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Dispute in Fryeburg reaches Maine Supreme Court

By Trevor Maxwell, Portland Press Herald, January 14, 2009

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Four years after Poland Spring applied to build a water pumping station in Fryeburg, Maine’s highest court on Tuesday heard arguments from the water bottling giant and opponents who have prevented the project from moving forward.

Catherine Connors, an attorney for Poland Spring, asked the justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to uphold the original decision by the Fryeburg Planning Board in 2005, which allowed for development of a $2.1 million pumping station off Route 302.

John Wall, an attorney for the town of Fryeburg, and Scott Anderson, who represents a group of concerned Fryeburg residents, asked the court to uphold the latest planning board decision, which denied the project because it did not conform to the town’s comprehensive plan.

While the legal history in this case is long and complex, the question to be decided by the court is simple: Should Poland Spring be allowed to build the pumping station?

“Yes,” said Mark Dubois, a natural resource manager with the company. “We feel that the original planning board did a good job.”

Dubois said Poland Spring obtained the necessary permits from the state of Maine and from the town of Denmark, but political pressure by some Fryeburg residents prompted the illegal reversal of the planning board’s initial approval.

Anderson, an attorney for the group Western Maine Residents for Rural Living, said the planning board made a mistake when it granted the approval in 2005.

Anderson said the proposed pumping station clearly does not conform to the comprehensive plan for that section of town, which calls for low-impact uses such as in-home businesses.

“This is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year trucking operation,” Anderson said. “The company was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

In 2005, Poland Spring began developing two wells on company-owned land in the town of Denmark. The wells are capable of producing 105 million gallons of water each year.

But the company needed help from Fryeburg to make the project work. In order to get the water from the wells to a Poland Spring bottling plant, company officials proposed a two-mile underground pipeline to a pumping station off Route 302 in Fryeburg. Trucks would fill up there and take the water to the Poland Spring plant in Hollis.

The entire project has been on hold as Poland Spring and Fryeburg have battled in court.

Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America, is the third-leading brand of bottled water in the country, behind PepsiCo’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani.

The company gets water from more than 20 wells in eight Maine communities, including Fryeburg, Denmark and Dallas Plantation. The company has bottling plants in Hollis and Poland Spring, and a third has just opened in Kingfield.

Poland Spring has encountered growing resistance in Fryeburg and other Maine communities as the company has grown and sought locations for new wells, pump stations and bottling plants. Some residents are concerned about the impacts of industrial development or heavy truck traffic. Others worry about private corporations gaining more control over an essential natural resource, and the health of Maine’s groundwater supplies.

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Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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