SPRINGFIELD, OREGON – Residents of Weed, California are rallying today outside the headquarters of Roseburg Forest Products to demand that the Springfield-based company cease its aggressive campaign to deprive them of their clean drinking water.
Over 20 residents of Weed made the five hour journey to Springfield to protest Roseburg’s dirty tactics and its ongoing effort to seize control of the city’s water source, a spring originating on Mount Shasta. The spring has provided the community with clean water for its entire 100-year existence. Roseburg wants to sell the water supply to a private company, which will bottle the water and ship it to Japan.
Roseburg has sued Weed residents using a “SLAPP” – a strategic lawsuit against public participation. SLAPPs are a bullying tactic that companies use to silence the free speech rights of community members who criticize them.
Angelina Cook of Water for Citizens of Weed, CA (WCWC), said, “While at first we felt isolated, we have found we are not alone and are, in fact, a key struggle in a nationwide battle over the privatization of water. Our Mount Shasta region, like so many others around the country, is under assault by the bottled water industry.”
Jim Taylor, President of Water for Citizens of Weed, CA (WCWC), said, “If Roseburg wants to restore its reputation in our community, it will need to drop this frivolous lawsuit and all of its efforts to intimidate and harass us into silence. And give up its pursuit of our community’s water.”
James Wheaton, Senior Counsel for the First Amendment Project and attorney for WCWC, said, “Roseburg knows that the law and the constitution favor the residents of Weed. Instead of acting like a responsible corporate citizen, it has chosen to deploy its army of lawyers to scare the citizens and put profit over people. This needs to change.”
Kirk Herbertson, Advocacy Strategist at EarthRights International, a member of the Protect the Protest Task Force, said, “The citizens of Weed are not just standing up for their own rights. They are champions who are defending the First Amendment of the Constitution for all of us.”
The event will be broadcast live on Protect the Protest’s Facebook page:
‘The Weed 9’ are residents of the small Californian town, Weed, who were sued by a company for speaking out against the sell-out of their drinking water. For over 100 years, Weed residents have relied on a nearby Mount Shasta spring as their main source of drinking water. But now Roseburg Forest Products wants to sell it to the international bottled water industry, and is misusing the legal system to try to silence community opposition.'The Weed 9' and their supporters traveled all the way to Roseburg's headquarters in Springfield, Oregon, to ask the company to withdraw its SLAPP lawsuits aimed at intimidating and silencing activists, and end the water grab. Roseburg's doors were shut during the event and security guards did not give the water protectors access to deliver their letter, explaining "the CEO has no comment”.
Posted by Protect the Protest on Tuesday, December 18, 2018
High resolution images will be available for download from 2.00pm PST from this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/161097850@N02/
The case arises out of a decades long dispute over water rights. Weed is a small, economically challenged mill town in northern California, created by a lumber company in the late 1800s. Much of Weed’s tap water has historically come from a natural spring, Beaughan Springs, located on the company’s land. In 2016, Roseburg told the City to find another water source, because it planned to sell the water to Crystal Geyser Roxane, a private water company that already has a plant in town. Crystal Geyser wants more of the water supply from Beaughan Spring, as it works to increase its bottling and shipping of spring water to Japan and other locations.
Roseburg Forest Products claims it owns the right to use all of the water from the spring for profit, after buying all of the California holdings of International Paper in the 1980s. Weed residents believe that International Paper granted the water right to the City as it was wrapping up its affairs before selling the rest to Roseburg. Residents have uncovered strong historical evidence demonstrating that International Paper meant for the water to go to the people of Weed.
In April 2017, nine Weed residents wrote a letter to the state water agency, asking them to correct the historical record. A few then went to the Weed City Council meeting in May 2017 to ask the town to endorse their request, which the council voted unanimously to do.
The day after the City Council meeting, Roseburg filed a lawsuit against the City Council and the nine Weed residents in an attempt to secure undisputed title to the spring. While it may be that Roseburg and the City have a legal dispute, the company’s decision to add the nine Weed residents to the lawsuit was a clear example of a SLAPP – a strategic lawsuit against public participation – a bullying tactic used by corporations to silence their critics. Those nine people had nothing to do with legal claims to the spring, and naming them was simply for spite and intimidation.
In December 2017, the Superior court dismissed Roseburg’s lawsuit against the nine Weed residents under California’s anti-SLAPP law, finding that the lawsuit was an attack on these citizens’ constitutionally protected free speech rights. However, Roseburg has appealed the decision and is using delaying tactics to keep the case in court for as long as possible.
At the same time Roseburg is continuing to drag out a long and expensive lawsuit against the City of Weed over the water rights to the springs. Despite having strong legal and ethical arguments on its side, the economically challenged City of Weed faces difficulty affording hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs as it tries to respond to Roseburg’s well-resourced legal assault.
WCWC’s rally will take place from 11.00am to 12:30pm PST outside the headquarters of Roseburg Forest Products in Springfield. At the rally, WCWC will deliver a letter to Roseburg with two demands: to drop its SLAPP lawsuit against Weed citizens, and to honor the intention of its predecessor company – International Paper – to officially recognize the town’s rights to the spring water.
The First Amendment Project, based in Oakland, CA, provides legal representation for WCWC. For more information, please visit https://www.thefirstamendment.org.
For more information on the Civil Liberties Defense Center, based in Eugene, Oregon, please visit https://cldc.org.
Thomas Fuller of the New York Times reported on Weed’s story in October 2016 and December 2017.
Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water is operated by CG Roxane LLC, which is owned by Otsuka Pharmaceutical.