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Controversial Bottling Plant Approved for Lake County

Brian Hess of Niagara

The St. Johns River Water Management District this morning approved a five-year water-use permit for Niagara Bottling in Lake County. The controversial permit created enormous public outcry, generating more than 1,000 letters and emails to the district because Lake County is so water-stressed — with its namesake lakes drying up in the recent drought.

Local officials maintain they didn’t want the plant, but Niagara operations director Brian Hess says he was courted for two years by state and local economic development officials before the company decided to move to Florida. Enterprise Florida and the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission courted the company without local officials’ knowledge in a debacle that made the area re-examine its criteria for new industry.

The permit allows Niagara to use up to 484,000 gallons of groundwater a day to manufacture plastic water bottles and pump groundwater for processing into drinking water via reverse-osmosis at its facility northwest of Groveland. The St. Johns district okayed the permit following the recommendation of a Florida administrative law judge last month.

Read Trend’s previous coverage of the story