Nestlé gets access to town’s groundwater for up to 45 years in controversial case

© Food & Water Watch - Maine
Nestlé has secured the rights to purchase the groundwater in Fryeburg, Maine for up to 45 years, after several years of litigation that revealed local politicians and authorities' links to the company. Activists say this damages the town's water sustainability.

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court quashed activists’ efforts to appeal the deal by ruling in favor of Nestlé on Thursday.

The advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, along with local resident Bruce Taylor, appealed the 2014 decision, claiming the long contract is outside the authority of the water district and highlighting the fact that three commissioners had to recuse themselves due to ties with Nestlé.

This is the first US contract to grant water access for such a long period of time and activists are concerned it will set a dangerous precedent for future corporate contracts on natural resources, US Uncut reported.

“Today’s decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court paves the way for a private corporation to profit from a vital public resource for decades to come,” Food & Water Watch’s Nisha Swinton said in a statement.  

The judge found no “abuse of discretion or violation of a statutory or constitutional provision” in the contract between Nestlé and the Fryeburg Water Company or the approval granted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Nestlé subsidiary Poland Spring has been granted the right to take as much as 603,000 gallons (2.3 million liters) of water a day.

Before this, Poland Spring was free to withdraw an unlimited amount of water with no contract. The new contract makes Nestlé pay the town $12,000 a month.

"The contract is beneficial to all parties as it guarantees priority to the local community’s water use needs over Poland Spring’s contracted needs, requires Poland Spring to pay the same rate for water as all other Fryeburg Water Company customers, and includes a fixed minimum payment obligation," a Nestlé representative told RT.      

“The proposed contract was created to provide long-term certainty to both [Fryeburg Water] and Poland Spring, and to benefit ratepayers,” Mark Dubois from Poland Spring said, describing the deal as a “reliable source of income” for Fryeburg.

Swinton, however, insisted: “The arrangement to sell off hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestlé waters North America, is a profound loss for Maine’s citizens. Water is a basic right. No private company should be allowed to rake in profits from water while leaving a local community high and dry.”

Speaking to US Uncut, Nickie Sekera of Community Water Justice explained how the town water supplier is run by a private company: “They can engage in contracts with corporations such as Nestlé much easier. It benefits their shareholders and Nestlé because it’s not publicly run and managed, which helps them get what they want.”

The Portland Press Herald uncovered Nestlé’s connections with the Maine Public Utilities Commission in 2013. It found all three of the commissioners were tied to Nestlé.

Chairman Thomas Welch represented Nestlé Waters “for several years, including during the 2008 reorganization of Fryeburg Water” during his time at Pierce Atwood law firm.

Commissioner David Littell was a partner at Pierce Atwood, which lobbies for Nestlé, until 2003. Commissioner Mark Vannoy worked on 20 Nestlé Water Projects “including 15 at Poland Spring facilities in Maine” as an executive and project manager for Wright Pierce.

All three were forced to recuse themselves following pressure from activists.

Timothy Schneider, representing the ratepayers, also worked as an attorney at Pierce Atwood, the firm that helped with the case.

Controversial Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine) appointed three retired judges to replace the commissioners through a new state law, after refusing to accept Littell’s recusal, saying he didn’t believe it was a legitimate reason.

The appeal pointed to the recused commissioners’ involvement in “evidentiary rulings” and questioned the experience of the new commissioners in making decisions without participating in the proceedings.

LePage recently faced impeachment efforts which accused him of “using state money to intimidate his political opponents,” The Atlantic reported.

The Republican leader was the second sitting governor to endorse Donald Trump, after Chris Christie of New Jersey.

LePage has made a number of racially-charged comments, claiming Obama “hates white people” and describing drug dealers as “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys. They come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we've got to deal with down the road."

He also called to bring back the guillotine for drug traffickers in January.


“Nestlé has a long history of bullying communities into selling off public assets for private profit. Unfortunately, they’ve won this round,” Swinton said.

The world’s largest food company is known for plundering natural resources for its own gain. In California, it is accused of bottling large volumes of groundwater during droughts.

Nestlé also plans to grab more water rights in Oregon and Pennsylvania, according to US Uncut.

The Swiss giant was heavily criticized for its use of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and forced labor in Thailand, as well as its infamous baby milk scandal which irresponsibly discouraged women in the developing world to abandon breastfeeding for expensive baby formula, leading to malnutrition and death.

A global boycott of Nestlé continues to this day.