PORTLAND, Maine (CN) — Nestle can buy more than 600,000 gallons of water a day for its Poland Spring bottled water division, despite objections from residents, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
Maine’s Public Utilities Commission granted Nestle conditional approval for a property lease and water purchase agreement with Fryeburg Water Co. The 25-year contract calls for Nestle to lease a 2-acre parcel and pumping station. It dedicates a well for Nestle’s exclusive use, while taking steps to ensure that Fryeburg townspeople have enough water.
The PUC’s three regular commissioners recused themselves due to conflicts of interest, according to the Bangor Daily News. Three retired judges filled in for them.
The commission rejected a provision that would prohibit the water company from selling untreated water to anyone else. Aside from that, the commission approved the contract.
Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor and consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch appealed to the state’s highest court.
They claimed the contract violates Maine law, exceeds the scope of Fryeburg Water Co.’s charter authority, and deprives the commission of its oversight authority.
Writing for the court, Justice Ellen Gorman affirmed the PUC ruling and rejected Taylor’s argument on the water company’s charter, which dates back to 1883.
“None of Taylor’s interpretations is supported by the unambiguous language of the charter; the charter makes no mention of public customers, special terms, the removal of water, the bottling or reselling of water, or untreated or unsafe water,” Gorman wrote for the panel of six judges.
She found that the PUC complied with state law by ensuring that Nestle would pay at least the same rate as other customers.
She also found that the PUC ensured that the contract would not “materially affect” the water company’s ability to serve the public.
The Portland Press Herald reported that the deal will allow Nestle to extract up to 603,000 gallons of Poland Spring water per day.
Nisha Swinton of Food and Water Watch called the ruling a “profound loss for Maine’s citizens.”
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