By Debra Smith Herald Writer
EVERETT — People living in Everett have raised concerns about a proposed contract that would grant Tethys Enterprises the use of city water to bottle brewed teas and other beverages for the next three decades.
They’ve button-holed city leaders about the impact of a large, industrial business built on or near the waterfront.
They’ve questioned the number of jobs Tethys says it can create and challenged the company’s claims it can ensure an “ecologically responsible” plant.
Steve Winter, the head of Tethys who lives in Arlington, has been amenable to answering questions, including some that extend far beyond the scope of the proposed contract. Winter and his attorney even met with seven concerned taxpayers for 90 minutes last week to field questions.
“I’m a citizen of the county,” Winter said. “I live here. I work here. I’m not doing this as some corporate raider from New York trying to rape and pillage the resources of Everett. I’m a local person doing what’s best for the community.”
Winter also responded to a letter from City Council President Paul Roberts requesting more information, including questions about salaries, jobs, the amount of water, the building site and long-term ownership of the plant.
Roberts said he’s not against the plan. He wants to make sure the city does its due diligence.
“These are business folks,” he said. “They are just trying to put together a deal.”
The City Council could vote on the matter this month, after city attorneys finish smoothing the kinks from the contract.
In March, officials from the newly formed Everett company first talked publicly about a plan to build a 1 million-square-foot “green” beverage plant in north Everett. It’s a venture that chief executive officer Winter said could employ 1,000 workers or more.
In order to placate private investors, the company said it needs a 30-year commitment from the city for 5 million gallons of water a day. That equals 2 percent of the city’s total daily supply from the Sultan Basin.
To put that number in perspective, the city already supplies 35 million gallons of untreated water daily to the waterfront paper mill operated by Kimberly-Clark Co.
It’s a complicated issue. The city stands to gain thousands in tax dollars as well as the economic ripple new jobs bring.
There’s also risk.
The contract would tie up a portion of the city’s water for three decades. City leaders worry that might keep a more profitable company from using the water or cause some other unforeseen problem.
Winter contends the proposed contract includes multiple safeguards that allow the city to take back the water, if for instance, there were a drought or a water-rights dispute. His company would buy the untreated water at a higher rate than Kimberly-Clark does. By the city’s own forecasts, there’s sufficient water into the next century.
“We see no downside for the city,” Winter said.
Here are some of the details that have emerged:
- Tethys officials plan to build a regional beverage plant that would serve multiple brands. Tethys would own, operate and manage the plant as well as an industrial park. However, Winter said it’s possible investors may want to sell their interests in the future.
- The estimate of 1,000 jobs is based on the assumption that a 250,000-square-foot beverage plant produces 250 to 300 jobs. Tethys arrived at those figures by looking at plants of varying sizes. The company’s research shows each line requires 30 workers. As many as 20 lines are planned and the plant would run three, eight-hour shifts all week long, he said. Median hourly wages would range from $14.96 for a transportation worker to $46.83 for managers.
- Winter said it’s difficult to estimate water usage now. By his own estimates, 5 million gallons a day is probably more than the plant will need. Winter said the total needed isn’t known yet. The company plans to invest $300 million, money that will come from private investors. An exclusive agreement that locks in 5 million gallons of water a day is a necessity. To not have it would be like “Boeing building an aircraft plant with no assurance of access to a runway,” he said.
- The company wants to “incorporate renewable energy and advanced clean tech into every project.” If the plant is built, the company wants to use building practices and incorporate technology that would fit those aims. Tethys plans to generate electricity using excess head pressure from the water main. However, he said the company ultimately has to be responsive to “current market forces.”
- The company wants to use “biodegradable” plastic bottles. Ultimately, market forces and the beverage manufacturers the plant will be bottling for will influence decisions about packaging. Winter said the company plans to produce packaging on site, including blown plastic bottles.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, email@example.com.
Tethys Enterprises answers questions about its plans for city water. A detailed response is posted online.