PORTLAND – On April 12 and 14, the Press Herald published five different letters that supported the town of Wells and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District’s decision not to allow extraction or sale of surplus groundwater to Poland Spring/Nestle.

The factual errors in all five of these published pieces are so misleading that a response seems necessary.

1. There is no international law or trade agreement that can rob the United States or Maine of their inherent sovereign power to impose reasonable regulations on corporations like Poland Spring/Nestle.

Home rule powers and state enabling legislation clothe Wells and the KKWWD with similar regulatory powers. The key as always is the “reasonableness” of any regulatory imposition.

2. According to Norman Labbe, the water district superintendent, the town of Wells (indirectly) and the KKWWD (directly) would have earned between $250,000 and $1 million annually (depending on the quantity of water withdrawn) from the proposed sale of surplus groundwater to Poland Spring/Nestle. Statements to the contrary are false.

3. State law presently allows the Department of Environmental Protection to reduce or bar groundwater withdrawals that adversely affect existing water users (including individual well owners).

Reasonable local regulations reinforcing the DEP’s powers could be put in place. Statements to the contrary are false.

4. Assertions that Maine’s water/groundwater regulatory laws are weak is simply not borne out by any fair-minded examination of these laws.

The comprehensiveness of our water-related laws has been attested to by legislative committees, the DEP, the state hydrologist and by lawyers who work regularly in this area of law. I urge people to examine these laws and make their own judgment — most of the provision are in Title 38.

State groundwater laws, regulations and withdrawal permits are enforced and issued by the DEP. Poland Spring/Nestle has never been found in violation of these laws or regulations, or of any permit issued; nor have they been found in violation of any local government’s groundwater controls.

5. Implying that groundwater reserves are scarce and that Poland Spring/Nestle withdrawals will deplete this resource are false. U.S. and Maine Geological Survey data indicate that 24 trillion gallons of water (rain and snow) fall on Maine annually. Currently, all Maine water uses consume 171 billion gallons of water annually — this is less than 2 percent of the annual resupply of groundwater reserves.

Annual groundwater use in Maine is under 1 billion gallons. The suggestion then that Poland Spring/Nestle’s withdrawals will harm Maine’s groundwater reserves is ludicrous.

The reality is, we are talking about surplus groundwater controlled by KKWWD — water that will never be needed by the district. It is water that, if not beneficially used by Poland Spring/Nestle, will simply flow (as the hydrologic cycle dictates) into the Branch Brook aquifer and from there into adjacent coastal waters, where its potential for any beneficial use will be lost.

6. Some of the pieces took umbrage at the suggestion that many Wells voters were motivated by “an anti-corporate” bias, but other pieces repeatedly made reference to, “the giant Nestle Corp.”and “preventing Nestle from gaining access,” and one writer frankly hopes to see “Nestle booted out of Maine altogether.”

Forgive me, but this looks a lot like anti-corporate bias. If there is a valid scientific or economic basis for rejecting the ordinance and for KKWWD’s refusal to deal with Poland Spring/Nestle’s proposal, it has yet to be presented. I doubt that one exists.

In short, not liking bottled water, not liking Poland Spring/Nestle, imagining harms that do not exist, ignoring the economic benefits that $250,000 (or more) of annual revenue would have for water district rate payers, and subjecting Poland Spring/Nestle to a type of local plebiscite to decide whether they may operate in Wells, are all irrelevant or inappropriate beliefs and/or actions.

In my view, they do not constitute (individually or collectively) a legally sustainable basis for denying Poland Spring/Nestle access to the community.

Finally, such actions are bad public policy — they discourage business growth, capital investment and job creation, all of which are sorely needed in Maine today.

 

– Special to the Press Herald