Tag Archives: poland spring

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.

Did Poland Spring’s Heavy-Handed Media Campaign Doom it in Wells?

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.

Press Release: Citizens Reject Wells Water Extraction Ordinance (“No” to Nestle)

Press Release
November 3,2009

Contact: Jamilla El-Shafei,organizer for Save Our Water and The Branch Brook Aquifer Coalition (email: jamillaelshafei@gmail.com)
Contact: Jean Foss, spokesperson for Protect Wells Water and member of The Branch Brook Aquifer Coalition (email: jeanfoss@earthlink.net)

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.”

As Vote on Wells Water Ordinance Nears, Nestle/Poland Spring Accused of Dirty Tricks

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.

Group Forms to Protect Wells (ME) Water From Nestle/Poland Springs

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.

Maine’s Water Activists Gather at Tapped Movie Premier

Maine’s water activists were well represented at the premier of the bottled water documentary Tapped, and yes, we’ve got the video.

The movie has already drawn some response from Nestle and the bottled water trade association, and given Nestle’s willingness to (ahem) bend the truth in their video response to the movie Flow, I expect no different here.

Maine Towns Say “NO” to Nestle, Force Removal of Secretly Dug Test Wells

Nestle/Poland Spring aren’t having it all their way in Maine – they were run out of Shapleigh and Newfield by a citizen uprising, and just removed the test wells they drilled without the knowledgege of the local citizenry:

After an extended grassroots campaign, Nestlé is finally removing 23 bottled water test wells from a wildlife management area in Shapleigh and Newfield, ME.

Shelly Gobielle and her neighbors first discovered the wells a year and a half ago, three years after Nestlé’s under-the-radar installation. Upon realizing that Shapleigh was likely one of the next site for Nestlé’s water extraction for its Poland Spring brand bottled water, residents approached town officials with their concerns about what bottling would do to the local ecosystem. Their words fell on deaf ears, as Nestlé had already lobbied for and secured the support of the Shapleigh town officials.

The only option was for residents to take matters into their own hands, forming the group Protect Our Water and Wildlife Resources (POWWR). Members hit the streets and went door to door educating the public and signing enough petitions to call a town meeting, held four months ago.

Residents in both Shapleigh and the neighboring town of Newfield passed ordinances that asserted the right of townspeople to control their own water and to prohibit commercial water extraction, a reality that can at last be assured.

Secret negotiations are a standard part of the Nestle approach – time and time again, they’ve quietly negotiated deals with officials they approached quietly well in advance. McCloud, the Sterling/Clinton mess, Shapleigh & Newfield… the list goes on.

Bye Nestle. I don’t think the town’s going to miss you or your legal bludgeon.

via Maine Community Rebuffs Nestlé Over Water Rights | The Water Conservation Source.

Letter to the Editor About Nestle/Poland Spring Water Extraction in Wells

Letters to the Editor | SeacoastOnline.com

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.

Richard Fowler
Wells

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Nestle/Poland Spring Not Done in Wells, Kennebunk Says Activist

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.

Nice stuff.

Clearly, Nestle needed to derail this ordinance train before it even got started, and they invested significant resources to see that it happened.

Letter to Editor: Poland Spring Should Treat Water As Valuable Resource in Maine

A thoughtful letter to the editor in Maine highlights the thinking of a responsible Maine business owner – who wonders why water should be largely free for Poland Spring.

Poland Spring now extracts 700 million gallons of Maine water per year, bottles it in plastic and ships it world-wide. I wonder how many Poland Spring labels can be found floating in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 100 million tons of trash swirling in the vortex of the Pacific Gyre current? That’s mostly our West Coast trash.

For East Coast trash, we probably have to see how many cute Poland Spring bottles are swirling aimlessly in the Sargasso Sea. Not a brand Maine can be proud of.

Anyway, Poland Spring claims that Maine has more than enough water. The excess just runs into the salty Gulf of Maine, so why not put it in plastic and make some money on it?

Water is one of Maine’s best natural resources because it is plentiful and mostly clean. That does not mean it should be free.

Read the rest of the letter here.

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Maine Drought in 2001/2002 Caused Massive Water Shortages For Residents, Belies Nestle Claims of Perennial Abundance

While Nestle Waters/Poland Spring claims that Maine’s groundwater is so abundant, there simply won’t be issues with extraction – or that groundwater pumping couldn’t harm anyone’s well or aquifer – they seem to have forgotten what happened in 2002, when Maine residents struggled with severe water shortages, record-low groundwater levels, and dried-up private wells:

Area water resources improved since 2002 drought | SeacoastOnline.com

The year 2002 found Maine at the forefront of national news as its residents struggled for the fourth year in a row to adapt to a shortage in the water supply. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey said the drought “was the most severe drought on Maine rivers in more than 50 years.”

According to a New York Times article from March 15, 2002, whole neighborhoods on Sebago Lake were forced to flush their toilets only once a day, to forgo the use of their washing machines and use bottled water to brush their teeth.

Things were bad the state over.

According to a report by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research at the University of Maine, “Maine experienced the worst drought in over 30 years during 2001 and 2002.”

Groundwater, lakes and streams went to record lows, and thousands of private wells went dry. Public water utilities were forced to tell customers to cut back on consumption and, looking ahead, seek out alternate water sources.

Yet Maine today is a water-rich state, said John Peckenham, the director of the Maine Water Resources Research Institute at the University of Maine.

“But we are vulnerable to changes in weather, like the drought of 1999-2001,” he said. “A lot of water suppliers were affected then, including the (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District).”

As for Nestle’s claims of monitoring to “protect” the resource, you only have to look to the Mecosta County (MI) for proof to the contrary, where residents had to take Nestle Waters to court to halt excessive pumping, which was damaging a wetlands and a lake.

In fact, when some residents complained that Nestle’s pumping was lowering the lakes so much their docks no longer reached the water, Nestle’s concern for the resource consisted of little more than offering to extend the docks.

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