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Poland Spring water deal tabled

By Steve Bodnar, July 18, 2008

KENNEBUNK — The trustees of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District voted unanimously July 17 to indefinitely table a proposed agreement to sell spring water to Poland Spring.

The decision to stop further action on the agreement came by recommendation of Superintendent Norm Labbe during a special trustees meeting held at the district offices.

No public hearing was held and discussion was reserved for only the trustees.

Labbe said he based his recommendation on his examination of concerns shared by the district’s customers over the past five weeks.

“If we ever go down this road again we will certainly have more information before action,” he said Labbe the trustees’ vote.

During the meeting, trustee Tom Oliver said he was comfortable with the decision to table the agreement.

He also noted he had received numerous calls and e-mails voicing concerns about the matter.

“At the present time we have a very, very valuable commodity and I think we should hold onto it,” he said.

The proposed agreement would have allowed a maximum water extraction of 300 gallons/minute – about 432,000 gallons a day – from the Branch Brook Aquifer in Wells.

In a previous interview, Labbe said extra water supplies developed in 2007 helped the district gain about 3 million gallons a day. He also said the deal could have brought in nearly $1 million a year and a minimum of $250,000.

After the meeting Labbe, who said he looked at the situation as a “win/win,” stressed the importance of the Water District’s accountability to the public.

Labbe also said he’d continue to seek alternative sources of revenue for the district and that “it would not be fiscally responsible” to stop communication on a possible future water deal.

“Just to cancel this and never look at it again wouldn’t be fair to our rate payers,” he said.

Despite the trustees’ vote Thursday, some community members remained wary. “It’s better than nothing,” said Tom Walton after the meeting. “But we have to watch them like a hawk now.” Walton, a Wells resident, said he would like to see the selectmen in his town put an ordinance into motion that would not allow the extraction of water for commercial purposes.

“Taking that water is like building 2,200 homes back there,” he said.

Sara Joseph, spokesperson for Corporate Accountability International – a Boston-based nonprofit organization that speaks out against corporate abuses, said a number of Maine residents contacted the nonprofit for support during the proposed water deal dialogues.

Joseph said she has seen similar situations unfold in various communities across the U.S., and that she and Corporate Accountability International want to help citizens push back.

“The situation raises broader concerns about who is controlling our water,” she said after the meeting.

“Is it going to be corporations like Coke and Pepsi or is it going to be democratically elected officials who are accountable to the public?”

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