Tag Archives: powwr

Interview With Four Communities Targeted by Nestle Waters’ Water Bottling Operation

The good folks at Corporate Accountability International published a transcript of an interview with the leaders of four different community groups – all of whom are dealing with the unwelcome attentions of Nestle Waters of North America’s bottled water operations.

As you read these, notice the similarities between their stories – despite the fact the communities are separated by the width of a continent. Nestle’s template includes sneaking in under the run, dividing communities, and dangling too few jobs for too little money.

First, Deborah Lapidus of Wisconsin recounts her group’s hard-fought victory over Nestle’s intention to build a water bottling plant:

Transcript: National Press Call – Nestle Week of Action | Corporate Accountability International

So, how did this happen? Nestlé, which was then called Perrier Group of America muscled itself into our community. It foresaw $1 million a day sales of a product that cost the company essentially nothing and that was bottled so-called spring water. Nestlé promised to bring jobs to the area and they kept repeating the philosophy that development equals progress. It looked like our local zoning might be up for sale. However, many citizens when they found out what was happening, they valued our natural setting and they saw through all the corporate lies and they were insulted by tactics such as offers of money to local officials and an offer of money to the PTO of the little tiny school in the area. Nestlé also bought the prize calf at the county fair and got their picture in the paper. This was really insulting to people.

However, the issue divided neighbors and even families because some of them apparently stood to gain financially but others of us would lose our beautiful environment. Now Nestlé, to make it brief, they abandoned their efforts only after we had massive grassroots action here. We realized that Nestlé was really after something that was very precious to us.

So, what we did included creating and distributing two videos. We garnered the support of many environmental organizations particularly from Madison and the rest of Wisconsin and we had four years of grants from foundations that Concerned Citizens of Newport got.

Finally, as part of our public education project, we got legal assistance, a lot of it was pro bono and this delayed Nestlé’s quest for profit sufficiently that Nestlé turned away from Wisconsin. We regret that our so-called success was to Michigan’s detriment because what they did was they went to Michigan.

Then Terry Swier of Michigan recounts her group’s fight against Nestle’s pumping operation in Mecosta County, which damaged an entire watershed, leading to several lawsuits – including Nestle’s infamous lawsuit designed to severely curtail the rights of Michigan citizens to file environmental lawsuits:

Over eight years ago, MCWC organized, stood up to and challenged a large corporation, Nestlé that wanted to bottle our spring water and ship it to other states and countries for its own profit. Our lives have changed since Nestlé came to Michigan with plans to pump 720,000 gallons per day of spring water from a private hunting preserve, pipe it to its plant, bottle it and ship it out of the Great Lakes Basin for its own profit. Nestlé’s pumping has lowered a stream, two lakes and adjacent wetlands.

MCWC, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, has spent over a million dollars in court cost and lawyer and environmental expert fees. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation has taken Nestlé to court to prove that water belongs to the people and ask for adjustment of Nestlé’s pumping levels to prevent environmental impacts. Nestlé has continued to run communities dry in more ways than one. MCWC is again heading back to circuit court in July 2008 to ask the judge to adjust Nestlé’s pumping limits.

Friendships had been severed as people took sides in the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation versus Nestlé battle. Nestlé did interrogative telephone polling, asking questions about MCWC and its president. Nestlé sent private investigators to homes of people who had signed MCWC’s referendum asking intimidating questions. Nestlé has threatened a potential strategic lawsuit against public participation known as a slap suit against my son.

Throughout all of these, Nestlé proposed to be a good neighbor company to our area yet it continues to pump at high rates during periods of lower precipitation and recharge.

Next we heard from Debra Anderson of McCloud, who recounted her experience once Nestle came to town:

A special town meeting had been called to discuss the Nestlé project and many people came out so that they could actually understand what the project was, voiced their concerns and their comments and get questions asked and people were just like I said shocked when at the end of that meeting, the gavel was struck and the contract was signed for 100 years. Many felt that the public profits had been circumvented and that the deal was actually struck behind closed doors with Nestlé prior to the meeting.

This contract was egregious for numerous reasons. Not only did it give Nestlé the right to 1,600 acre-feet of spring water but it also gave them an unlimited amount of ground water. It was an unheard of 100-year contract for less than a tenth of a cent a gallon. This project would add over 600 truck trips a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to our beautiful two-lane scenic volcanic highway. That meant that a truck would be leaving McCloud every three minutes around the clock.

They would destroy our historical mill site by tearing down all of the remaining historical buildings and McCloud is known to being a historical mill town. Not only would they be changing the integrity of our town but also our way of life but most of all, this contract was taking the control of our water away from the local people. Nestlé had truly treated our community as though we were a third world country and this all came on the guise of boosting our economy by creating jobs which, in reality, were too few jobs for too little pay.

Finally, Ann Winn-Wentworth of Maine – vice chair of POWWR (Protecting Our Water and Wildlife) shared her experience helping to pass a rights-based water extraction ordinance in two small Maine towns:

In February of 2008, Nestlé began public hearings in Shapleigh to pave the way for large scale water extraction from our local aquifer which is on a 4000-acre Vernon Walker Land Preserve and it was discovered that those monitoring wells had been there for over three years and none of us were made aware of it. This is on land that must remain in its natural state. It was purchased with federal funds to always remain in its natural state. Many of us care deeply for this preserve and we’re [up in arms] to learn that the State of Maine who manages this land would allow a foreign corporation to go in, cut trees and install wells without any notification. Both towns, Shapleigh and Newfield, share this preserve and we were gravely concerned.

POWWR recently got their ordinance – though they had to call a special town meeting to do it – and now they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will Nestle attempt to challenge the ordinance?

The similarities in the stories above are striking, and there’s little question that Nestle’s approach to small rural communities – despite the “good neighbor” happy talk – is a largely predatory one.

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“How Your Town Can Keep Its Water Out of Corporate Hands”

Intelligent words from AfterDowningStreet.org: How Your Town Can Keep Its Water Out of Corporate Hands: A Test Case

This is certainly not the first time that a multi-national corporation treated Maine as if they were a colonial power entitled to our resources. In the past, international paper companies have turned our rivers brown from pollution and huge timber companies have exploited our forests. But the battle over our pure groundwater resources has become the tipping point in Maine. Community after community are now resisting corporate control.

The battle in Newfield and Shapleigh began when resident Ann Wentworth was hiking in the Wildlife Preserve and discovered that Nestle had (illegally) drilled several “test” wells without notifying the townspeople. The community was shocked, which galvanized support of the activists efforts to stop Nestle.

This was not an easy victory, as Nestle sent “representatives” out into the community to convince the residents of both Newfield and Shapleigh that they would be “a good neighbor.” Nestle also spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising in the community and it is alleged that they offered money to the fire department for new equipment. However, to quote activist Sol Linowitz, “The way to beat organized money is with organized people.”

The P.O.W.W.R. water activists and allies know their neighbors, and once people understood that it was in fact the Nestle Corporation who was after their water and not the small Maine- owned Poland Springs company of years past, the townspeople did their homework and decided that this was not a company that they wanted to do business with. Nestle has been on the non-profit Corporate Accountability’s Hall of Shame for years, as one of the world’s worst corporations. This bad reputation goes back over 30 years during the baby formula scandal in Africa to the present baby formula scandal in China.

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Register Your Thoughts: Letter: People POWWER (Feb. 12, 2009)

This thoughtful letter to the editor draws a bead on the water ordinance proposed by Shapleigh’s Board of Selectmen – an ordinance written by a Nestle-referred consultant.

It falls far short of the ordinance desired by the citizens of Shapleigh when they voted for a water extraction moratorium:

The “Ordinance Governing Water Extraction,” proposed for the Shapleigh voters to act upon (available at www.shapleigh.net ) boils down to an application permit. Once any company has met, or promises to meet the requirements of this ordinance, the town would not have the legal right to refuse the applicant permission to extract water.

The town relies upon the applicant to supply information, without independent verification. Any state-certified hydrologist working for a company need only tell the “truth,” not necessarily the “whole truth.” Pertinent facts can be omitted or skewed by the inclusion of extraneous information.

Also of note, is that under the application “conditions of permit” the applicant is given an unspecified amount of time to show adherence to the stated requirements. In truth, some of the requirements would require long term pumping at high capacity just to satisfy the information being asked.

Once again, the public’s desire to participate in the future disposition of their own water supply is on the verge of falling victim to bad public process.

You can read the rest of this powerful letter to the editor via Register Your Thoughts: Letter: People POWWER (Feb. 12, 2009).

Maine Water Group POWWR Wants Rights Based Ordinance Put to Vote

Maine water rights group POWWR – unhappy with a Nestle-friendly ordinance (written for the Shapleigh Board of Selectmen by a Nestle-referred consultant) – presented a petition calling for the town to vote on POWWR’s own rights-based ordinance:

To meet or not to meet is the question confronting Shapleigh selectmen after being presented with a petition to vote on banning water extraction.

Shapleigh Board of Selectmen Chairman Bill Hayes said Monday the board is waiting for an opinion from town attorney Ronald Bourque about how to proceed.

The issue was forced when members of Protecting Our Water and Wildlife Resources, or POWWR, presented a petition to Shapleigh Town Clerk Joanne Rankin calling for a town meeting to allow residents to vote on the “rights-based” ordinance drafted by the organization.

Rankin said Jan. 30 that all signatures on the petition have been certified.

The petition for the town meeting came after members of POWWR rejected an invitation to participate in a Jan. 28 workshop to resolve differences between the proposed ordinances to regulate or ban water extraction.

In the wake of Nestle’s attempt to extract water from a nearby aquifer – and what many felt was an attempt to rush the town into a deal by selectmen – Shapleigh residents have already passed a 180-day moratorium on commercial water extraction, and many want a rights-based ordinance put into law.

Selectmen refused to even place POWWR’s ordinance on the ballot, suggesting it violates the state’s constitution, while POWWR members say the consultant-written ordinance is sipmly too weak:

“I don’t trust these big corporations,” Manville said about Nestle, owners of Poland Spring. He also worried about damage to roads because of increased truck traffic.

Hayes said he has not made up his mind on whether Poland Spring should be allowed to withdraw water for bottling. He said he is concerned international trade agreements might override local ordinances governing extraction because Poland Spring is a subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Nestle.

In a Jan. 27 letter to Shapleigh selectmen, POWWR members called the regulating water extraction ordinance “weak,” especially as it made no provisions for the rate of extraction, hours of operation and traffic flow.

You can read the whole article here: Register Your Thoughts: Group tries to force water vote (Feb. 5, 2009).

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:

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: January 27, 2009

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

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

POWWR OPTS TO LEND UNEQUIVOCAL BACKING TO RIGHTS-BASED ORDINANCE: AN OPEN LETTER TO SHAPLEIGH SELECTMEN

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?”

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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.