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Wells activists push for water-extraction ban

Bob Walter, co-chairman of water rights group Save Our Water, holds a sign with group member Jacqui Deveneau inside the Wells Town Hall on April 14 during a Board of Selectmen budget workshop.

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline, April 16, 2009

WELLS — A moratorium on large-scale water extraction is set to expire May 4, but a few dozen individuals rallied before a budget workshop Tuesday to support getting that temporary ban extended.

In an effort to allow the public time to have another say on the 180-day moratorium, the town had slated discussion on the water ban issue for Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen workshop.

Selectman Chris Chase at the meeting immediately suggested the workshop was not the appropriate forum for discussion on the moratorium.

“I don’t have a problem with (the moratorium) being extended, but when I left the last meeting I was under the impression that this was only a budget workshop,” Chase said.

The board unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing for Tuesday, April 21.

The moratorium discussion was, in part, included on the workshop agenda in response to concerns from members of the public about what they said appeared to be an abruptly scheduled April 13 meeting of the Ordinance Review Committee, said Selectman Chairman Joan Mooney.

The Monday night committee meeting in question focused on moving forward with a regulatory-based ordinance on water extraction — a point of contention with members of a water rights activist group, Save Our Water.

While the regulatory-based ordinance would generally regulate usage, Save Our Water members recently backed a petition supporting a rights-based ordinance. That ordinance would essentially ban large corporations like Nestlé/Poland Spring, which has been seeking a source for bottled water in the region, from withdrawing water from a Wells source.

The petition to place the ordinance on the June ballot was voted down April 7 in a 3-2 selectmen vote.

Before that, the Ordinance Review Committee unanimously voted March 11 to move forward with a regulatory-based ordinance.

Rushed meeting

According to Ordinance Review Committee Chairman Bill Gosbee, the Monday, April 13 meeting was a rescheduled meeting from the week prior.

Gosbee said the meeting was scheduled with fairly short notice.

The committee meeting and agenda currently appears on the meeting calendar of the town’s Web site, and also appeared on a calendar of meetings faxed to the Coast Star around 2 p.m. April 10.

Gosbee said the committee was not trying to move forward with any issues without the public being aware. He also said while the committee will continue to pursue a regulatory-based ordinance, it will most likely not be ready before the warrant deadline later this month for placement on the June ballot.

An Ordinance Review Committee meeting regarding the regulatory-based ordinance was scheduled for Wednesday, April 15. The committee is using fundamental elements from a regulatory water extraction ordinance from Denmark, Maine, Gosbee said. Save Our Water members argue Poland Spring is pushing the ordinance in town.

“We understand the community’s interest in protecting water resources and Poland Spring shares that commitment,” said Dubois during a phone interview late Tuesday night. “I see that the (Ordinance Review Committee) in Wells remains engaged in the open process that invites public participation and we support that process.”

Back outside of Town Hall on Tuesday, members of Save Our Water said they are disappointed with some elements of how the town is moving forward.

Betsy Anderson of Wells, a Save Our Water member, said the group was rallying to show members do not support a regulatory-based ordinance, and want to see a moratorium continue in the meantime.

“We want a democratic process and we as Wells citizens have our rights,” she said. “We have the right to determine the quality of life in town.”

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