January 2004-October 2006 Timeline
By David Carkhuff, assistant editor Â Conway Daily Sun
â€¢ Representatives of Poland Spring, a brand of bottled water from international company Nestle Waters, announce plans to build a bottling plant in Maine. Tom Brennan, New England natural resources manager for Poland Spring, tells Fryeburg residents, “We’re actively looking for locations in southern and western Maine. We like Fryeburg. We like the town. We utilize Fryeburg as a source for our brand. It’s high-quality water.”
â€¢ Poland Spring officials let Fryeburg residents know that a decision on where to locate a new bottling plant would not be imminent. A newly formed citizens committee, the Fryeburg Aquifer Resource Committee, breathes sighs of relief. The group has more time to research the pros and cons of a Poland Spring bottling plant in Fryeburg.
â€¢ On Sept. 1, Fryeburg Board of Appeals finds by a 3-2 vote that the town’s code enforcement officer should have issued a cease and desist order against the Fryeburg Water Company and Pure Mountain Springs, local providers of bulk water for Poland Spring. According to the three-page decision issued by the board of appeals, “Fryeburg Water Company has not obtained the permit from the Fryeburg Planning Board, as required pursuant to Section 17G of the ordinance.” Section 17G of the land use ordinance contains “performance standards for ground water and/or spring water extraction and/or storage.” Specifically, Section 17.G.1 provides that the removal of more than 10,000 gallons per day of ground water or spring water as part of a residential, commercial, industrial or excavation operation requires approval by the planning board. In 2003, Fryeburg Water Co. sold about 80 million gallons â€” or 220,000 gallons per day â€” through Pure Mountain Springs, based on water company documentation, the appeals board reported. Fryeburg Water Co. argues that the permit does not apply because a special exception to sell bulk or bottled water came in 1997, prior to adoption of the Fryeburg land use ordinance. The town ordinance still requires approval for “enlarged, extended or expanded” use of land even when a site is grandfathered, so the permit should apply based on modifications of the Pure Mountain Springs bulk-water loading facility, the appeals board reasons. Ultimately, the town would lose its case in court and Pure Mountain Springs would be exempt from the permit.
â€¢ Poland Spring warns that the company is suspending its plans to build a bottling plant in Maine as company leaders cast a wary eye on both a proposed state initiative to tax water bottlers and a Fryeburg lawsuit that could limit local water resale.
Kim Jeffery, CEO of Poland Spring’s parent company Nestle Waters, tells the Maine Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that the company is putting its expansion plans on hold. Jeffery blames a citizen initiative organized by H2O for ME, a group that proposes a 3-cent tax per 20-ounce bottle of water drawn from Maine aquifers. “I have a need right now to make a $150 million investment in a new bottling plant,” Jeffery tells the chamber. “I can’t do that until this issue is resolved.”
â€¢ Fryeburg launches an aquifer pumping test to determine whether new water withdrawals will affect the Ward’s Brook Aquifer.
â€¢ In mid-December, Maine Public Utilities Commission begins reviewing Fryeburg Water Co. for its finances and its burgeoning side business of selling spring water through intermediary Pure Mountain Springs. According to Fryeburg Water Co. president Hugh Hastings, while the utility had enjoyed a recent spurt in revenue from selling water to Poland Spring, 2004 looked to be a down year financially.
â€¢ On Jan. 15, Poland Spring hosts a public meeting in Denmark to float its plans for a truck-filling facility with water pumped from that town.
â€¢ At the Fryeburg Planning Board meeting on May 31, Brennan acknowledges that Fryeburg had slipped down the list of a suitable site for a bottling plant. “I think of it much as a deck of cards, and at one point Fryeburg was the top card in the deck, and things were complicated. It’s further down in the deck, and now we’re looking to see if we can do something in Kingfield,” he tells planning board. “We are working with the Kingfield Water District to see if we can understand the aquifer there. We’re in productive discussions, although there is no specific agreement in place.”
â€¢ In its first application to actually build a structure in Fryeburg, Poland Spring submits a request to town planners to construct a truck-loading facility, which includes a building and pad where tanker trucks can fill up with water pumped in from Denmark. The application to Fryeburg Planning Board to build a loading station is tied to a separate permit before Denmark selectmen to extract and pipe water out of their town. Although Poland Spring tanker trucks are a common sight in Fryeburg, the loading facility in East Fryeburg would be Poland Spring’s first physical structure in town, according to Brennan.
â€¢ Western Maine Residents for Rural Living. a new loose-knit group of East Fryeburg residents concerned about commercial withdrawals and trucking of water in Fryeburg, circulates a petition urging Fryeburg Planning Board not to approve a pending Poland Spring application for a truck-filling station along Route 302.
â€¢ Fryeburg voters overwhelmingly approve a six-month moratorium on new, commercial water-withdrawal permits, rebuffing an effort by Fryeburg Water Co. President Hugh Hastings to exempt his water company from the ordinance. About 100 people turn out for a Sept. 29 special town meeting and approve all six articles on the warrant. A moratorium on issuing permits “for the establishment of activities which involve water extraction (the removal of more than ten thousand (10,000) gallons per day from the Town of Fryeburg aquifers, excluding agricultural uses) for commercial purposes in the Town of Fryeburg for a period of six (6) months. …” later would be renewed by the town.
â€¢ Setting the stage for a citizen revolt, Fryeburg Planning Board approves an application by Poland Spring to build a truck-filling station in East Fryeburg. The 4-1 vote on Wednesday, Oct. 19, inflames many residents.
â€¢ Outraged at the Fryeburg Planning Board over its handling of aquifer protection and water-tanker truck traffic, citizens launch a petition drive to oust current planning board members, asking voters to make the board an elected rather than appointed body. The drive ultimately fails.
â€¢ On Nov. 17, the same day that Poland Spring applies for a building permit to construct a truck-filling station in East Fryeburg, a group of citizens files an appeal to stop the facility from being built.
â€¢ On Jan. 4, members of the Fryeburg Board of Appeals uphold part of a lengthy appeal of a planning board permit granted to Poland Spring. The planning board violated the due process rights of citizens during its review and approval of a controversial Poland Spring permit, the appeals body determines.
â€¢ In the latest legal volley, the parent company of Poland Spring takes its case to Oxford County Superior Court. A complaint, Nestle Waters North America v. Inhabitants of Town of Fryeburg, is filed with the court Feb. 9.
â€¢ Showing little appetite for big changes, voters at Fryeburg Town Meeting easily quash a proposal to make the local planning board an elected body rather than one that is selectmen-appointed.
â€¢ Before hammering out a policy for how to make charitable donations to Fryeburg, Poland Spring officials say they want to wait for a ruling in the lawsuit the bottled-water company filed against the town over the company’s plans for a truck-filling station. “Once we get the lawsuit behind us, we’ll come back with an outline of a proposal for your consideration,” says Elizabeth Swain, vice president of Barton & Gingold in Portland, Maine, a regulatory, environmental and public policy management firm representing Poland Spring. Speaking at the April 27 Fryeburg selectmen’s meeting, Swain and Brennan respond to selectmen’s request that the company donate directly to the town’s general fund rather than target gifts to specific needs.
â€¢ Jim Wilfong of Stow announces he is back with a new referendum for voters, and this time he’s asking Maine to change the way it governs use of its aquifers. In Maine, groundwater is largely treated as the property of the well owner, a source of concern for people like Wilfong, a former legislator and the leader of a group called H20 for Maine. Wilfong had pushed for a tax on large commercial water bottlers. The referendum never made it to the ballot, being disqualified for lack of sufficient legal signatures. November 2007 is the earliest H20 for Maine could get the new aquifer-regulation measure on the ballot.
â€¢ On June 29, a car occupied by three teens from Western Maine, apparently trying to turn left onto Route 302 from Denmark Road, is struck by a tractor trailer truck. Serious injuries result. The accident reignites concerns about the impact of a truck-filling station on Route 302 traffic. Tanker trucks â€”Â roughly 50 per day, based on company estimates â€”Â would fill up with water at the proposed station, not far from the accident scene. Concerns about tanker trucks pulling onto and off of Route 302 in the 50-mile-per-hour zone persisted during planning board meetings prior to approval.
â€¢ Nestle Waters North America files an appeal on Aug. 25 to challenge an Oxford County Superior Court ruling that a Poland Spring truck-filling station in East Fryeburg needed to go back to the planning board for additional review. Superior Court Judge Roland Cole heard arguments in the controversial case of Nestle Waters North America v. Inhabitants of Town of Fryeburg on July 21 and rendered a ruling on Aug. 9. Cole ordered the Fryeburg Planning Board to “consider whether this much truck activity complies with the requirement that businesses be low impact in the rural residential district.”
â€¢ The Maine Supreme Court continues awaiting paperwork in two related disputes involving a Poland Spring truck-filling station in East Fryeburg. The court is waiting for transcripts before hearing the case of Stephen Griswold et al. v. Poland Spring et al. The newly consolidated case tackles two appeals of the proposed expansion of Poland Spring water extraction in Western Maine.
â€¢ On Oct. 19, after months of negotiations, the Kingfield Planning Board gives unanimous approval for Poland Spring to build a multimillion-dollar bottling plant in Kingfield.
Assistant editor David Carkhuff can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org