I’m sure this is just the beginning of the story – Nestle’s willingness to use a legal bludgeon to ensure profits is well known – but the residents of Shapleigh have overwhelmingly voted to ban water extraction in the tiny Maine town (from the Journal Tribune):
SHAPLEIGH — Residents Saturday approved a rights-based ordinance that prohibits water extraction by corporations.
The vote was 114 to 66 and came 25 minutes into the Town Meeting – and only seven minutes after the call for the vote.
The vote makes Shapleigh the only Maine community to have approved a rights-based ordinance. Residents of Barnstead, N.H., passed a similar ordinance in 2007.
The question now: Will it be challenged?
Immediately following the vote, Selectman Bill Hayes seemed to suggest that selectmen might issue a challenge, but when confronted by a voter, said the board would seek legal advice.
“We’ll seek advice from counsel,” said Hayes. “If the ordinance isn’t enforcable, it puts us in a pretty precarious position as how to proceed.”
Both the town’s lawyer and a Maine Municipal Association attorney have said the rights-based ordinance is unconstitutional and against Maine law.
Selectman Mike Perro read a statement from town attorney Ron Bourque just before the vote, which said the ordinance was illegal, unconstitutional and unenforcable.
Martin Bretton, of the citizens group Protecting Our Water and Wildlife Resources, read an opinion from the group’s attorney, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, who is also a candidate for governor as a Green Independent. Williams noted that the ordinance hasn’t been tested in court so, in her opinion, to say it is illegal or unconstitutional isn’t in an attorney’s purview.
Passage of the ordinance is a victory for the citizens group. When it approached selectmen with a petition last year to have the rights-based ordinance on the annual Town Meeting ballot, the group’s request was rejected, based on the lawyers’ opinions.
Town selectman fought the adoption of the ordinance every step of the way, though residents were clearly unhappy with a proposed “extraction-friendly” ordinance written by a consultant (referred to board by Nestle/Poland Spring).
There’s little doubt that Nestle Waters/Poland Spring – in an effort to forestall the adoption of similar ordinances elsewhere – would be willing to use its heavy legal hammer to turn back the ordinance — and create a little fear and doubt in the minds of others considering a similar action.
Good luck to the residents of Shapleigh, who voted to retain local control of one of their most critical resources.