Towns tapped for Nestlé records

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A New York law firm is keeping clerks in Fryeburg and Denmark busy with requests for documents in preparation for an upcoming Maine Supreme Court case involving the Fryeburg Water Company and Nestlé Waters of North America. Nestlé is seeking to enforce the terms of a 45-year contract with the local water company, and is being challenged by Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor and a Washington, D.C. activist organization, the Food and Water Watch.

Denmark clerks this week mailed three boxes of records in response to a request for “anything that relates to Nestlé, Poland Spring and their relationship with the town of Denmark,” Town Manager Chris Coughlin said Monday. “It’s over 5,000 pages that we know of, plus DVDs, other stuff. We’ve still got three more boxes to send out before we’re done.”

Fryeburg Town Manager Sharon Jackson has received a similar request from the same law firm, Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman and Herz LLP, a Madison Avenue firm that specializes in class action lawsuits against big corporations. In Fryeburg’s case, Jackson said, all of the records have been collected and set aside, but haven’t been mailed yet.

“We put everything together and if they want copies they have to pay,” said Jackson of the firm’s Freedom of Access request. “They haven’t told us yet” whether to mail the records, she said. “They were talking about coming here to look at them.”

The towns’ contact with the law firm is attorney Michael Liscow, who did not return a phone message as of press deadline.

Coughlin said each town is dealing with the request differently. In Denmark’s case, an initial bill for $1,600 was sent out, and has been paid, he said. “The charge will be closer to $3,200 before we’re done.”

According to Maine Freedom of Access laws, the first hour of a clerk’s time is free, and after that a town can charge up to $15 an hour, he said. The cost for copies is 50 cents a page.

Denmark’s dealings with Nestlé, and before that, with the Poland Spring Water Company, date back to at least 2004, Coughlin said, when the first wellhead was permitted to extract water from the local acquifer. A second well sharing the same pipeline was permitted around 2008 or 2009.

Coughlin said the law firm’s requests also apply to other towns where Nestlé does business, including Poland and Carrabassett.

The case will be heard on Tuesday, March 1, at 2 p.m. at the Supreme Judicial Court at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

A Facebook page challenging Nestlé’s right to uphold a 40-year contract for water extraction rights calls the case “Maine’s Groundwater: Day of Reckoning.” If Nestle prevails, the page states, it “will have unfettered access to our community’s groundwater, which gives this multinational corporation an upper hand over our life-giving resource for decades to come. All of Maine is at risk. We do not have adequate groundwater laws protecting us from bulk water mining, which entitles Nestle to exploit and compromise our resources.”

The page also states that under the contract with the Fryeburg Water Company, which is for 20 years with option for five 5-year extensions, “the annual minimum extraction is 75 million gallons, with no upper limit in the terms.”

 

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