Poland Spring considers Fryeburg for bottling plant site

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Water pumped from a spring in Fryeburg may not travel as far before it lands into a bottle.

Poland Spring is considering Fryeburg as a possible site for a bottling facility — the company’s fourth plant in Maine.

Mark Dubois, who serves as the Natural Resource Manager for Poland Spring, and a team of company representatives met with Fryeburg Business Association members and the public Tuesday night at an informational forum held at Fryeburg Fairgrounds.

“Poland Spring is looking to sustainably expand our operations here in Maine. We are currently exploring options for a fourth bottling facility and new spring sources in western and northern Maine,” Dubois said in a press release prior to the meeting. “Given our history here in Fryeburg, we are considering this community as a home for our new facility. A new facility could represent a $50 million investment along with 40 to 80 new jobs with expected wages around $20 per hour, plus benefits.”

Many factors will go into making a final decision on a new facility. However, because the amount of water Poland Spring can extract from the Fryeburg aquifer needs to remain sustainable, Poland Spring will need to identify two new spring sites regionally to support the expansion.

The News posed the following questions to Dubois:

  1. How long has the company been considering another bottling plant, and reasons to look into it?

Dubois: As public demand for our product has grown (Poland Spring is the number one selling natural spring water in the country, and it is the number one skewed product in both Boston and New York City), it’s become clear that to meet growing demand, we need another bottling facility. We made the decision early in 2017 to begin looking for a fourth facility location.

  1. As for new spring sources, has the company already started to look in the Lakes Region? How does the company go about locating a “new source?”

Dubois: We look for new sources in several ways. We’ve received several inquiries from Fryeburg area residents, who believe they have viable springs on their properties and have contacted us asking to come inspect them. We also consult geological maps to locate good springs from healthy aquifers.

Once we think we have identified a source, we conduct sophisticated hydrogeological testing, including a long-term pump test, to ensure that the source meets our standards. This work is then typically presented to regulatory agencies, like the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), for permitting.

  1. Coming out of a drought year, is it a tough sell for Poland Spring regarding seeking out new spring sources as well as seeking extraction agreements? I suspect it is more about public education regarding water extraction and monitoring, especially during dry seasons.

Dubois: Public education is key. It may seem counterintuitive, but a drought year is the best time to identify a new spring source and to plan for the future. An aquifer must be constantly overflowing for us to extract water from it. Even in a drought, the aquifer must overflow, and so testing done during a drought is a conservative time to evaluate sustainability. If a spring continues to overflow even under those conditions, we have a good idea that it will be sustainable in the future, as well. We constantly monitor our springs and aquifers — and we adjust our usage accordingly, so that our extraction is responsible and sustainable in the long-term.

  1. You mentioned in your e-mail the company considers “many factors” when making the decision of where a new facility will be located. Can you touch upon some of those factors?

Dubois: Our interest in any site is based on several factors including a sustainable water resource, logistics, a skilled workforce, economics and historical land use practices. In addition, the water resources must meet FDA standards for spring water and there must be enough land surrounding the source that we can control and maintain a natural environment for the groundwater. There must also be adequate wastewater infrastructure in the town and a sufficient source of utility water (for sanitary and fire suppression purposes). Logistically, we consider proximity to highways and rail access.

  1. Finally, talk about the importance of tonight’s meeting, especially answering questions folks will likely pose. What do you hope to achieve from the forum?

Dubois: Our public forums are about education. We focus on sharing the facts about what we do and how we can best work with the community to create shared value. A bottling facility is a regional project. We’ll be bringing water from multiple sources and, potentially, creating good-paying, high-quality jobs, which include extensive benefits, for people from the whole region. We need to work collaboratively with communities in the region and we want them to have facts about what a bottling plant would mean regarding infrastructure, job growth, and community benefits.

Good meeting

Dubois felt Tuesday’s meeting was very productive, both in unveiling the company’s plan as well as answering questions from the public.

He credited the Fryeburg Business Association for the format, which “kept the meeting moving along.”

One question was what other areas are vying for the bottling facility. Poland Spring is looking at the Rumford area and northeast Bangor (the Penobscot River Valley).

A decision is expected in 2017.

Other questions focused on how much precipitation is needed to keep a spring sustainable (answer, three inches), what effect this year’s snowmelt will have (answer: drought conditions in most of Maine, including Fryeburg and Denmark where Poland Spring has springs, has been alleviated), and how can the public monitor water levels in communities that Poland Spring is extracting water (answer, monitoring reports are made public and are presented in a format that are not “overly-technical”).

If the public has other questions or seek more information, one can visit the Poland Spring office in Fryeburg on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or e-mail info@polandspring.com

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