New company aims to restart Clark water bottling operation

Posted 10/3/19

Over the past decade or so, multiple entrepreneurs have tried to bottle natural spring water at the mouth of the Clarks Fork Canyon and sell it across the globe.

Those efforts fizzled amid legal …

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New company aims to restart Clark water bottling operation


Over the past decade or so, multiple entrepreneurs have tried to bottle natural spring water at the mouth of the Clarks Fork Canyon and sell it across the globe.

Those efforts fizzled amid legal battles and financial troubles, but now, a new group is preparing to try again.

Park County officials gave the plans a green light in August, issuing a special use permit for the “major industrial use” in Clark (see related story).

With the help of an unnamed partner, Scott Northrop of Jackson intends to acquire the idled spring and water bottling facility from his former boss and restart the operations.

Northrop said he aims to develop a market for “American Summits” natural spring water around the region, other parts of the U.S. and even Asia.

As with prior operators, Northrop plans to fill glass bottles at the source in Clark, inside a ranch house-turned-bottling plant; up to 14,400 bottles could be produced in a 10-hour shift, according to the information submitted to Park County officials. However, Northrop eventually wants to truck most of the spring water to Cody, where it can be put in plastic bottles and shipped out by rail.

American Summits could eventually employ as many as five workers in Clark and 20 to 30 people in Cody, Northrop has said. He told commissioners in August that the jobs will be high-paying — and that more positions and economic development could come if things go well.

“It’s a good thing for this community,” Northrop said. “If we’re able to grow this in the next three years and sell it to a Coca-Cola or somebody big that comes in and creates 150 jobs for your youth — and older people — I mean, it’s great.”

“That’s all we want to do: We want to test the concept … and see if we can create a lot of jobs and use this Wyoming resource,” he said.

At the Aug. 20 meeting, Northrop told commissioners that he can finalize the deal to purchase the operation and “bring in a massive amount of investment into Cody and to this project.”

In an interview last month, Northrop said the deal had not yet closed, “but we’re close.” He suggested due diligence might be completed by November.


No plans to expand in Clark

The plans to restart American Summits initially ran into opposition from a number of Clark residents who remembered the prior owner’s attempt to build a 45,000-square-foot bottling plant on the 160-acre property, which lies off Road 8VC.

However, nearly all of that opposition was quelled when Northrop explained that he has no plans to build a new plant in Clark and no current plans to expand the existing, 3,472-square-foot bottling space.

“Zero expansion,” he said in May, to the relief of residents in attendance.

Commissioners allowed Northrup to apply for a special use permit — granting a variance to county rules that would normally prohibit a “major industrial use” on that parcel of land — then approved that permit at their Aug. 20 meeting.

The application was submitted by Northrop through a limited liability company called Grand ES Ventures, on behalf of another LLC called AmSum Enterprises, according to county planning documents. AmSum did not publicly disclose any of its members when it formed in Wyoming in April and Northrop said a non-disclosure agreement prevents him from naming his partner in the venture.

However, Northrop did say that the current owner of the American Summits brand and his former employer, Philippe Lajaunie, will not be involved once the sale is complete.

A New York restauranteur, Lajaunie invested around $400,000 into the water bottling venture in 2007, according to a statement made by his attorneys. He had originally partnered with brothers Daren and Steve Singer, who bought the spring and ranch from their family.

However, the Singers and Lajaunie later had a falling out, the ranch fell into foreclosure and Lajaunie ultimately bought the property and assets from the bank. Lajaunie accused Singer of having mismanaged the company, including by using its funds on personal expenses and cutting him out of the business, and a seven-year fight followed in Park County District Court. It finally ended in September 2018, when a jury awarded $334,629.96 in damages to Lajaunie. In March, Judge William Edelman ordered the Singers to pay an additional $519,791.56 to cover Lajaunie’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Lajaunie and his attorneys at Burg Simpson are currently trying to collect on the more than $854,000 judgments.

The dispute is entirely separate from Northrop’s new venture. Further, amid the various issues with the operation over the years, Northrop said the spring water was never a problem.

“The water that’s coming out of that mountain is some of the best in the United States,” Northrop said, adding “It was always about capitalization; the previous owners never had the capital in order to purchase the raw materials.”

With the bottling operation having laid dormant for more than a year, it will take some work and capital to get it going again. Pictures of the property show weeds invading the grounds.

“It’s a dump up there,” Bob Savala, a concerned Clark resident who lives a few miles down the road from the facility, said at the Aug. 20 commission meeting. As the lone voice of opposition at the meeting, he said there “needs to be a thorough inspection with a bunch of us there as witnesses.” That suggestion was not adopted by commissioners.

Northrop said it will likely take three to four months to clean up the place. But getting the cash together for those improvements should not be an issue, he indicated.

“The financing with my potential partner — who we’re trying to come to a final agreement on — is not a problem,” Northrop said this month. “He’ll be kicking a lot of money into the community.”