BIG RAPIDS — After months of extending the public comment period for Nestlé Waters North America's permit to increase its pumping capacity at a well in Osceola Township, residents will have an opportunity to be heard.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division is hosting an informational session and public hearing on Wednesday, April 12, at the Ferris State University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive, in Big Rapids. The informational session will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. and the public hearing will run from 7 to 9 p.m.

Following the informational session, a sign-up sheet will be available for members of the public who wish to speak during the public hearing. Those signing up will be given equal time to speak based on the time available and the number of those wishing to speak, the MDEQ announced in March.

The water-bottler, which has an Ice Mountain bottling facility located in Stanwood, has applied to increase its pumping withdrawal capacity by 250 gallons per minute to a total of 400 gpm at the White Pine Springs (PW-101) production well, under Section 17 of the Michigan State Drinking Water Act, 1976, PA 39, as amended.

The public comment period for Nestlé's permit ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 21. The original public comment deadline had been Nov. 3, 2016. It was extended by the MDEQ an additional 30 days. Before the extension period was set to expire, the MDEQ extended the comment period an additional 90 days.

When the MDEQ extended the public comment period in late February, the department said it requested additional information from Nestlé about the proposed large quantity water withdrawal increase and anticipated receiving the company’s response by mid-March. The extension of the public comment period will allow the MDEQ staff adequate time to prepare the draft permit as well as offer public participation, the department said.

In late February, Mike Shore, director of media relations for the MDEQ, told the Pioneer the department had received numerous comments on the permit application.

"Comments are coming in and we have received over 15,000," he said at the time.

The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation spent several months gathering signatures for a Just Say No to Nestle Water Grab petition. In late February, members delivered 346,369 signatures from an online petition on sumofus.org to the MDEQ headquarters in Lansing.

The citizen-led group asked the MDEQ to hold statewide public hearings for the permit application and an immediate halt to water taking from the production well. MCWC also wants the U.S. Geological Survey to collect and monitor all future data of all Nestlé permits.

Since the extension of the public comment period, Ice Mountain hosted several open houses in Mecosta and Osceola counties, providing information to landowners and residents. Officials and company experts also answered questions about Nestlé's permit application for the Osceola Township production well.

The MDEQ reviews all comments however the number of comments received is not one of the factors considered in permit decisions. For this permit application process, comments providing a legal or scientific justification for denying, altering or approving the permit will be considered based on the regulatory decision framework outlined in Section 17.