Judge sends Fryeburg plan back to board

By Rebecca Goldfine, Staff Writer, Sun Journal
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

PARIS – A Superior Court judge has ruled that Fryeburg’s planning board must again review Poland Spring’s application for a truck loading facility in town.

The ruling gives neither townspeople opposed to the facility nor the bottled water company a clear win in the long legal fight.

The months-long battle between Poland Spring Bottling Co. and the town is over a proposed facility on Route 302 where Poland Spring trucks could load up on water pumped from an aquifer in neighboring Denmark. The trucks would transport the water to bottling plants elsewhere.

The Fryeburg/Denmark plan is part of a thrust by Poland Spring to expand its operations in Western Maine.

After hearing oral arguments in July, Judge Roland Cole ordered the planning board to revisit the case to determine if trucks pulling in and out of the facility would have minimal impact in the rural residential zone. Only businesses that are small or generate little traffic are allowed in the zone, according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

The planning board last fall approved the facility and allowed up to 50 trucks a day to pull in and load up with water.

Residents fought the decision then, arguing that the facility was not permitted in the town’s rural residential zone. They and their attorney appealed to the board of appeals, which ruled in favor of the residents on one point – that the facility would interfere with abutters’ use and enjoyment of their property.

Nestle Springs North America, which owns Poland Spring, appealed the board’s decision to Superior Court last winter.

Cole threw out the board of appeal’s argument, raising instead a new point. He wrote that the planning board failed to consider whether the proposed facility, and the truck traffic that it would bring through town, fit the definition of a low-impact business.

Poland Spring spokesman Tom Brennan said Tuesday the company is considering its options, which could include appealing the judge’s decision or waiting to see what the planning board does next.

“It’s discouraging,” Brennan admitted. “We’re being challenged to succeed in our business, and from my point of view, this is a good business in Maine. It’s really getting hard to do business here. And this is symptomatic of that.”

The attorney for the residents, Scott Anderson, was not available for comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach several members of the opposition group were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Planning board Chairman Gene Bergoffen said board members would respond to the judge’s request at their Aug. 29 meeting if the decision was not appealed by either party.

In a related civil case, Stephen Griswold, a landowner in Denmark abutting Poland Spring’s acquirer, has appealed Cole’s recent ruling that favored Poland Spring. He had argued that the town had issued a pumping permit for the Denmark aquifer without adequate controls to stop the pumping if nearby water bodies dropped too low.

Cole affirmed the permit and dismissed Griswold’s challenge to Poland Spring’s claim that it would suffer substantial hardship if it did not acquire the rights to Denmark water.

“We don’t want this thing to drag out,” Brennan said. “It looks like it’s gonna regardless.”