• “To adequately evaluate potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals, it is critically important to have in place a properly designed monitoring network and testing procedures. Chobani has been taking all the steps necessary to meet this objective.”
Chobani, of course, is one of the region’s biggest employers, and I asked Obleski if her agency was perhaps reluctant to be more aggressive in its response so as not to interfere with the company’s storied successes in the yogurt industry. (We had noted that, according to Bloomberg News Service, that Chobani’s founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, is now believed to be worth at least $1.1 billion, and that the company’s sales have quintupled since 2009.)
Obleski responded: “ SRBC is handling this case using its standard procedures followed in all cases involving compliance matters. Also, Chobani has investigated reported impacts to residents’ wells and learned that the impacts were related to mechanical failures, such as problems with well pumps and piping. Although the problems were not related to Chobani’s water withdrawals, the company in two cases paid for the residents’ wells to be repaired.”
She noted that “SRBC is engaged in an active, ongoing investigation, and the company is cooperating with SRBC.” She advised me that “SRBC will provide additional information at the appropriate time.”
One of the South Edmeston residents who has complained about Chobani’s jumping the gun on taking water from local aquifer before it received the withdrawal permit, Dale Brownell, said he believes that SRBC has been dragging its feet while some of his neighbors are still experiencing problems with their wells.
“You let me try to build an addition to my existing home without a permit and see how long it takes the authorities to slap me down,” Brownell said.
While Chobani has tried to generate public support for the company by donating equipment to hospitals and becoming a corporate sponsor of the 2012 Olympics, Brownell said, “That stuff is going to do nothing for people if they don’t have a home to live in. I don’t care about that. I want something done about the water.”
JOE MAHONEY can be reached at email@example.com