Tag Archives: Fryeburg

Does Nestle’s Infiltration Of Maine’s PUC Make An Unconflicted Decision About Its Water Operations Impossible?

Nestle is not a corporation that treads lightly on a place — especially Maine, where its tentacles infiltrate the politics so deeply, it seems it’s not possible for a decision to be made by political people untouched by the company. Witness this story from the Press Herald:

FRYEBURG – When the Maine Public Utilities Commission this week takes up a controversial 25-year contract between the company that owns the Poland Spring brand and the family-controlled utility that supplies its water, it will do so under troubling and unprecedented circumstances: All three PUC commissioners, as well as the state’s public advocate, have ties to the company.

If you can’t tell, this is my shocked look.

“Every commissioner on the PUC has been touched by Nestle,” said Fryeburg resident Scot Montgomery, who manages a restaurant kitchen in the nearby White Mountains and has been involved in local water issues. “Everyone who’s supposed to be looking out for the ratepayers, communities, and resource seems to have this other interest.”

Bingo.

While many at the state and PUC level go to great pains to say they believe the commissioners and public advocate aren’t biased, it’s largely impossible to believe that someone who once had a financial interest in Nestle’s success can now be expected to turn around and render an unconflicted decision.

And let’s be clear — in public proceedings, the mere appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided. In this case, the conflicts are real (and financial in at least one case), yet at least one commissioner has yet to recuse himself despite having had a hand in preparing the very same situation he’s being asked to vote on.

The Fryeburg Deal: Controversial From The Start

The Press Herald’s Colin Woodward writes one of the most cogent explanations of Nestle’s involvement in Fryeburg’s water system, which isn’t without its shadier elements:

Fryeburg Water Co., which serves Fryeburg and East Conway, N.H., is unusual in that it is a privately held water utility. (About 15 percent of the nation’s water utilities are privately held.) It was founded in 1883, but by the 1990s the majority of the shares were held by members of the Hastings family, whose patriarch, Hugh Hastings, has served as company president since 1969 and as an officer since 1950.

Recognizing that Fryeburg had excellent water — the result of quartz-rich geology and clean, copious runoff from the Presidential Range in the White Mountains — Hastings hoped some could be profitably sold to bottlers. But in the interest of fairness, the PUC prohibits utilities from selling water to any entity at a higher price than it charges its ordinary customers, so Hastings and a business partner, Eric Carlson of the engineering firm Woodard & Curran, came up with a workaround.

In 1997, Hastings and Carlson created a company, Pure Mountain Springs, that bought water from the utility at its ordinary rate and sold it to Nestle Waters at a much higher — but undisclosed — rate. Pure Mountain Springs was headed by Hugh’s son, John, who shared ownership with Carlson. PUC filings show Hugh Hastings maintained power of attorney over his son for the first five years of the company’s operation.

Between 2003 and 2007, previous PUC proceedings revealed, this pass-through entity had revenues of $3 million and paid Fryeburg Water Co. $700,000 in rents and water fees. Hastings wrote in 2004 that the initial capital financing was “over $100,000.”

“Fryeburg’s water had the right geological recipe for Poland Spring,” said Mark Dubois, Nestle Waters’ Maine-based natural resource manager. “But it also had entrepreneurs who saw the spring and invested in their business and started selling that water to us. Here was a willing seller; we were a willing buyer.”

Cliff Hall, a longtime opponent of Nestle’s operations who served on Fryeburg’s Board of Selectmen from 2007 to 2010, takes a dimmer view of the situation. “They set up a nepotistic arrangement which bypassed the (utilities) laws that say if you take an excessive amount of money, you’re supposed to reinvest it in infrastructure,” he said. “It seems to me this was a dummy company set up … to take the money and put it back in the Hastings’ trust.”

Others share these concerns. “A public utility is supposed to do the best they can for the customers, the public and the municipality,” adds Bill Harriman, one of four Fryeburg-area residents who have formally intervened in the current PUC case. “And if you look at what these guys were doing back then, they weren’t looking out for the people of Fryeburg.”

Which brings us to the heart of the issue. Nestle — one of the world’s largest (and most distrusted) corporations — is a lot better at watching out for itself than the small towns it preys on.

News Flash from Maine: Town of Fryeburg Loses Right to Local Zoning Control to… Nestle/Poland Springs

I just got off the phone with a resident of Fryeburg – the town that’s been under legal assault by Nestle/Poland Spring for the last six years. The news isn’t good.

After a lawsuit and four appeals, Nestle’s legions of legal talent finally succeeded in overturning the citizen appeal of the town’s original planning commission permit (written largely by a lobbyist for the trucking industry who later recused himself from the board and was caught passing information to Nestle via email).

You can download a .pdf file of the court’s decision here (look for the Nestle vs Fryeburg cast in mid-page).

I can’t tell you if this is the end of the road for Fryeburg’s citizen partisans, but I can tell you that where Nestle Waters goes, local control of water, roads and zoning seemingly disappears. More to come.

“Tapped” Movie Trailer Kicks Serious Bottled Water Butt

Invest 341 seconds of your day and watch the hard-hitting trailer for Tapped – a bottled water documentary. Note especially the references to Fryeburg and Nestle-branded bottled water (Poland Spring, Arrowhead, etc).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72MCumz5lq4[/youtube]

The money quote? Jim Wilfong of Maine lays it on the line:

“We are the children of revolutionary war solidiers, and we are not going to give this up without a fight”

When you’re done, make sure to forward this trailer to others.

February StopNestleWaters eNewsletter Sent: Expect Another Soon

I just sent the February issue of the StopNestleWaters.org eNewsletter, and if you haven’t signed up for it yet, consider doing so (simply use the sign-up box in the left sidebar).

Those who haven’t signed up can see the February eNewsletter here.

This issue’s a short one, and profiles what lies ahead for Nestle-affected communities like McCloud, Shapleigh, Fryeburg and others.

Also, it makes note of an upcoming broadcast on a popular fly fishing show focusing on the McCloud River – and Nestle’s threat to the blue-ribbon trout fishery (full disclosure; I appear in the episode, as does some footage from Nestle’s disastrous “community” meeting in McCloud). It should be fun (Outdoor Channel, Friday 2/13; 9:30 PM).

Poland Spring/Nestle Facing Challenges in Maine (Wonders Why??)

With Nestle/Poland Springs facing growing opposition in Maine, you knew the self-righteous whining was sure to follow. And sure enough, it has.

From the Portland Press Herald: Challenges piling up for Poland Spring

After 146 years of doing business in Maine, Poland Spring is fighting battles on three fronts these days — over test wells in Shapleigh, a proposed tax that would cost the company $7 million a year, and a state Supreme Court case over a pumping station in Fryeburg.

Actually, there are a couple more fights in progress, and that’s ignoring the looming fight over truck/traffic issues that will eventually (mark my words) come to the fore.

Still, that doesn’t prevent Nestle’s operative on the ground from voicing a regrettably amusing lament:

“Where have we done harm or where have we caused issues that have caused people to take drastic steps like this?” asked Mark Dubois, natural resource director for Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America.

We’re going to speak slowly here so our friend Mark can follow.

Mark, your company is slow-roasting the town of Fryeburg with your five-suits-and-counting legal assault (and because you can afford expensive attorneys, your predatory multinational could easily strip the town of control over its own development).

In several instances you’ve apparently tried to cut water extraction deals before citizens could notice.

In fact, I compiled a list of reasons why small towns don’t trust Nestle (though you’ve created new reasons you frisky corporate types, and I haven’t updated the list yet), and perhaps you’d like to review that list here.

Still, it’s hard not return to the subject of Fryeburg, where your predatory company acts as if it’s entitled to build a truck loading station in a residential despite what the town’s planning commission and citizens seem to want.

In fact, Mark, I’m going to make a bold prediction here; if Nestle wins it suit and forces itself on the tiny town of Fryeburg, your troubles in Maine – and I say this with a great deal of sincerity – are only beginning.

Maine Residents Detail the Hidden Cost of Nestle/Poland Spring Bottling Operation

I received this via email – the story of Maine residents suffering an often-ignored impact of Nestle/Poland Spring’s water bottling plants, and the indifference of Nestle/Poland Spring’s representative.

That impact? Truck traffic. Lots of it. But I’ll let them tell their story:

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I am writing to express our concern regarding more trucks and traffic generated by Poland Springs. We have read with interest the articles regarding the legal battle that Western Maine Residents for Rural Living is fighting against more Poland Springs activity.

Almost all the publicity that we have seen is focused on Fryeburg and its immediate surrounding area. My husband and I live on Rte. 11, Steep Falls, Cumberland County.

When Poland Springs tanker trucks are using this route to the Hollis bottling plant, we have trucks passing at least every half hour, 24 hours a day. In the summer, when I assume water demand is greater, we have at least one truck pass by every 15 minutes, occasionally every 5 or 6 minutes, 24 hours a day.

Our little stretch of road is Main Street in the village of Steep Falls, with a speed limit of 25 mph. Most houses are over 100 years old and are no more than 15 to 20 feet from the narrow road bed. We have no sidewalks. If two trucks cross the bridge in opposite directions it gives them 12″ of clearance on either side.

Often they will air brake to a stop, because two vehicles of that size cannot cross the bridge at the same time with that little clearance. Frequently there are crews out repairing the bridge that was built in 1936.

This has been an ongoing problem for us and our neighbors, as well as our neighbors on Rte. 113. I have had several meetings and phone conversations with Mark Dubois who makes many promises, but rarely delivers.

After three plus years of calling, and tracking the speed of the trucks with our own calibrated speed gun, we have finally gotten most of the Poland Springs trucks to travel at the speed limit, at least when they think someone may be watching. At night, the speed increases.

We are terrified that if Nestle wins this battle, we will have even more truck traffic rattling our houses, cracking our foundations and ceilings and causing a danger to any pedestrian on our street.

We wanted to say that the traffic problem is quite widespread beyond the Fryeburg area, and that other communities are unhappy with the truck traffic as it is now and, of course, the possibility of even more commercial truck traffic on our very narrow rural roads.

If we can be of any help in your battle against the Nestle Corporation increasing its hold on our small towns and lifestyles, please let us know.

Sincerely,
Janet and Michael Blanck

Fryeburg Faces Nestle Lawsuit Yet Again: Local Control of Streets at Issue

The folks of Fryeburg aren’t enamored of the idea of a 24/7 truck loading station in a residentially zoned area, but when Nestle Waters of North America is involved, local control over water, streets and lifestyle dies not with a bang, but with a lawsuit.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47_e3VWKJgc[/youtube]

As is often the case, the argument ultimately doesn’t revolve around what’s right or reasonable (I’m suggesting a 24/7 truck loading station in a residential area – running 50 trucks per day – isn’t a particularly reasonable land use).

Instead, it revolves around interpretation of of ambiguous passages of the law – a practice similar to divining the future via goat entrails.

What’s clear is Nestle’s “good corporate neighbor” PR spin is a facade; a truck loading station returns little to the town of Fryeburg save a small bump in property taxes. Yet the downside is clear; Fryeburg “enjoys” trucks rumbling along at all hours of the day or night, diesel fumes, the noise, etc.

Nestle knows this, and it’s treating Fryeburg in the same manner it treats other small, rural towns who don’t roll over and play dead – they release the legal hounds, who are better funded than their citizen counterparts.

No matter how the decision goes in Fryeburg, the real lesson has already been learned.

Nestle/Poland Spring’s Fryeburg Lawsuit Argued Before Maine State Supreme Court

Nestle Waters/Poland Spring continued their campaign against the tiny Maine town of Fryeburg, arguing the town had no right to block the permitting of a 24/7 truck loading station in a residentially zoned area.

While the outcome of the arguments won’t be known for some time, the effects of Nestle’s suit (and four appeals) are already being felt; Fryeburg’s plight has been cited by many who contend Nestle isn’t the good corporate neighbor they suggest they are – especially when it comes to usurping local control of planning and water decisions.

This story via the iStockAnalyst:

Anderson, an attorney for the group Western Maine Residents for Rural Living, said the Planning Board made a mistake when it granted the approval in 2005.

Anderson said the proposed pumping station clearly does not conform to the comprehensive plan for that section of town, which calls for low-impact uses such as in-home businesses.

“This is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year trucking operation,” Anderson said. “The company was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

Our best to the citizens of Fryeburg.

Big Days for McCloud, Fryeburg as Nestle Saga Continues for Both

It’s a couple of very big days for Nestle Waters of North America (and those who oppose them).

Tonight (the 12th), the McCloud Services District’s agenda includes an item from Nestle proposing the district once again enter into contract negotiations with Nestle (at the end of this post, we included the statement presented by the Save Our Waters Coalition).

Despite the fact that Nestle has completed no flow studies and almost no environmental monitoring, they’re trying to rush back into negotiations for water – when nobody knows how much water is really available.

The problem, of course, is that Nestle believes the water that enters Squaw Creek and the world-renowned McCloud River is “wasted” – the kind of thinking guaranteed to make a real fisheries biologist soil his shorts.

After Nestle’s disastrous public meeting in McCloud (to read about that nightmare on wheels, click here), Nestle announced they weren’t going to bother with any further meetings, a move which suggests Nestle’s newfound “committment” to community involvement in the negotiation process is – like its committment to stewardship of the watershed – largely illusory.

Big Day for Freyburg

Tomorrow (the 13th), Nestle’s suit against Fryeburg – where Nestle’s trying to force its 24/7 truck loading station into a residentially zoned part of Fryeburg – will be heard again in Maine’s State Supreme Court.

Those who are counting along at home just ran out of fingers; this is the fourth appeal of the original lawsuit (that adds up to five), and we can only guess that Nestle’s aim wasn’t so much to win the legal case as it was to bankrupt their opponents, winning not by being right, but by default.

You’ve got to believe a loss for Nestle here would be the end of the line for their loading station, but they’ve made some mind-boggling moves in the past (in a prior suit, they argued their right to grow market share superseded Fryeburg’s right to say no).

In truth, Nestle’s incredibly heavy-handed legal maneuvering in Fryeburg has become something of an embarrassment for the company – a recent ad in a nearby newspaper largely pretended the whole affair simply wasn’t taking place – yet another triumph of Nestle’s PR over reality.

Hopefully, we’ll hear from folks at both events, and as soon as we know anything, we’ll pass it along.

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Oops, forgot to post this after I said I would:

Statement the Protect Our Waters Coalition to be read at the January 12th 2009 McCloud Community Services District Board Meeting

Honorable Board Members,

Tonight I urge you to think about what is in the best interest of McCloud. We all want prosperity and a thriving community without sacrificing our area’s magnificent natural resources. Fortunately we now have a clean slate and can determine what is truly best for McCloud.

Good things are happening in McCloud right now. In the past few months while we’ve had the chance to breath we’ve started talking to each other and working together. We are coming up with good ideas and real economic opportunities. From the Chamber hosting Willits, to the Michael Shuman community meeting, to the Business Idea Contest to JEDI’s survey–good things are happening.

But then we come back to the Nestle issue and with it the feeling of our community being divided.  While the Kearns and West meeting was uncomfortable, the statements from the meeting, and their meeting summary show that our community does not have enough information to begin negotiations on a new contract with Nestle now.  How could we make a commitment to contract details right now?  We don’t know any more now about the impacts of a plant on our community than we did 5 years ago.

McCloud has a second chance to explore whether the idea of a Nestle plant in our community is a good one, and a second chance to do it the right way – with real public process, good science, and sound economic analysis of its likely impact on our community. We have other economic opportunities for this town’s future as well.  Saying No to Nestle now would enable us to build upon those opportunities as a united community.

Going into a negotiating process with Nestle now is premature.  Nestle should complete background studies on our water, air quality, historic preservation, and traffic among other issues, and let those studies inform the project description they present to the community.  We shouldn’t waste MCSD time now on discussing a contract negotiation process with Nestle when we lack so much information.

If it were me, I would just say ‘no thanks’ to Nestle now, like other communities have across the country, because mistrust of Nestle is the big ‘elephant’ in the room. Considering Nestle fired Kearns and West and is planning to host their own meeting about their revised project description it seems they are going back to business as usual.  It is hard for me to see the trust issues going away.

But at least, I would give our community time to discuss what we want, and tell Nestle “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Nestle Spokesperson Goes Public on Maine Blog, Misrepresents Fryeburg Fiasco

It’s rare when a Nestle Waters of North America spokesperson speaks in a public forum where their conclusions can be questioned, but Nestle/Poland Spring operative Mark Dubois posted several comments to this Maine blog – including one where Nestle’s spin plays out in all its glory.

He positions Poland Spring as a Maine company (it’s been a Nestle “brand” since the company was purchased by Nestle), and mischaracterizes opposition to the Fryeburg loading station thusly:

Any suggestion that Fryeburg has repeatedly said no to a truck loading station ignores the fact that the planning board approved our application in 2005 after a lengthy process and thoroughly written decision after numerous public hearings. The appeal of that decision by
a small number of opponents in town is what has triggered the series of appeals since that time. The matter is now pending in the Maine Law Court and everyone is hoping that the Court’s decision will put this matter to rest.

My response to Nestle’s spin?

First, the original permit was issued in a way that suggests poor public process (which follows Nestle around like a shadow). It was written by one person on the planning commission – the same person who later secretly advised Nestle what was happening in the town via email – a relationship Nestle/Poland Spring (wasn’t it you, sir?) denied even
existed before a reporter produced the emails.

The original appeal was hardly the work of a “small number of opponents” (the same characterization used by Nestle elsewhere to minimize opposition). Those opponents “won” that appeal because a truck loading station doesn’t belong in a residentially zoned area, and further, that victory didn’t somehow “trigger” a string of appeals – Nestle/Poland Springs filed a lawsuit and four subsequent appeals (the fourth is being heard right now).

And yes, Nestle has lost every one.

If anyone wishes to see YouTube video of Nestle/Poland Spring’s lawyers arguing before the Maine Supreme Court that their right to grow market share superceded the town’s right of local control, then simply go here.

Finally, Mr. Dubois, as for your statement that: “The matter is now pending in the Maine Law Court and everyone is hoping that the Court’s decision will put this matter to rest.”

This could have been put to rest a long time ago if Nestle hadn’t tried bully the town of Fryeburg through legal means, and yet you act as if your multinational corporation somehow has no choice in the matter.

This could all end right now, Mr. Dubois – if only Nestle/Poland Spring would drop its lawsuit. Nobody’s forcing your multinational to continue its lawsuit, and what’s clear is that Nestle is willing to use extraordinary legal means to deny Fryeburg the right to say “no” to a truck loading station in residentially zoned areas.

If anyone has anything to add to Mr. Dubois’ perspective, feel free to visit Seavey’s blog, read the string of comments, and leave one of your own (respectful) comment.

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Nestle Running Another Misleading Ad in Denmark Paper

In an attempt to protect its up-for-reneweal well permit in Denmark, Maine (the town next to Fryeburg and the source of the water Nestles wants to pump to a Fryeburg loading station), Nestle/Poland Spring have taken to running regular advertising, a close look at which is illuminating:

Note the use of “local” throughout the ad. It’s a recurring theme with Poland Springs: “We’re a Maine company” or “we’re a local company” messages abound, ignoring the fact that Nestle is the world’s largest food and beverage corporation.

Make no mistake; the profits from the sale of the water extracted in Denmark don’t stay local – they flow directly to corporate headquarters, and the town’s water resource is practically given away in return for… well, not even jobs in this case (it’s a well).

Defining $26,000 as “significant” tax revenue is a stretch, even by
small town standards. In truth, wells and loading stations deliver few
benefits to local economies (unless you define truck traffic, noise and
diesel pollution as “benefits”).

Our pick for “Nestle’s Most Astonishing Doublespeak of the Day?”

“We are committed to being a good neighbor and that means contributing to local needs and respecting local control.”

Given that one town away – in Fryeburg – Nestle/Poland Spring are actively trying to usurp local control through extraordinary legal means (they’ve sued/appealed the Fryeburg Planning Commission’s “no” decision five times).

At one point they argued that their right to grow market share superseded the town’s right to say “no.”

Respecting local control?

Only when it’s Nestle pulling the strings.

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21,000 Reasons Nestle May Beat the Citizens of Fryeburg

If a Hollywood movie was ever to be made about Nestle Waters of North America, the tiny town of Fryeburg, ME would nicely fill the role of a compelling underdog – the tiny town that stood up to the predatory multinational.

Nestle has sued the rural town of Fryeburg five times in an attempt to install a truck loading station in a residential area, and while Nestle never intended to do so, they’ve created an Alamo-esque rallying point for those fighting Nestle’s depredations in other areas.

They’ve also created $39,000 in legal costs, $21,000 of which need to be paid off. From the Water in the News blog:

At each and every board or court appearance (click for Timeline), Western Maine Residents for Rural Living has countered Nestlé’s legal army with reply briefs. We are forced by Nestlé to engage them in this arena which by both its complexities, costs and time would be overwhelming for most. We have stood our ground and have stayed the course. We have been fortunate to have one of the best law firms in Maine representing us, Verrill Dana PLLC and its partner Atty. Scott Anderson. Forty months of litigation and no permit issued.

Western Maine Residents for Rural Living have done much more than just fight a local land use issue. Their persistence has brought attention to a nationwide battle with Nestlé. Momentum, resolve, persistence and commitment–whatever you call it–Fryeburg has demonstrated it can be done.

In the past, I’ve suggested that Nestle’s bizarre, over-the-top
string of lawsuits against Fryeburg weren’t so much designed to win a
legal challenge as they were to bankrupt those opposing their
residentially sited truck loading zone – and to serve as a warning to
other small towns thinking of opposing Nestle.

Today, I stick by that analysis, and fear that unless some money is quickly raised, Nestle could win this one.

If you want to help, this is the contact information posted in the original blog post:

Checks should be made payable to: “Verrill Dana, PLLC”
Please note in the memo: “WMRRL”

Mail to:
T.Scott Gamwell
30 Hemlock Bridge Road
Fryeburg, Maine 04037

Thank you. Contacts: (207) 935-3811 and librarianef@hotmail.com (Emily Fletcher, Fryeburg).

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