Fryeburg is a small town in Maine – that has quickly become ground zero in Maine’s looming water wars.
After Nestle built a nearby bottling plant, Nestle (in this cause in the guise of Poland Springs water) wanted to drill a new well in nearby Denmark, ME, and pipe water to a water-loading station in a Fryeburg residential area.
At first the town planning commission said yes, then reversed themselves due to impacts on the town (noise, traffic, pollution, etc).
To say Nestle was unhappy is an understatement.
They’ve sued and (and appealed) the town five times. Nestle’s lost all four (one is still pending), and in one instance, Nestle’s lawyers argued in front of the Maine Supreme Court that their right to grow market share superceded the town’s right of control:
I’d gather Nestle’s goal isn’t so much a legal victory as a financial one; repeated litigation serves the dual purposes of bankrupting small towns – and serves as a warning to opponents who are considering fighting the world’s largest food and beverage multinational.
For example, the citizens group fighting Nestle’s repeated lawsuits finds itself $20,000 in debt, with yet another appeal on the table.
Will Nestle’s legal team win a victory through attrition over a small rural town?
There’s little they’re trying.
After all, Nestle’s legal team attempted to subpoena the private, personal financial records of local opponents to Nestle’s water bottling plant in McCloud – a clear attempt at legal intimidation.
Does Nestle use their considerable legal clout as a club on rural communities?
It seems they do.
While the little town of Fryeburg, Maine isn’t the only example, it’s fast becoming (sadly) one of the most extreme.
What do residents want?
Fryeburg, ME Legal Timeline
In June of 2005: Nestlé Waters North America submitted an application to the Fryeburg Planning Board to construct a trucking facility in a Rural Residential District. The site would be used to load up to 50 eighteen-wheeler water tanker trucks over a 24 hour period, seven days a week, 365 days a year with water extracted from the neighboring town of Denmark. All trucks would enter onto a section of Rt 302 that is identified by the Maine Department of Transportation as a high crash location.
On October 19, 2005: the Fryeburg Planning Board approved a 16 page result orientated decision drafted by only one member of the board and not shared with all members of the Planning Board until the night of the vote.
A loose knit group on citizens formed, calling themselves “Western Maine Residents for Rural Living.” The group hired an attorney and exercised their democratic right to file an appeal to the Fryeburg Zoning Board of Appeals in regards to the Planning Board’s decision.
On January 27, 2006: the Fryeburg Zoning Board of Appeals denied Nestlé’s permit issued by the Planning Board.
On March 21, 2006: Nestlé Waters North America Inc, as plaintiff, filed suit in the Oxford County Superior Court system against the Inhabitants of the Town of Fryeburg, Maine, the Board of Appeals of Said Town and Western Maine Residents for Rural Living.
On August 9, 2006: Superior Court Justice Roland A. Cole remanded the case back to the Fryeburg Planning Board for additional findings and conclusions on key points brought up by the citizens of Fryeburg in 2005.
On August 24, 2006: Nestlé does not follow Judge Cole’s remand, and instead filed suit in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Nestlé Waters North America v. Inhabitants of the Town of Fryeburg and Western Maine Residents for Rural Living.
On July 24, 2007: After numerous filing of briefs and oral testimony by both parties, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court concludes that because the Superior Court’s remand was not acted on by the Planning Board in Fryeburg, the case was not ripe for them to make a decision. The Court dismissed Nestlé’s arguments.
From July 31 to November 13, 2007: The Fryeburg Planning Board addressed the Superior Court remand and on November, 13 2007 denied Nestlé’s permit.
December 2007: Nestlé filed an appeal of the 2007 Fryeburg Planning Board’s decision to the local Fryeburg Zoning Board of Appeals.
On January 28, 2008: The Fryeburg Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the 2007 Planning Board decision and denies Nestlé a permit again.
On March 2008: Nestlé sued the town of Fryeburg again in the Maine Superior Court, Nestle Waters North America Inc v. Inhabitants of the Town of Fryeburg and Western Maine Residents for Rural Living.
On July 31, 2008: Judge Cole of the Maine Superior Court denied Nestlé a permit.
On September 25, 2008: Nestlé Waters North America Inc brings suit again to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Nestlé Waters North America Inc appellant v. Town of Fryeburg, Maine and Western Maine Residents for Rural Living, appellees.
As of October 17, 2008: The Supreme Court is awaiting the brief of Western Maine Residents for Rural Living.