Large Niagara water bottling plant proposal draws strong opposition in Scott County

A proposed large-scale water bottling plant south of the metro is generating opposition in the Scott County community of Elko New Market.

Niagara Bottling wants to build a 425,000-square-foot facility in a new industrial park along I-35 the city hopes to expand in the coming years.

Niagara would invest $125 million in direct capital, drawing water to bottle from Elko New Market’s aquifer system for its beverage line.

City leaders insist the infrastructure can handle the water demands and believe the project will add jobs and pay financial dividends in the long run.

But some in the community including local farmers question the environmental impact of the new plant.

"I am worried about our resource of water being taken over by people from outside of Minnesota," said Elko New Market organic farmer Tim Zweber.

Elko New Market’s long-time city administrator Tom Terry told FOX 9’s Paul Blume, "[The project] would be the catalyst for the entire industrial park in and of itself. It would be the single largest commercial or industrial project that our community has seen."

Zweber, who is the fourth generation of his family to farm their land in Elko New Market, is helping lead local opposition to the project. He says, he is worried about the impact of a large-scale water bottling plant proposal in a community with nothing close to the size of the facility and remains anxious about potential consequences to the groundwater well his family draws from to operate their nearby farm.

"My biggest concern initially when I heard about it was just, wow, that's a really big business for the town," explained Zweber.

Elko New Market has worked with Ryan Companies and other local partners for years to develop Park I-35, a 120-acre site along I-35 at County Road 2 with easy freeway access, and close proximity to the Twin Cities. 

Community leaders have said Niagara’s project will diversify the tax base and create more than 50-full time jobs with annual salaries of $50-to-60,000. The city has posted a FAQ fact sheet for concerned residents.

Said Terry, "If the city felt there was going to be negative impacts to the community, we would not be pursuing this particular business."

Terry, the city administrator, confirms economic concessions have been made to help lure Niagara to Elko New Market, but insists the up-front investment will be more than made up over the long haul for a national beverage company with other options to base its upper Midwest bottling plant.

Terry reports Elko New Market has done its due diligence in advance of a critical city council meeting with public comment on the calendar for Thursday night and has said, that water supply is not going to be an issue given the city’s robust aquifer system.

Zweber though wants to see additional research done before the city green lights any project of this magnitude.

"I feel like you definitely ask for a second or third opinion about something as important as your groundwater," concluded Zweber.