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Water petition rejected by Wells selectmen

WELLS — There are two schools of thought on how water extraction should be governed in town — rights- and regulatory-based — but sentiment expressed by the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday made it clear there are uncertainties with each.

In a 3-2 vote, the board narrowly rejected a citizen’s petition to place a rights-based water extraction ordinance on the June warrant, despite some reservation shown from at least one of the selectmen who turned the measure down.

“I am in complete sympathy with the folks that want to protect the (Branch Brook) Aquifer,” said selectman Richard Clark during the standing room only meeting. “But, I do take issue with some of the points presented in the ordinance.”

Under the proposed rights-based ordinance, no corporations would be able to engage in water extraction in town unless allowed in a specific list of exceptions.

The exceptions would include: municipal authorities, nonprofit educational and charitable corporations, utility corporations and “corporations operating under valid and express contractual provisions and agreements.”

Clark said while he understood the intent behind the proposed ordinance, he felt some of the proposal’s content went beyond what the petitioners were trying to accomplish. Aside from Clark, selectmen Jim Spiller and Chris Chase also voted against the ordinance proposal.

Town attorney Leah Rachin said the proposed rights-based ordinance appeared to have “constitutional issues,” such as depriving a corporation of its personhood rights as defined in the ordinance.

While “constitutional” problems remain a primary argument for those that are not in favor of the rights-based ordinance, supporters maintain that it’s a decision for a court to decide, not a municipality.

During the Tuesday night meeting, about eight people spoke in favor of the rights-based ordinance and more than a dozen packed the Littlefield Meeting Room at Town Hall in support of the citizen’s petition.

Of the 747 signatures collected on the petition, 448 were certified by the town clerk, said selectman Chairwoman Joan Mooney, adding that 425 were needed before selectmen could consider the proposal.

Tom Walton, a Wells resident who helped spearhead the petition and also a Save Our Water member, said he felt the petition spoke volumes. He was extremely disappointed in the outcome of the meeting.

“They ignored the will of the people,” he said while standing amid other rights-based advocates in the Town Hall parking lot after the vote.

The petitioners will now seek a second petition to put a rights-based ordinance on the June warrant without selectmen approval, supporters said.

Bob Walter, co-chair of Save Our Water, said the language and content of the second petition will not change from the first.

The course of action taken by petitioners follows Title 30-A, sections 2521 and 2522 of Maine law, Town Meetings and Elections. Selectmen did not call a town meeting or vote to put the proposed article on the June warrant, so those who back the proposed ordinance can petition to get a notary public to call a town meeting on the proposal.

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