Wednesday, April 16, 2014
PORTLAND — The state's highest court on Thursday ruled in favor of Poland Spring in its effort to build a water pumping station in Fryeburg.
The decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court clears the way for Poland Spring to build the facility that it had hoped to begin four years ago. The pumping station would be capable of filling up to 50 trucks each day with water piped underground from aquifers in Denmark.
''We're pleased with the decision. Poland Spring is anxious to continue investing in the Fryeburg community,'' said Mark Dubois, a natural resource manager for the company. ''I don't know how fast it is going to happen, but I believe the project will be moving forward in a relatively fast time frame.''
The court decision came as a disappointment to members of a group called Western Maine Residents For Rural Living. They had rallied opposition to Poland Spring's plans, citing concerns about the heavy truck traffic and other impacts on the town.
''This affects the residents of East Fryeburg directly and permanently,'' said Scott Anderson, a lawyer who represented the group during the appeals process. ''They are going to have a significant increase in tanker traffic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.''
Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America, is the third-leading brand of bottled water in the country, behind PepsiCo's Aquafina and Coca-Cola's Dasani.
The court victory comes as Poland Spring struggles on other fronts. Local activists have made an issue of Poland Spring tapping into local groundwater, criticizing the company for profiting off a Maine resource, questioning the sustainability of using plastic bottles, and urging local restaurants to use tap water instead of any kind of bottled water.
In recent weeks, two Maine communities -- Shapleigh and neighboring Newfield -- voted to ban large-scale water extraction, targeting proposed plans by Poland Spring to tap into an aquifer shared by the towns.
At the same time, the state Legislature is considering more than a dozen bills aimed at large-scale extraction of groundwater, including a proposed tax that would cost Poland Spring $7 million a year.
The company gets water from more than 20 wells in eight Maine communities, including Fryeburg, Denmark and Dallas Plantation. It has bottling plants in Hollis and Poland Spring, and a third opened recently in Kingfield.
In 2005, Poland Spring began developing two wells on company-owned land in the town of Denmark. But it needed a place for its trucks to collect the water and deliver it to the closest bottling plant, in Hollis.
So in June 2005, Poland Spring applied for a permit from the town of Fryeburg to build a $2.1 million pumping station in a rural residential district off Route 302. The Fryeburg Planning Board approved the permit.
Western Maine Residents For Rural Living successfully appealed that approval to the town Board of Appeals, which revoked the permit. The group argued that the Planning Board did not properly consider the impact the project would have on residents -- a consideration they said was required by the town's comprehensive plan.
Poland Spring filed a complaint in Superior Court, and the legal battle ended up before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The justices heard arguments from each side at a Jan. 13 hearing in Portland and returned the decision Thursday.
The court ruled that because Fryeburg's comprehensive plan is designed to be used for guidance -- not regulation -- the plan could not be used to deny the permit granted to Poland Spring in 2005.
Dubois said Poland Spring intends to hire several local contractors to complete the underground pipeline between Denmark and Fryeburg, and to build the pumping station.
The project will cost ''several million dollars,'' Dubois said.
The company also wants to contribute to municipal improvement projects in Fryeburg, and will work with town leaders to see what the priorities are, he said.
Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:
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