottling plant on its newly purchased Peters Road property along the Cowlitz River. The plant would have extracted 400 gallons a minute from springs on the site. At present, the company is in the permitting process with the Washington State Department of Ecology. To build the plant, it would also need to obtain a special use permit from Lewis County.
The project has drawn swift and fierce opposition in the community. A town hall in Randle drew close to 300 residents who showed up to express their concern. Saturday, the Cowlitz Tribal Council voted unanimously to oppose the plant. More than 1,500 people belong to an opposition Facebook group known as the Lewis County Water Alliance. Scores of residents have attended recent county commission meetings to voice their frustration, and commissioners have expressed concerns of their own.
“Now the public can see how they actually work and think,” said nearby resident Craig Jasmer, who has become the face of the opposition group. “They’re not honest guys.”
Jasmer said he was still “skeptical” that the threat is over.
“We still need to keep our momentum going,” he said. “It’s tough to figure out, when have we won this battle? How do we know we’ve won?”
He said one good indicator would be if Crystal Geyser sold the property, but he remained concerned about the rest of the county if the company were to seek to relocate.
County commissioner Edna Fund said she was “speechless” after hearing the tactics Crystal Geyser outlined in the email.
“Wow. Is that just amazing,” she said. “It is so hard to believe that they would sue citizens and also try to fake people who are opposing the opposition. Oh my goodness.”
Fund added that Randle residents should take pride in making themselves heard.
“Those Randle folks, whether it’s the library or water, they’re on it,” she said. “They’re energized, they organize and do their research and ask good questions. Kudos to them for their community action.”
In a brief phone call with The Chronicle, Beykpour pleaded for the email not to be published, as it was intended to be a “confidential” internal communication about “strategy.”
“You’re really going to take my email and print my email completely out?” he asked.
Chronicle policy is to release newsworthy information to its readers, even if entities wishing to suppress the information released it inadvertently.
Asked about potentially suing the neighbors, Beykpour responded: “We’re vetting that issue out. We’re vetting to see what damage their activities have potentially caused the aquifer.”
George Gigounas, an attorney with the billion-dollar multinational law firm DLA Piper, said in a voicemail to The Chronicle that he represents CG Roxane. He threatened the newspaper with legal action if this story is published.
“That document is attorney-client privileged and it is against the law for you to print it,” Gigounas said. “If you do print it, we will pursue all damages affordable by law. If you continue to threaten to print it, we will seek a temporary restraining order as quickly as possible to prevent you from doing that.”
That claim of attorney-client privilege does not hold up, said media law expert Michele Earl-Hubbard, president of the Allied Law Group, who explained that attorney-client privilege does not apply to the press.
“(Attorney-client privilege) is a lawyer thing, it’s not a reporter thing,” she said. “I think they’re freaking out, with good reason. It’s not (Beykpour)’s privilege to breach, it’s (Papillaud’s). (Beykpour) screwed up in breaching privilege … (Attorney-client privilege) shouldn’t work when it comes to the press. This is your job — to publish things.”