Wells selectmen delay water ordinance

By Nick Cowenhoven, Journal Tribune

WELLS – Seeking to defuse a controversy over water resources, the Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to take its time pursuing a town ordinance regulating commercial extraction of groundwater.

[NOTE:  Under Wells’ new charter, which goes into effect July 1, the Select Board will be able to vote on the ordinance after July 1.]

Controversy over groundwater protection in Maine has led to a spate of legislative bills and local ordinances. As selectmen debated how to proceed here, members of Save Our Water and others gathered quietly with signs outside Town Hall

The board is awaiting a proposal by the town’s Ordinance Review Committee to regulate extraction by water bottlers and other commercial users. Last week selectmen refused to place a citizens’ proposal for a “Wells Water Rights” ordinance before the June 9 Town Meeting.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Richard Clark said it would be “just plain wrong,” to rush the town’s proposed ordinance onto the June 9 Town Meeting ballot.

The board voted 3-2 not to hold a work session on the ordinance next week. Town Manager Jane Duncan said the proposal would have to be brought forward by the end of next week in order to be presented on June 9.

Oppone nts of the town’s proposal did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting, but resident Skip Clark said before the meeting that he believed that members of the Ordinance Review Committee had been influenced by representatives of Poland Spring.

Last fall, the town imposed a six-month moratorium on water extraction after Poland Spring sought a deal with the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District. Clark noted that the moratorium will soon expire.

Members of Save Our Water said last week that their “rights-based” approach would better protect the town by banning commercial extraction of water by corporations. After selectmen rejected this approach, a spokesman said the group will seek to bypass the board and place the issue directly before Wells voters.

The chairman of the Ordinance Review Committee, Wilber Gosbee, told selectmen Tuesday that the panel has nearly completed its work. He said the ordinance is based on one adopted by the Town of Denmark.

He said that support ran strongly in favor of a rights-based ordinance at committee hearings, but that lawyers had advise the town not to pursue it.

“The other ordinance is fatally flawed,” he said. If it is enacted, it is going to be challenged and we are going to waste a lot of town money defending it.”

Clark said that although he favored a regulatory approach, he was unwilling to move forward quickly because it would not leave enough time for townspeople to debate the proposal.
“This is an issue of enormous public interest,” he said.
– Nick Cowenhoven can be reached at 282-1535, ext. 327.