Tag Archives: Fryeburg

Nestle Denies Reality; Ad Pretends It Hasn’t Sued Fryeburg Multiple Times

In an ad run in the Bridgton News (no online edition), Nestle Waters of North America tries to pretend its lawsuit and four subsuquent appeals (including a hearing before the Maine State Supreme Court) against the rural town of Fryeburg

I recently posted a story about a residents’ meeting in Denmark, where Nestle’s well permit is up for renewal. (Denmark is the source of the water Nestle wants to pump to a loading station in a residential section of Fryeburg, the permit for which has been repeatedly denied by the town).

Nestle – unhappy with the growing opposition to their wells in Denmark – bought an ad in the newspaper, suggesting they alone had a grasp of the “facts,” while opposition information was “fiction.”

To get a sense of their grasp of the facts, look at #5 in the ad below:

To paraphrase Nestle, “the facts are” that Fletcher’s statement is accurate, if a little forward-looking. Nestle’s permit for a loading station was first approved by Fryeburg’s planning commission, but then rejected because there’s no way you can pretend 100 heavy truck trips per day wouldn’t have a substantial impact on a residential area.

Nestle’s lawsuit and four subsuquent appeals – one of which was argued in front of the Maine Supreme Court – can’t be construed as anything but suing the town five times, and as Fletcher noted, another appeal is likely.

Finally, in #6 in the ad above, Nestle characterized opposition to their loading station as being the work of a “vocal minority” – an assertion which ignores the moratorium on bulk water export passed by Freyburg’s voters 467 to 304.

By what math does 467 to 304 work out to a minority?

Perhaps in Nestle’s corporate world, pretending something isn’t happening is good enough, but rural, small town America has a little more common sense than that.

If any of our Fryeburg/Denmark area readers has feedback about the ad’s reception in either town, feel free to post it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.

We leave you with YouTube video of Nestle/Poland Spring’s argument before the Maine State Supreme Court, where they apparently suggest their right to grow market share supercedes local control of water, planning, noise and traffic:


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Residents Oppose Renewal of Nestle/Poland Spring Extraction Permit in Denmark

Nestle’s legal bullying of the tiny Maine town of Fryeburg has taken on an almost Alamo-esque patina; activists around the country point to Fryeburg whenever Nestle’s operatives verbalize Nestle’s “good corporate neighbor” spin.

Fryeburg’s planning commission has repeatedly turned away Nestle’s attempt to build a 100 truck-trips-per-day loading station in an East Fryeburg residential area, yet Nestle simply fires up another lawsuit or appeal.

With opponents roughly $20,000 in debt, and Nestle’s fifth lawsuit against the town pending, it’s possible Nestle’s within a stone’s throw of getting its loading station… unless the nearby town of Denmark revokes Nestle’s permit to extract water.

Opposition to Nestle Appears in Denmark

Nestle/Poland Spring plans to pump water from Denmark wells, then pipe it to the East Fryeburg loading station. With its Fryeburg loading station stalled and its Denmark water extraction permit up for renewal, Nestle’s suddenly facing failure on both fronts.

Residents of Denmark recently gathered to discuss the issue (Nestle’s Mark DuBois also attended), and the Water in the News blog published a detailed report of the emotionally charged meeting:

Anger and a sense of determination prevailed among the nearly 40 people who met last Thursday to discuss action plans ranging from a water mining moratorium to a new ordinance with even stronger restrictions and conditions than the existing ordinance.

What a difference three years makes.

Back in May 2005, local residents were largely silent when multinational Nestle Waters asked for permission to dig a well and extract water to be pumped underground to a silo in East Fryeburg. The silo would serve as a tanker-truck filling station to send the water on its way to a bottling facility. Selectmen issued the permit, and residents passed a tough ordinance a year later giving the town the right to shut the extraction operation down if it was shown to be harming the underlying aquifer.

Since then, Fryeburg has been torn apart by the battle between “pro-” and “anti-Nestle” forces and a series of lawsuits and appeals, the latest of which awaits a hearing in the Maine Supreme Court. Work has yet to begin on the 40-foot tall silo. Meanwhile, residents of Shapleigh passed a six-month moratorium on Sept. 24 that stopped Nestle in its tracks and gained them national attention.

The Fryeburg situation can only be described in terms of disgrace, and it’s fast becoming an albatross around Nestle’s neck. The loading station delivers little in the way of economic return to the small town, yet the town’s suffering the kind of social strife and polarization that always seems to accompany Nestle’s attentions.

Nestle’s operatives are skilled at framing local disputes about Nestle bottling plants in “pro-business vs no-business” terms, even when it’s clear the issue is one of local control over resources vs handing control to a Swiss multinational.

A good example is this passage, where Jim Wilfong – former state representative Jim Wilfong, who founded a group called H20 for Maine – spoke about the town’s options (that local control thing again). Read on, and you’ll see Nestle’s operative attempt to derail the meeting:

His [ed: Wilfong] tone was even and measured — that is, until Mark Dubois, Poland Spring’s Natural Resource Manager, raised his hand.

“So you want to take control?” asked Dubois. “It sounds to me like a property rights issue.”

“That’s the way you see it,” Wilfong replied. “Some people don’t like it that our culture and our environment are being changed” “by Nestle’s activities in western Maine.

That prompted Emily Fletcher of Fryeburg to say that “we’re really grassroots people trying to confront what we see as a threat. We don’t have control, and I’m angry.”

She said Nestle” has changed the social environment in its 10 years in Fryeburg, pitting friends and families against each other.

“It is a highly charged political atmosphere,” she said, where people have been “put in office to support Nestle’s agenda.” When the Fryeburg Planning Board ruled against the company’s silo plans after it was remanded back to them by the Oxford County Superior Court, Nestle” once again appealed the decision.

Now they’re about to appeal our court case for the sixth time. I think that’s dirty politics[ed: emphasis added],” said Fletcher. “We have so far succeeded but we have succeeded because we haven’t failed,” she added, and urged Denmark residents to educate themselves if they want to be effective.

“I don’t think they understand or really care what we think — they are here for the resource,” Wilfong said.

Should Denmark prove successful at squelching Nestle/Poland Spring’s extraction permit, then it’s possible Fryeburg’s nightmare would end (though Nestle would likely wield its legal bludgeon against Denmark too).

How quickly the rifts in the town heal are another matter – one of little concern to Nestle.

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The Top Six Reasons Why Small Communities Can’t Trust Nestle Waters, Part II

In Part I of “The Top Six Reasons Why Small Communities Can’t Trust Nestle Waters,” I looked at Nestle Waters of North America’s less savory behaviors, including their tendency to:

  • #1. Negotiate deals in private
  • #2. Use aggressive (and questionable) legal tactics to bend small towns to their will
  • #3. Ignore environmental studies and impacts – even as they proclaim their environmental sensitivity

Sadly, that was only the first half of the list; cataloging Nestle’s least-attractive behaviors required two articles. What’s left?

#4. Nestle Promises Jobs They Don’t Deliver

Nestle’s only real lever in its negotiations with rural communities is the promise of jobs. To poor, economically depressed rural communities, jobs are like red meat to a starving lion, and Nestle’s promises of employment often turn the tide in favor of their bottling plants.

But how real are those promises?

The St. Petersburg Times newspaper delivered a crippling blow to Nestle’s credibility when it reported on the Nestle bottling plant in Madison County, Florida (Madison Blue Springs).

Nestle promised Madison county 300 jobs, but never employed more than 250, and now only employs 205 – 46 of which aren’t even from Florida.

The state did much more than fight to get Nestle the right to pump as much water as possible from the spring.

As an added incentive for Nestle, the state approved a tax refund of up to $1.68-million for the Madison bottling operation. To date, Nestle has received two refunds totaling $196,000 and requested a third tax refund.

Nestle had promised to create 300 jobs over five years. The most people it has ever employed was about 250. The number dropped to 205 late last year, 46 of them from Georgia, which Nestle defends as common for a work force along a state line.

The net result is half the jobs promised to the state of Florida actually accrued to the state of Florida. To get those jobs, that state struck an awful bargain: they approved a tax refund, and also overrode the recommendation of the local water management district scientists, giving Nestle the right to take 1.47-million gallons a day from the drought-stricken spring (at its lowest recorded flows ever) instead of the 400,000-gallons a day sought by staff.

The Negative Economics of Water Bottling

Nestle’s proposed one-million sq.ft. water bottling plant in McCloud (the largest bottling plant in the USA, and thankfully one that’s not being built right now) promised 240 jobs, but an EcoNorthwest economic study looked hard at the positive AND negative economic effects of the plant.

The results weren’t encouraging for the tiny town of McCloud. From the report synopsis:

  • The Nestle proposed facility would impose costs and obligations on the community that would likely outweigh the benefits.
  • People from outside McCloud would likely fill higher paying jobs. (Pages: 35-40)
  • Nestle will not improve unemployment rates or overall employment levels in McCloud or Siskiyou
  • Nestle may cause losses of other jobs, firms, and residents in the county, thereby offsetting the 1 million annually in property taxes they might eventually generate.
  • The facility would likely displace current employment at existing firms and employment that would have materialized in the future thus the net job increase at full build out is likely closer to 70 jobs.
  • Hidden costs of truck traffic include traffic accidents, congestion, air pollution, negative health effects, increased road maintenance, and possibly the need for additional law-enforcement services. (Pages: 54- 57)

Some residents of McCloud were clearly hoping the Nestle bottling plant would revive the fortunes of this former mill town, but with $9/hour jobs going begging at two other nearby water bottling plants – and most of the better-paying jobs typically going to outside management teams brought in by Nestle – the economic boon many are hoping for isn’t likely to happen.

#5. Nestle Recommends Consultants to Towns With Conflict of Interest Issues

Nestle’s modus operandi in small towns often involves “helping” small towns with recommendations for “experts” burdened by conflicts of interest.

For example, Clinton, Maine’s Board of Selectman – already in trouble with a citizen’s group for negotiating with Nestle in secret and destroying a signed memorandum of understanding – used a Nestle-recommended hydrologist to review a project and make supposedly unbiased, science-based recommendations to the board.

From the Worcester Telegram:

They have also been asked whether they consider destruction of the signed memorandum of agreement to be advisable or appropriate; why they hired the same hydrogeologist that Nestlé uses (even though not for this project); why they would use this hydrogeologist to review records and data of the hydrogeologist’s own client (Nestlé), for purposes of advising another of its client’s (Sterling)

As you can see, the hydrologist worked with Nestle on other projects, reviewed only Nestle data, and had his fee paid out of an escrow account established by Nestle.

That escrow account was also expected to fund the production a legal opinion about whether a zoning change was needed to allow the Nestle project, and get that zoning change written if necessary.

Taken as a whole, these actions are akin to the police relying on criminals to report the details of their own crimes; the conflicts of interest abound, and citizens can hardly be expected to trust the information, conclusions and contracts drawn from these machinations.

#6. Nestle Interferes With Local Politics and Splits Communities With Divisive Tactics

Of all Nestle’s tactics, this is probably the least savory, and because examples abound, this has become our longest topic.

After all, pitting residents of a small community against each other is a despicable-yet-effective tactic – one that’s played out time and time again wherever Nestle arrives.

Part of the problem is Nestle’s attempts to negotiate contracts in secret, then rush approval before citizen review can take place. In the town of McCloud, this had the effect of electrifying opponents of the negotiated-in-secret deal.

Outraged that the McCloud Services District signed Nestle’s rapacious contract without public review, residents soon discovered just how bad the contract was – and the town quickly divided into two factions.

In an International Herald Tribune article, Curtis Knight of CalTrout perceptively said:

“It’s the issue in town,” said Curtis Knight, the Mount Shasta area manager of California Trout, a wild fishery conservation group. “You know, who are you and are you pro-Nestle or are you anti-Nestle? It’s really been a wedge through town, and I think it’s unfortunate.”

Nestle furthered this split when it funded a slate of Pro-Nestle candidates for the McCloud Services District Board election in 2006 (the entity that negotiated the Nestle contract). Nestle slyly maintained a “hands off” policy right up until the day before the election, when they wrote a check to the Pro-Nestle slate for $2500.

The timing was critical; this allowed Nestle to state they were steering clear of the election right up until it occurred, the kind of shrewd political maneuver little seen in small town elections.

The total spent spent by the slate was only $3680, so Nestle’s $2500 contribution had a big impact; all three Pro-Nestle candidates won election to the board.

To a multinational bent on securing profits from a rapacious water contract, $2500 doesn’t even register as petty cash. To a small town trying to come to grips with a proposal to build the largest water bottling plant in the world, it feels like millions.

Since then, Nestle – facing a storm of protest over its inadequate EIR, potential project impacts and the reality of high fuel costs – backed out of the original contract and is seeking a new contract.

Unfortunately, the divisive rhetoric from its local operative has also ratcheted up a notch. Speaking in a recent interview in the Mount Shasta Herald (a local weekly paper), Nestle spokesperson Dave Palais played the “outside agitator” card when asked an unrelated question about the California Attorney General’s opposition to Nestle’s wholly incomplete Environmental Impact Report:

The real point, the important point, is not that the AG wrote the letter. It’s that a large portion of the opposition to the project comes from outside McCloud. Non-permanent residents. I’m not saying that’s all of the opposition. Some local residents do oppose it. But a large part of the financial and political influence being used in coming from outside of McCloud.

Palais’ counterpart in Maine – Mark DuBois – echoed the eerily divisive screed:

Much of the opposition, he said, is coming from organizations from out of state [ed: emphasis added] that are concerned about global water privatization or use and sale of water in arid or dry climates that have scarce renewable water supplies.

In the context of their local battles, both statements are largely untrue, and wholly divisive.

Opposition to the McCloud contract was spearheaded by two local citizens groups, and CalTrout – a California coldwater fisheries-based advocacy group – has every right to challenge Nestle’s clear lack of environmental concern for one of California’s Blue Ribbon trout streams (Nestle performed no flow studies downstream of their proposed plant).

Both Palais’ and Dubois’ statements are clearly designed to foster resentment among residents, and they’re a good example of Nestle at its divisive worst.

Of course, the irony of either statement can’t be ignored; Palais himself lives an hour away from the town of McCloud, and Nestle is a multinational headquartered in Switzerland.

So we’re forced to ask the obvious: Who, exactly, is the non-local unduly influencing local politics?

Community of Fryeburg Split by Cost of Nestle Lawsuits

In Fryeburg, Maine, one activist spoke about the deterioration of relationships in the small town as it deals with Nestle’s repeated attempts to force a tanker loading station on the town’s planning commission – a station that will run 250 trucks per day through a residential area and offers little in the way of economic benefit to the town:

“People are afraid to speak up; relationships that have existed for 50-60 years in Fryeburg have been busted by the Nestle issue. If this precedent is set – allowing a loading 100 truck trips per day, 365 days per year – then the integrity of every residential neighborhood in Maine is in jeopardy.”

The result of all Nestle’s lawsuits and appeals on the residents of the town?

“People are tired of the fight; they don’t want to talk about water and they’re sick of the issue.”

With the coalition fighting Nestle’s loading station already $20,000 in debt (an enormous sum in an economically depressed rural area), it’s possible Nestle will accomplish its goal – winning the right to run 100 truck trips per day through a residential neighborhood through sheer force of legal attrition.

If that happens, residents will be reminded of their loss – as Nestle’s 50 trucks first enter then leave their neighborhoods every day.

Internet, Media Bringing Nestle’s Questionable Practices to Light

In the past, Nestle’s aggressive (and questionable) tactics received little attention in the national media, and local citizen’s groups had no way to connect and share information.

That meant they could employ the same untrustworthy tactics in one small community after another, secure in the knowledge there would never be a wholesale, nationwide accounting of their actions.

The growth of Internet accessibility in rural areas has changed that dynamic; activists in small communities can communicate and share information. Search engines now speed the retrieval of information from other locales; when Nestle shows up at a town, it’s likely to find people waiting for it – people armed with information about the secret meetings, rushed contracts, lack of environmental review, punishing legal challenges, and divisive tactics.

BusinessWeek touched on the power of the Internet in this statement:

Time was when multinationals could arrive in economically depressed communities and pretty much have their way. But in the age of hyper connectedness, residents in McCloud were able to turn their issue into an international sensation. Now Nestle has capitulated. The management lesson: no company can afford to go forward with projects like these without engaging ALL stakeholders, not just supporters. Yes, this is David versus Goliath. But the Davids now have megaphones.

Nestle’s efforts to build new water bottling plants and tap new sources of water have been stymied as of late, and in one sense, it’s an opportunity for them to stop dealing to small rural communities from the bottom of the deck.

Whether they do so – or simply retrench and employ a new arsenal of questionable, untrustworthy tactics – is entirely up to them.

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Boston Globe Soft Pedals Poland Spring’s Nestle Connection: Can Activists Get Fair Coverage?

A number of Maine activists have complained about the quality of coverage they receive in their local media; charges of bias are common, and many say they’re frustrated by the willingness of newspapers to overlook even the most egregious efforts at spin by Nestle’s spokespeople.

This article in the Boston Globe is a good example; it mistakenly casts Poland Spring as a “quintessentially Maine company” even though the company ceased being that in 1992, when it was bought by Nestle – the world’s largest food and beverage company.

As the company seeks to tap new springs, a number of towns have begun to push back against locating water-extraction sites on their land, forcing this quintessentially Maine company to consider the once unthinkable: looking to other states for its water.

“We’re a Maine company,” said Mark Dubois, Poland Spring’s natural resource director. But if the industry continues to grow, he said, the company is going to need more water.

That a multinational corporation could somehow be cast as a local
company – one with a long history in the area – is simply a triumph of
corporate public relations over reality.

Further, the writer fails to note that the bottled water market’s growth is slowing rapidly. Or even ask the obvious: where exactly is Poland Spring going to go for more water?

Still later in the article, the writer lets this whopper of a quote by Nestle operative Mark Dubois slip through his fingers unopposedd:

He dismissed many of the opponents’ concerns as scare tactics courtesy of national environmental groups.

“I want to know where we have been a bad neighbor,” Dubois said. “It’s interesting that so few people can make so much noise.”

But they are.

Marginalizing opposition groups is normally the job of a corporate PR operative, but the Boston Globe is apparently willing to save Nestle the cost of a PR retainer.

Dubois asks where Nestle has been a bad neighbor. For an answer, the writer need look no further than the tiny town of Fryeburg, which has been sued five times by the multinational, who argued their right to grow market share was more important than the town’s right to say “no.”

Nestle is apparently willing to force a loading station on Fryeburg when the majority of residents have said “no” – not the act of a “quintessentially Maine” company, or a good corporate neighbor.

A careful review of many of the stories involving Nestle/Poland Spring reveals a sad reality; residents opposed to Nestle’s bottling plants and water-mining operations can’t expect much help from their local media.

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The Top Six Reasons Why Small Communities Can’t Trust Nestle Waters, Part I

It was never my goal to write a “Stop Nestle Waters” blog, but Nestle Waters of North America’s heavy-handed attempt to subpoena the private financial records of opponents of their proposed McCloud bottling plant – a list which included friends of mine – galvanized me into looking into their business practices.

(image courtesy Vanessa Fitzgerald)

It was an eye-opening exercise; Nestle’s dealings with small rural towns – the frequent targets of their water extraction projects – tend to follow a distressingly similar arc.

I’ve researched the stories and spoken to locals, and compiled six of the most common – and most predatory – behaviors exhibited by Nestle.

If I were a rural town contemplating getting into bed with Nestle – or a citizen who’s heard rumblings of a deal – I’d look very, very hard for telltale Nestle behaviors like:

#1. Nestle Negotiates Behind Closed Doors – Out of Public View

“I didn’t know the town was even considering selling our water to Nestle/Poland Spring/Arrowhead/Ice Mountain/whatever until it was almost signed.”

The above refrain has popped up so often, it couldn’t possibly be considered coincidental. Nestle likes to fast-track projects and negotiate out of the public spotlight – leaving residents to fight a contract already in place (or simply to give up).

In 2003, residents of McCloud, CA, were stunned to discover that Nestle’s representatives – including a lawyer paid for by Nestle who reviewed the contract for the McCloud Services District – had been negotiating with the town’s Services District without any public oversight. When the contract was approved by the Services District at the end of the first (and only) public meeting about the contract – effectively removing the public from the process – residents revolted.

Those unhappy residents and a handful environmental groups finally forced Nestle to nullify the contract, and the event has become a case study in grassroots revolt.

It’s also now clear Nestle tried to pull a fast one in Clinton, where Poland Spring (Nestle’s Maine brand) and the Clinton Board of Selectman were negotiating in secret while representing to the public that little was happening.

A citizen’s group started sniffing around, and in what looks like a clear attempt to hide the extent of the negotiations, the selectman actually destroyed a Memorandum of Understanding they’d signed (though Nestle hadn’t).

In Kennebunk, public notice of an impending 30-year deal with Nestle was limited to an item in the water district’s newsletter and a single press release. Fortunately, residents caught on before the deal was finished, and forced a tabling of the contract.

These are hardly the only examples; any examination of Nestle’s record reveals the same endlessly repeating – and largely predatory – pattern.

#2. Nestle Uses a Legal Bludgeon to Subvert Local Control & Intimidate Opponents

If you don’t believe Nestle tries to intimidate opponents via legal means, then simply ask the residents of Fryeburg, Maine, who have said repeatedly said “no” to Nestle/Poland Spring’s 50 trucks-per-day loading station. That triggered repeated lawsuits, where Nestle tried to force the town to accept its high-impact project in a residential area.

Four appeals later (that’s five suits total), the matter’s been all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, where Nestle argued its right to grow its market share superceded the town’s right to say no.

And Nestle’s still filing appeals.

I spoke with a Fryeburg organizer yesterday, who feared Nestle’s transparent attempts to wear down the opposition might be succeeding: “People are tired of the fight; they don’t want to talk about water and they’re sick of the issue.”

In McCloud, opponents of Nestle’s plant found their private, personal financial records subpoenaed in response to a local environmental group’s lawsuit. A judge quashed the attempt, but Nestle’s clear attempt to intimidate opponents shocked even those with little interest in the fight.

In Mecosta County, Michigan, Nestle lost a lawsuit when a judge ruled they were damaging a watershed by overpumping. Forced to reduce their pumping volume by half – and rather than take the environmentally responsible route – Nestle sought to overturn the law by which the groups sued them (they their case in front of a very conservative state court).

Nestle’s “aggressive” legal tactics appear in many communities where citizens dare oppose them. Is that the work of a “good corporate neighbor?” It doesn’t look that way from here.

#3. Nestle Fails to Safeguard Watersheds or Perform Environmental Studies

Let’s give credit where it’s due – Nestle typically protects the aquifer upstream of their pumping stations (that’s where their profit lies after all), but despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, Nestle has consistently failed to protect watersheds downstream of their pumping plants.

While Nestle makes a lot of noises about its environmental efforts – a visit to its Web site suggests it’s one shade less green than Mother Nature – Nestle has already lost a court case in Mecosta County, MI, and was ordered to immediately cease pumping to prevent further damage to the watershed.

In Florida, Nestle aggressively lobbied to extract 1.47-million gallons per day from drought-stricken Blue Springs – while state water scientists wanted the amount set at 400,000 gallons per day to protect the spring, running at the lowest flows ever recorded.

The result? Nestle got its full allotment – after state political appointees interceded on their behalf.

In McCloud, they often repeated their claim that extracting 521,000,000+ gallons of water annually from springs feeding Squaw Creek wouldn’t affect the creek at all – despite the fact that they had never bothered to measure the flows in Squaw Creek.

In addition, they blithely suggested their 600 truck trips per day wouldn’t have any substantive impacts.

Good environmental steward?

Not when it comes to watersheds.

In the same vein, suggesting that cities and states should step up their recycling efforts (at taxpayer expense) to better dispose of the 85%+ of Nestle’s plastic water bottles that end up in landfills doesn’t exactly qualify them for environmental sainthood.

Stay tuned for more, including Part II – Three more reasons why small, rural communities can’t trust Nestle Waters.

In the meantime, Enjoy Your Waters, Tom Chandler.

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The StopNestleWaters Site is Back – and Ready to Help You Fight Nestle

I’m back in my office after my four-day business trip, and ready to resume my efforts to make StopNestleWaters.org an even better site.

And while we’re on the subject, the response to the StopNestleWaters.org site has been nothing short of gratifying.

And we’re just getting started.

I have a list of site enhancements a mile long, and a backlog of Nestle-related stories (some of which will feel painfully familiar to those fighting Nestle in other parts of the country).

Most of all, I have a real desire to tell the stories of folks like you – people fighting a predatory, sue-happy multinational for control of your local economies and water supplies.

My friends in Fryeburg will remember the stories I published on my fly fishing Web site about their struggle – and how I couldn’t cover that conflict in more depth because my fly fishing audience wasn’t that interested.

Here at StopeNestleWaters.org, we’ve got a chance to tell our story – without the overbearing PR presence or ever-present hype that often intrudes on local media reporting.

Simply put, I want to hear your stories.

Send me updates, put me on your media list, write, email, post in the comments – just let me know when something happens, and I’ll do my best to see to it your story is told.

Take care, Tom Chandler.

Poland Spring Threatens to “Leave Maine” If Pesky Citizens Don’t Stop Practicing Democracy

As I noted on the Trout Underground blog, Nestle is staggering a little under the weight of its recent legal setbacks and rural-town rejections.

In Maine, they’ve been handed their walking papers by several towns, and continue to sue (and lose) legal attempts to force a water-taking station on the citizens of Fryeburg.

Now – like a child used to always getting their own way – their Maine brand Poland Spring is threatening to pick up their toys and play elsewhere:

(via the Portland Press Herald site) Several municipalities across southern Maine have begun to take steps in opposition to bottled water, either by proposing moratoriums or passing proclamations criticizing it as environmentally harmful.

This opposition to an industry long associated with good health and purity has surprised officials at Maine’s big bottled water player, Poland Spring, which has responded by increasing its public-relations efforts and saying it might have to leave the state to develop new water sources.

“We don’t want to do that, but we may be forced to,” said Poland Spring Natural Resource Director Mark Dubois, who handles site development out of the company’s headquarters in Poland Spring. “We’re going to go where we can do business. We’re going to go where people look at facts, not emotions.”

Let’s look at a few “facts” (instead of playing on emotions, like the kind stirred up by threats to leave):

  • Nestle/Poland Spring has repeatedly sued the Fryeburg in an attempt to force a pumping station on the town – despite a firm “no” from the citizenry (Could this be a reason other towns are reluctant to deal with Nestle?)
  • Some Mainers are growing very, very concerned about the mountains of plastic waste Nestle puts in the state’s landfills every day.
  • Citizens are wondering about the long-term affects of pumping massive amounts of water from aquifers – especially in the face of climate change
  • Citizens are questioning why Nestle is allowed to pump local water for fractions of a penny per gallon, then sell it at a huge profit – which goes directly to Switzerland

Blaming Outside Agitators

The most unappealing aspect of Nestle’s response to losing (they’re not used to that) is their contention they’re the innocent victims of out-of-state agitators, as evidenced by this quote from Mark Dubois:

Much of the opposition, he said, is coming from organizations from out of state that are concerned about global water privatization or use and sale of water in arid or dry climates that have scarce renewable water supplies.

If you doubted – even for a second – that Nestle regularly huddles with its PR/spin specialists, then the above statement should dispel those doubts.

It’s classic fear mongering, and lest we get labeled an “outside agitator” by Mr. Dubois, I’d like to point out that Nestle – who owns Poland Spring – is the world’s largest food and beverage company, who just happens to be based in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the opposition groups represented in the story are all from Maine.

Who, exactly, is the outside source of all the problems?

Is Poland Spring Really Leaving Maine?

Next time Dubois threatens to leave Maine, perhaps someone could ask him this simple question:

“And go where?”

The backlash against bottled water isn’t limited to a few small pockets in Maine; it’s a national issue. Citizens are asking questions about bottled water (and its sizable waste stream).

It isn’t “hysteria” as Nestle labeled it; Maine’s citizens are asking questions, and why, exactly is Nestle opposed to that practice? (Hint: it’s not good for their bottom line.)

We’ve seen Nestle’s heavy-handed responses to towns that ask for a fair rate for their water, or those that simply say no to a water taking station.

Now we’re witness to another heavy-handed attempt at manipulation:

“We have a huge investment in Maine,” Dubois said. “We’re not leaving anytime tomorrow, but we have to fish or cut bait by the end of next year. You have to start making decisions.”

While Dubois later uses the words “kicked out” to describe Nestle’s treatment, the three towns in York County voting on the issue are simply for temporary moratoriums so the towns can explore their options.

Activist Emily Posner said:

“A moratorium isn’t necessarily for or against anything,” she said. “It gives folks the breathing room to have that discussion, as opposed to feeling rushed or uninformed. That’s where people were in June, when we saw such an uproar.

“If a community decides they want to sell their water, then that’s their decision,” she said.

That Nestle considers this eruption of the democratic process a sign of an intolerable business climate says more about their business practices than it does about the citizens of Maine.

I’m certain they’d prefer to make sweetheart deals behind closed doors – and out of the public spotlight – but the political process isn’t actually supposed to work that way.

As those flaming socialists at Businessweek said:

Time was when multinationals could arrive in economically depressed communities and pretty much have their way. But in the age of hyper connectedness, residents in McClould were able to turn their issue into an international sensation. Now Nestle has capitulated. The management lesson: no company can afford to go forward with projects like these without engaging ALL stakeholders, not just supporters. Yes, this is David versus Goliath. But the Davids now have megaphones.

Can Nestle stop strong-arming citizens – and start playing nice?

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PBS Covers Maine Bottled Water Issue, Sidesteps a Few Critical Questions

The bottled water issue is attracting a fair amount of national media attention – something unlikely to make water profiteers like Nestle particularly happy.

I’m always happy to see media coverage of the issue. Yet a recent PBS in this piece about Maine’s water wars fell just a little wide of the mark. (Transcript here; audio and streaming video feeds available on same page.)

The show focused the first half of the report on “angry” residents – without really exploring why they were angry. After all, yet another “public” meeting had turned into a largely private affair, where a large portion of the public simply weren’t allowed to speak or attend. (Perhaps our Nestle readers could explain why this keeps happening whenever Nestle’s involved?)

And unfortunately, PBS fell hook, line and sinker for Nestle’s “we care for the aquifer” spin.

In truth, Nestle does care for the upstream part of the aquifer. That’s where their profits lie.

Where Nestle is basically shucking and jiving is on the downstream end. In Mecosta County, MI, Nestle repeatedly lost court decisions where they contended they weren’t harming the watershed.

At one point they were ordered to stop pumping, and now pump only 218 gallons per minute.

In the tiny town of McCloud, Nestle repeatedly asserted there was no potential for downstream damage to the world-famous McCloud River fishery – despite never once monitoring the flows in Squaw Creek (the trib most affected by their proposed bottling plant).

No impacts? How would they know?

Evidence suggests Nestle’s “concern” for the aquifer extends only as far as their bottom line.

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