Saxman on lifting of bottled-water ban: ‘There’s just no story here’

A report on a website for a Norfolk TV station last week brought back to life a summertime story on the lifting of a ban on the purchase of bottled water by the state by Gov. Bob McDonnell – and seemed to suggest that the move was done to benefit a Staunton-based water company whose general manager, former state delegate Chris Saxman, is a political ally of the governor.

This much is true: The governor did lift the ban, Shenandoah Valley Water Co. does get the bulk of the state’s bottled-water business, but the dollar value on the deal is relatively miniscule, and the bottler won the contract through a competitive bid process.

“Without any foundation in fact whatsoever, they just through this innuendo out there. Ooh, the mere appearance of impropriety. Well, we did a lot of business with the state when Mark Warner was governor, when Tim Kaine was governor. We’ve been doing business with the state since Chuck Robb was governor,” Saxman told AugustaFreePress.com. “It’s shoddy journalism that tries to create the appearance of impropriety, that we’ll take this long, in-depth look at potential corruption in politics. What’s corrupt about doing a state bid? The insinuation is that a political contribution to Bob’s campaign is going to have some sort of sway over people who wouldn’t even know that I know Bob McDonnell. That’s ludicrous.”

A report by the Boston-based Corporate Accountability International put the value of Shenandoah Valley Water Co.’s dealings with the state in fiscal year 2009 at $101,000. The state spent $158,000 on bottled water in the ’09 fiscal year, according to a separate report in the Washington Post.

McDonnell’s predecessor as governor, Tim Kaine, instituted the ban on bottled-water purchases by the state in 2009 as part of an overall conservation plan. McDonnell lifted the ban in July, citing the increased flexibility that move would give to state agencies and the impact that the ban could have on the bottled-water industry.

“Gov. McDonnell is committed to putting in place policies that advance and aid the growth of Virginia industries,” McDonnell spokesperson Stacey Johnson said in a statemetn e-mailed to AugustaFreePress.com in response to our query on the topic this week. “The bottled-water industry employs thousands of Virginians, and a state ban on the purchase of this product would unfairly penalize those workers, and negatively impact these businesses in a very tough economy. Lifting this one-year-old ban simply allows state agencies more flexibility to do what makes sense for their budgets and activities, while not penalizing Virginians who work in the bottled water industry.

“The governor is commitment to conservation and preservation and has directed state agencies and departments to do everything they can to conserve, be efficient and recycle at every opportunity. It is the governor’s expectation that they will be good and responsible stewards of our natural resources,” Johnson said.

According to data from the International Bottled Water Association, the bottled-water industry in Virginia had a direct economic impact in 2009 of $1 million in wages and spending and encompassed 3,719 jobs all told.

“When the ban came in from Tim Kaine, which we saw as an overt political tip of the hat to environmentalists, because they were on a rampage about bottled water – if he had been serious about plastic bottles, he’d have also banned sodas. We knew it was more of a tip of the hat to environmentalists who were obviously having influence over him and his decisionmaking,” Saxman said.

The bottom line, to Saxman: “There’s just no story here.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at freepress2@ntelos.net.

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