The Maine Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case involving the Fryeburg Water Co.’s long-term lease of a well to Nestle Waters of North America that permits the withdrawl up to 603,000 gallons of water per day.
Critics, including the group Food and Water Watch along with resident Bruce Taylor, want the court to reject the contract that regulators on the Public Utilities Commission approved. They say it gives Nestle exclusive control of Fryeburg’s well for up to 45 years, allows the company to pay less than local ratepayers for the extraction and puts the local aquifer in jeopardy.
“And it’s a virtual certainty that on any day that Nestle withdraws 603,000 gallons, on that day the sustainable limit for commercial extractions from the aquifer will be exceeded,” says Bruce McGlaughlin, who represents the plaintiffs.
Attorneys for the PUC and the water district say there are adequate safeguards in the contract to prevent Nestle from draining the local water supply. And they say in evaluating the contract regulators determined there would be a significant benefit to ratepayers.
The proceedings were complicated by the fact that two of the three commissioners were forced to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest. They were later replaced by retired judges.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said all three commissioners were forced to recuse themselves, and three retired judges were appointed to replace them. Two commissioners were recused and two retired judges replaced them.