This opinion piece from Maine’s Seacoast Online suggests Nestle/Poland Spring’s well-oiled PR machine may have worked against the company, with voters becoming increasingly disenchanted with what appeared to be a heavy-handed campaign:
While many of us were holding onto our spare change and waiting for signs of economic recovery, Poland Spring launched an all-out, full-color, full-volume attack on the small community of Wells and the surrounding towns. From the ads to the mailers to the calls placed by telemarketers, there was little respite even for those who tend to ignore local issues.
So, on Tuesday, the voters rose and carried themselves to the Wells High School, and there they delivered what many hope will be a crushing blow to the hopes of multinational giant Nestlé.
Those of us steeped in the tradition of newsroom skepticism aren’t so sure Nestlé or Poland Spring will be deterred so easily, which is why we just last week argued in favor of the Wells water extraction ordinance — it seems to us that even basic protections are better than none.
But whatever comes next, maybe Poland Spring will learn a few lessons, as Bloomberg has, about the danger of voter fatigue and the power of grass-roots organizing.
While the Nestlé folks were rolling out their glossy campaign, local organizers from across the region spent countless hours wearing through shoe leather, knocking on doors and reaching out to voters.
It worked, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the effort will pay off in the long run.
Nestle desperately didn’t want this vote to go against them, and their big-dollar efforts reflected that desire. Still, in the face of strong grassroots organizing – the kind they faced in McCloud and Mecosta County – their glossy campaigns simply weren’t enough.
Contact: Jamilla El-Shafei,organizer for Save Our Water and The Branch Brook Aquifer Coalition (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Contact: Jean Foss, spokesperson for Protect Wells Water and member of The Branch Brook Aquifer Coalition (email: email@example.com)
Wells voters rejected a water extraction ordinance 3,194 no to 1,420 yes.
Jamilla El-Shafei, organizer for Save Our Water, a water justice organization which includes residents from Wells, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport,Ogunquit and Biddeford, who organized the opposition along with Protect Wells Water said “In spite of the Nestle Waters Corporation spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the vote in Wells, the citizens are standing up to protect their water from corporate exploitation and sending a message: No to large scale water extraction and No to Nestle!
We are hoping that the State of Maine takes notice and that our legislators put water in the public trust.”
“Presently, surface water and ground water are regulated under two different bodies of law, yet they are part of the same hydrological cycle. We need to have one law which protects our water, the state’s most precious resource and place it in the public trust.”
Jean Foss, spokesperson for Protect Wells Water said “Rejection of the Wells ordinance, question #1, makes clear that the people of Wells do not want large scale water extraction. By this decision Wells groundwater remains fully available to the homes and local businesses that depend on it. Wells voters can credit themselves for turning out in numbers to vote on a critical and confusing issue.
Future assaults on our aquifers are likely as water becomes scarce. Citizens are concerned and increasingly well informed. They rightfully demand that our laws, both state and local adequately defend people’s access to clean and abundant water.”
It’s almost as if Nestle/Poland Spring can’t quite walk the straight and narrow – even when all eyes are on them.
As a vote on Wells’ controversial water extraction ordinance nears, activists are crying foul – and alleging dirty tricks on the part of Nestle/Poland Spring.
First, Nestle printed and distributed fliers which listed incorrect poll opening and closing times.
Nestle claims an it was an innocent error, but opponents aren’t convinced – especially given Nestle’s willingness to meddle in local politics in other places (Nestle maintained they weren’t going to interfere in McCloud’s 2006 elections, but wrote a check to their candidates the day before the election).
Now, a leader in the fight to vote down the proposed Wells commercial water extraction ordinance alleges further misdeeds by Nestle/Poland Spring (in a Seacoast Online article):
I’m mad as hell,” said Jamilla El-Shafei, a water-rights activist from Kennebunk, who alleged that phone calls were made Oct. 20 to Wells residents telling them that if they wanted to reject the ordinance they should vote “yes,” when in fact a “no” vote would oppose it.
El-Shafei, who has spoken out against Poland Spring and its parent company, Nestlé Waters North America, said the alleged phone calls were outright wrong.
Some of the more than dozen people who spoke about the ordinance, reiterated that “yes” means in favor of the ordinance and “no” means against it. About 60 people attended the meeting.
In a subsequent email, she offered more detail:
Last week when some of us were canvassing the telemarketers (perhaps from Nestle) had just called folks before we came to the door. When asked about voting on the water extraction issue, when the residents said “I don’t want Poland Springs taking my water,” the telemarketers said “VOTE YES if you don’t want water extraction.”
People were really upset to learn that they were snookered, once we explained it to them. One man said “I am so mad I am going to call the papers.”
Later, she alleged intimidation on the part of a Poland Spring attorney:
On Thursday night, Save Our Water had a speaker from Hollis speak before the Terri Swier talk about them spraying chemicals from their waste water on fields in Hollis as well as other things and the next day Nestle’s Attorney Chip Ahrens from Pierce Atwood called the woman and intimidated her.
There’s no way to confirm what was said during the phone call or what Mr. Ahrens’s intentions were, but it’s clear that – as the pivotal Wells ordinance vote approaches – Nestle’s clearly concerned.
Should the ordinance – based on a Denmark ordinance that many allege was written by a Nestle-friendly consultant – go down before a vote of the citizens, a moratorium to prevent extraction would be extended.
More importantly, small towns that want nothing to do with Nestle/Poland Spring will realize they have options – and Nestle/Poland Spring can’t sue them all.
In response to Nestle/Poland Spring’s interest in water extraction projects in Wells, Maine, a new advocacy group has formed (which won’t make Nestle/Poland Spring very happy).
We wish the members of Protect Wells Water good luck in their fight – which currently involves a fight over a relatively Nestle-friendly water extraction ordinance.
The battle for Wells’ water has been a contentious one, and right now, this group is fighting a battle against the significant resources of Nestle. Nestle’s willingness to spend and mislead voters resulted in the voting down of a rights-based ordinance, and now PWW is fighting an extraction ordinance whose significant shortcomings are detailed here.
I registered for their email list; anyone with a few spare minutes might want to read about their plight on their Web site.
Nestle Waters of North America seems to be in the international spotlight right now, and they don’t seem to be all that happy about it.
A Paris-based TV crew is in McCloud right now doing a bottled water story, talking to supporters and those who oppose Nestle’s proposed water bottling plant.
Given Nestle’s history in McCloud (secret meetings, divisive statements designed to factionalize the area, etc), even some of Nestle’s supporters are questioning the Swiss multinational’s intent to build here, and international attention probably won’t help.
McCloud – like Fryeburg – has become something of a public relations albatross around Nestle’s neck, and only the prospect of relatively obscene profits can be keeping the company here.
Back in Maine, a Swiss-based film crew made the rounds, but according to local activist Jamilla El-Shafei, Nestle operative Mark DuBois wanted nothing to do with the film crew:
This morning members from SAVE OUR WATER attended a Wells Chamber of Commerce event at 7:00 am called EGGS & ISSUES. This is a monthly breakfast meeting of local business people when the Chamber invites a guest to speak about a pertinent issue. Today’s presenter was Mark DuBois, the resource manager from the Nestle label Poland Springs. The tradition at the meeting is to have Q&A after the presentation.
Dubois gave his power point presentation and after his dog& pony show, he said that he would be happy to take questions “outside.” Clearly, with two film crews present he did not want to have to answer any difficult questions. So I went up to him to ask a question as the camera man followed, and he started moving away from me. Corey Hascall, his pr person (fyi she was my face book friend until I learned that she worked for Nestle’s PR firm–very unethical), blocked the camera with her hands. She positioned herself between DuBois and me.
Then when I got close to DuBois she physically shoved me! She is a big woman and it was quite a push back! It was caught of film by the Swiss Film crew who is in the country making a film about Nestle. However, I managed to follow DuBois out of the door and the film crew followed me. DuBois then walked very fast to his gas sucking, big truck.
Nestle’s tactics remind me of the trend in national political PR, where politicians avoid press conferences, preferring instead to speak in settings where the message can be broadcast without question, and the question that are asked are invariably docile.
While Nestle’s support at the grassroots level of most towns continues to fall, it’s clear they’re still playing the political game far better than the citizens who oppose them, as evidenced by this letter to the editor about Nestle’s gold-plated access to the in-process Wells water ordinance:
The ordinance was turned down leaving the town to now rely on a regulatory ordinance, an ordinance that will require anyone who wants to obtain more than 5,000 gallons of water on any given day to apply for a permit from the town. At the Town Meeting on the 16th, the selectmen promised that a better ordinance would be written by the people of Wells and not by outside interests. Ron Collins recently said to the editor, “the final ordinance will be ours and NOT language dictated to us by some outside group whose agenda is nothing more than to take away our rights as U.S. citizens.”
Well, I have to say I was disappointed to discover that at the May 27 Ordinance Review Committee meeting a representative and lawyer for Nestlé were present. They were provided with a copy of the regulatory ordinance before the meeting and were allowed to and encouraged by the town attorney to make provisions that they saw fit. I am asking you to consider who’s language this new ordinance is being written? Is this the voice of the town? Last time I checked Nestlé is in fact an outside group with an agenda, so why then are they writing the rules for our town. Are we to regulate them, or are they regulating us? Can we trust that this new legal document will actually control water extraction or is it merely an illusion so the town feels protected?
Nestlé, leave our water alone
To the Editor:
I write to express my concerns over legislation to allow large-scale water extraction from the Town of Wells. I and those in my neighborhood rely on our private wells for water. In the past two years I have witnessed three wells within shouting distance of my home fail, requiring well replacement, no doubt at considerable cost to the property owners.
In addition, I have learned that in the not-to-distant past, the town had requested citizens to refrain from sprinkler use due to water shortage in a dry spell. Does this sound as if we of Wells should be willing to sell our water? I think not.
It is well known that Nestlé/Poland Spring desires to contract for the right to withdraw up to 400,000 gallons of water per day for 30 years with the option to extend the contract for an additional 20 years. Does selling water seem like sound policy for our town’s future? I think not.
Recently we have had a major hotel and The Summer Village built downtown as well as an ever-increasing number of private homes being built. Should our water be reserved for our citizens present and future or for the profit of an international corporation?
My concern is the viability of my personal water source as well as that of those many, many residents who rely on well-source water. I believe that the majority of citizens of Wells are against the sale of their water and call upon those who share my concerns to let their view be known to the Wells Board of Selectmen.
I believe it was Jim Olsen of Michigan who remarked on Nestle’s amazing resilience; you beat them one way, and they come back at you from a different direction.
That speaks to the profits at stake in the bottled water business – and explains water activist Jamilla El Shafei’s contention that Nestle is trying to end-run the citizens of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells, who have overwhelmingly said “no” to allowing Nestle/Poland Spring access to their watershed:
The Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells Water District’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to SAY NO TO NESTLE! After nearly one year of struggle Save Our Water is very pleased with this outcome. However, the battle to protect our water has shifted to Wells, as Nestle is trying to go through the back door and contract directly with landowners to pipe water bypassing KKW Water District territory. We will give the water warriors in Wells all of the help they need to keep Nestle out.
A “rights-based” water ordinance in Wells – very similar to those approved by voters in nearby towns – went down to defeat (in a very messy town meeting) after an intensive lobbying and PR effort by Nestle/Poland Spring.
One result of the contentious effort included an Op-Ed piece in a newspaper which reprinted an email accusing one pro-ordinance selectmen of being a communist – one bent on bringing down the USA government.
Clearly, Nestle needed to derail this ordinance train before it even got started, and they invested significant resources to see that it happened.
Protest Nestle Lawyers writing Wells Regulatory Ordinance at the Wells Select Board’s Meeting
Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:30pm
Activists and allies will meet in front of the Wells Town Hall on rt#109, for a protest.
At 7:00pm, we will go into the Town Hall for the Select Board Meeting to voice our outrage about the Nestle lawyers writing the Wells Town Ordinance and the corruption of the Ordinance writing process.
Contact: Jamilla El-Shafei cell: 603.969.8426 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organized by SoH2o Save Our Water www.soh2o.org in solidarity with P.O.W.W.
At the Wells Ordinance Review Committee Meeting, Nestle/Poland Springs resource manager Mark DuBois and lawyer Philip Ahrens from Pierce Atwood addressed the O.R.C. with their changes of the Wells Water Regulatory Ordinance which is being proposed. That happened, in spite of the fact, that the ORC would not allow “public comment” from anyone outside of the town of Wells.
Who gave Nestle the ordinance and why? Who is really writing the ordinance- the Ordinance Review Committee from Wells, OR Nestle? Will the Wells Select Board take a stand and represent the citizens?
The people who reside in the region of the Branch Brook Aquifer and KKW Water District have clearly stated that although they did not want a rights-based ordinance, they do NOT want to sell their water to Nestle. The Wells Select Board is supposed to represent the citizens, so we are asking “will they continue to allow the ORC to get assistance from the Nestle Corporation in crafting language for the ordinance?”
We do know from experience, that when there was a contract on the table between Nestle and the KKW Water District, that it was one-sided and written by the Nestle lawyers and pitted the citizens against the water district. Will the proposed ordinance be detrimental to landowners with wells, if there are problems when Nestle mines water? Must the town of Wells side with Nestle in event of a lawsuit, as was the case in the proposed contract with the KKW Water District. The proposed contract between Nestle and the KKW Water District can be found on the web site of www.soh2o.org
It is but one of many examples which demonstrates that Nestle calls the shots in each community where they operate.
This will surely be a heated meeting! We hope that the media will join us and shed light on the corruption which has been taking place in Wells.
It appears that Nestle has funded the Wells Chamber of Commerce’s attack on the rights-based ordinance, on Save Our Water and on me personally, in an effort to discredit the Water Justice Movement and to advance their Water Mining Agenda. Three out of five Select Board members have been actively promoting Nestle, in spite of overwhelming public opinion which indicated that citizens do NOT want to sell water from the Branch Brook Aquifer the multi-national corporation.
Nestle’s long had a reputation for using its powerful legal resources to bend small rural towns to its will.
When they lose, they simply revamp their arguments and come back for another round, and if you think that’s simply stubborness, consider this water-rights ordinance exchange from Maine’s Seacoastonline.com site:
Joan Mooney, Chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen and a supporter of prohibiting extraction, said the issue is having an ordinance that could stand up to legal scrutiny.
“The fear is that other towns have been taken to court by Nestlé (parent company of Poland Spring) because their laws have holes in them,” Mooney said. “The Ordinance Review Committee can write a regulatory one or one that’s rights-based. The latter doesn’t have any holes in it.”
Town Planner Mike Huston raised questions about the rights-based approach, however.
“When people have talked about this, it’s like the ultimate thing that keeps you out of court and prevents a company from running roughshod over the town,” he said. “But if I’m a large company and I want water and you put roadblocks in my way, I’m going to court.
Apprently, Nestle’s legal bullying is working; communities are discussing ordinances based not on what they want or how to retain local control, but from the perspective of what might and might not land them in legal hot water with Nestle Waters of North America.
If you’re a multinational whose concern for local communities extends only as far as their contribution to your bottom line, then using extraordinary legal means to make sure locals are too fearful to challenge you is probably an effective tactic (though a morally bankrupt one).
Read the entire story here: Restrictions on water extraction debated in Wells.