Tag Archives: defending water in maine

Open Letter to Shapleigh Selectmen: Citizens Want Rights-Based Water Ordinance

A recurring theme among those fighting Nestle’s water extraction is a non-responsive local media and elected officials who act is if the desires of citizens are something to be ignored.

This has become immediately apparent in the case of Shapleigh, where citizens voted to enact a moratorium and to create a water-extraction ordinance. Unfortunately, Shapleigh’s Board of Selectman immediately turned to a consultant to write the ordinance – one referred to them by Nestle.

The resulting ordinance was predictably tilted towards extraction, and Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources, Inc. (POWWR) is trying to force a recalcitrant Board of Selectmen to heed citizen desires for an ordinance that protects water, not simply lays down rules for its extraction by Nestle. Here’s an excerpt:

Why have Shapleigh officials not been responsive to citizen input? And to what extent can that behavior be attributed to influence by Nestle? Those are questions that strike at the heart of the democratic process, and the public deserves clear answers to them.

Sound familiar? Read the rest of their press release here:

DATE: January 27, 2009

FROM: Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources, Inc. (POWWR)

RE: Ordinances governing large-scale water extraction in Shapleigh, Maine


BACKGROUND: Control of large-scale water-extraction is at issue in Shapleigh today solely because the Swiss-based industrial food giant Nestle, doing business in Maine through the company called Poland Spring, is proposing massive water extraction for commercial profit in both Shapleigh and neighboring Newfield. Such extraction would be unprecedented for these small towns, and Nestle’s unremitting pressure to effect it represents the latest phase in what is emerging as a world-wide battle for control of the planet’s supply of fresh water. How citizens and their governments respond at this level and this time is therefore a matter of the highest importance.

UPDATE: In a move designed to make their position crystal-clear, POWWR members voted unanimously last week to reject an invitation from Shapleigh selectmen to discuss their opposing views on local control of large-scale water extraction.

The reasoning behind POWWR’s decision last week includes the following facts:

By its very nature, the large-scale water-extraction ordinance drawn up this fall by the Shapleigh Planning Board to be placed before voters in March does not give voters the option of saying an unqualified NO to large-scale water extraction; it merely sets terms for regulating the extraction. In fact, current interpretation of state and federal laws means that NO such regulatory ordinance, no matter how strict, can deny drillers the right to extract once applicants have met all terms of regulation.

POWWR offers voters an alternative: an ordinance whose legal authority is seen as grounded in the U.S. Constitution’s assurance that individuals and the towns through which they express their collective wills have a basic right to self-governance. Such an ordinance*, termed “Constitutional,” or “rights-based,” in other words, DOES give voters the option of saying NO.

* Termed “Shapleigh Water Rights and Local Self-Government” in its application here, that ordinance will herein after be referred to as “the rights-based ordinance.”

Shapleigh voters have, in effect, said NO to Nestle multiple times already: first, in their response to a petition calling for a vote to impose an immediate moratorium on discussion of large-scale, corporate-funded and profit-motivated water extraction; next, in five public hearings ultimately held on the matter — hearings in which the turnout was exceptionally large and the prevailing sentiment almost uniformly critical of the proposed extraction; and, finally, in the voting on September 20, in which the lopsidedness of opinion could no longer be called into question: it ran not only 204 to 38 in favor of the moratorium, but 191 to 51 against further test drilling.

Moreover, in the time since the vote, citizens’ eagerness to sign petitions to (a) request the opportunity to vote on the rights-based (vs the regulatory) ordinance, and (b) set in motion, once selectmen denied that request, a process to force the voting opportunity, strikes POWWR as further evidence of Shapleigh citizens’ wish to say NO.

POWWR therefore believes that its support for a rights-based ordinance clearly reflects the will of the people.

POWWR continues to contend that the regulatory ordinance being proposed by the town is weak, even as judged by regulatory-ordinance standards only. That ordinance lacks specificity — most significantly, on the critical matters of water-extraction rates, hours of operation, and traffic patterns — and, dependent as it is upon other passages in the town’s bylaws, it lacks the unitary simplicity and strength of a stand-alone document.

But POWWR and others have already pointed out those weaknesses. In response, they’ve been ignored. Frustrated and rebuffed, POWWR sought a way to be heard, and that search led it to the discovery of the rights-based ordinance.

POWWR advocacy of the rights-based ordinance thus represents a major step forward, since adoption of it would obviate the need for a regulatory ordinance. (Drillers who are not allowed in in the first place don’t need their drilling regulated.) That being the case, POWWR now views its participation in continued discussion about ways to strengthen the regulatory ordinance as contradictory and counter-productive to its current primary goal. Such discussion would also represent POWWR’s betrayal of all those who have supported POWWR in its efforts to find a way to speak a resounding NO.

Why have Shapleigh officials not been responsive to citizen input? And to what extent can that behavior be attributed to influence by Nestle? Those are questions that strike at the heart of the democratic process, and the public deserves clear answers to them.

Town officials’ serious consideration of the rights-based ordinance would go far to reassure Shapleigh citizens that their elected figures are responsive to their constituencies and are above reproach; their support of the regulatory ordinance, and especially of one that is markedly weak, only fuels growing suspicions of base pandering.

POWWR members have come to none of these conclusions lightly or without studied consideration. Most especially do they realize that the current weight of legal opinion opposes rights-based ordinances, so that the battle for change can be expected to be long and hard. That opposition, however, only exposes the extent to which our laws, before they’re improved upon, often actually subvert justice.

Here, democracy demanded will keep the very water under our feet from being declared a commodity available for the taking by a giant, for-profit, multi-national company. It will give voice to an aquifer unable to defend itself, and to all those of us that are dependent on it – people, plants, animals, and the ecosystems of which we are all a part. And it will make us proud as we say, “If we do not have a democracy where we live, where on earth DO we have it?”


Nestle Water Extraction Subject of Meeting, Legislation in Maine

The ongoing controversy around water extraction in the Kennebunk, ME area continues – this time driven by competing legislation, and a promise from Nestle/Poland Spring that they won’t “bully” their way into the water (a promise their representative promptly breaks when he minimizes Nestle foes).

From the Sanford-Springvale Register:

Although temperatures have rarely been warm enough to thaw it, water remains a hot topic in the New Year in York County.

Specifically, questions on how to regulate commercial water extraction are the basis of a bill submitted by freshman legislator Ed Legg D-Kennebunk, and the subject of a workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 28, by Shapleigh selectmen to consider creating a town ordinance.

Legg would like consumer-owned water utilities to host public hearings and get voter approval to sell water commercially. His bill was introduced in response to the proposed agreement made last summer by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District to allow Poland Spring Water Company to extract as much as 432,000 gallons of water a day for bottling.

In Shapleigh, the workshop expected to be attended by selectmen Ruth Ham, Michael Perro and Bill Hayes; town attorney Ron Bourque and hydrogeologist John Tewhey; and five members of Protecting Our Water and Wildlife Resources POWWR will try to find compromise for two competing ordinances for commercial water extraction.

At the end of the article, Nestle’s representative does what Nestle representatives can’t seem to help doing – attempt to cast foes in an unfavorable light by minimizing their numbers and labeling opposition as “noise.”

Should the water be to the company’s liking, Brennan said it would not “bully its way into town,” but added the noise of the opposition to Poland Spring’s presence was not indicative of the number of company foes.

“I don’t think it is a lot of people, but they are very vocal and active,” Brennan said.

With locals from both sides of the issue trying to meet and settle their differences, snarky behavior from a Swiss-based multinational doesn’t seem like the most helpful thing.