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Wells (ME) water ordinance to go to voters

By Steve Bodnar, Seacoast Online

The Board of Selectmen on Sept. 1 voted 4-1 to put before voters an ordinance that would regulate how much water a company like Poland Spring is allowed to withdraw.  The Tuesday night vote put the so-called regulatory large-scale water extraction ordinance, which was developed to protect water resources in town, on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“We have had a fair amount of discussion on (the ordinance),” Chairman Richard Clark said moments before the vote at Town Hall. “… I believe what we have before us tonight is an accurate reflection of what the board proposed to be changed from the last time we met.”

Clark was the sole board member to vote against putting the ordinance forward.

The Board of Selectmen and Planning Board during a handful of meetings over the past six weeks worked to revise the document, which in part was developed to protect the town in light of a long-standing debate over water rights.

Controversy ignited in 2008 when the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District announced a proposed deal with Nestlé Waters North America/Poland Spring.

The agreement, which was axed by district trustees in May this year, would have allowed Poland Spring to take water from the Branch Brook Aquifer for bottling purposes.

As a result, Wells residents in November 2008 voted to enact a 180-day moratorium on large-scale water extraction until the municipality could develop a way to setup its own water withdrawal regulations.

Heading to the polls this November is the town’s answer to its said need for protection: “An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 145 (Land Use) of the Code of the Town of Wells to Regulate the Large Scale Pumping or Extraction of Groundwater, Spring Water, and/or Water From Aquifers Within the Town of Wells.”

In the ordinance the issue in contention – large-scale water extraction – is defined as “a total daily amount on any given day of 20,000 gallons or more, as extracted by the same individual or entity … regardless of (the number of) extraction facilities.”

Twenty thousand gallons per day is about 14 gallons a minute.

The average residential household in Wells uses about 200 gallons a day, said KKWWD Superintendent Norm Labbe during an August interview.

According to town officials who said they consulted with state authorities from the Department of Environmental Protection, 20,000 gallons is in line with a figure the state uses.

The ordinance also would require any party interested in seeking a permit for large-scale extraction provide with the application: the applicant’s right and title to the water and interest in the specific property where water would be extracted; a statement of total water withdrawn per day; methods of extraction; and proposed use after extraction.

Water-monitoring before and during extraction would also be required, according to the ordinance.

During the Tuesday night selectmen meeting, a few residents stepped forward to speak out against the ordinance, just as many of opponents to the plan and Nestlé have done throughout the past year.

“(Nestlé) wants our water and it seems to me you’re handing it to them on a silver platter,” said resident Joe Hardy.

Hardy said the board should have put a “yes or no” question on the ballot asking residents if they would approve of large-scale water extraction, not the ordinance.

At the end of the meeting, Selectman Bob Foley addressed Hardy’s statements.

“We’re not giving anything away,” Foley said. “What we are trying to do is regulate what the state already allows.”

Foley also stated that the ordinance has “nothing to do with” Nestlé or Poland Spring, or any other specific company, despite that those opposed to the ordinance continue to bring up the names of those entities.

Many opponents to the ordinance contend that the plan indeed directly relates to the presence of Nestlé in the state of Maine and aren’t convinced the ordinance is the answer.

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