Wells (ME) voters reject water extraction

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline, November 4, 2009

Residents on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a large-scale water extraction ordinance despite efforts by Poland Spring and some selectmen to encourage supporting it.

After months of debate, the proposal — which would have both permitted and regulated large-scale water extraction operations — was defeated at Wells High School in a 3,199 to 1,422 vote.

“We are very excited and I think this confirms everything we have been hearing in the past couple of years,” said Jamilla El-Shafei, a local activist with the group Save Our Water.

El-Shafei said she felt that most of the people she spoke with during canvassing efforts against the plan had indicated they were not in favor of water extraction operations, like that of Poland Spring.

The controversy in town first sparked in 2008 when the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District struck a deal with Nestle Waters North America/Poland Spring to allow water extraction in the Branch Brook Aquifer.

Although the deal was eventually nixed, debate lingered and Wells town officials scrambled to put a moratorium in place until they could put something on the books that would protect the community from large-scale water extraction operations.

Since the proposed ordinance was rejected at the polls, the moratorium on large-scale water extraction will continue.

Poland Spring representatives said, however, that the ordinance would have provided for local protection regarding water withdrawal.

“Poland Spring thanks the Wells Ordinance Review Committee, the Select Board, Planning Board, and local citizens for their efforts to protect local water resources and allow businesses to operate responsibly,” a Tuesday press release from Poland Spring states. “We have supported strong local water ordinances because they have given regulatory control to the town, protected local water resources, and provided a scientific basis for determining sustainable water withdrawals.”