Thursday, September 20, 2012

Water Shenanigans in Fryeburg

The Fryeburg, ME Water District met on Tuesday night. The Water District is an independent board that was created in 2005 by the Maine legislature. It's the last vestige of independent oversight of water in Fryeburg. The Fryeburg Water Co. is the privately owned water utility for the town, and for some residents of East Conway, NH.

Fryeburg Water Co. has a deal with Nestle, the international corporation that mines water around the world for peanuts and sells it for a huge profit. Nestle owns Poland Spring, the Maine company. Fryeburg Water Co.(FWC) is trying to make a new deal with Nestle. Bottled water sales have fallen off in recent years, and Nestle hasn't been taking as much from our local aquifer. The water company would like to have a guarantee in place, and a long term contract with Nestle. The contracts have been in 5 year increments. FWC would like to extend the terms of the contract to span a 25 year period, with a set amount of water withdrawal.

 This pending deal has sparked some of the trustees of the Fryeburg Water District into action. A former board member, Dick Krasker, was reelected to the board after a lengthy absence. A week after being reelected to the board, he proposed rendering the Water District inactive. It seems his whole purpose for rejoining the board was to shut it down.

 The meeting on Tuesday night was supposed to be the trustees voting on moving the district into inactive status. Apparently the media attention and local noise generated by this decision made some of the trustees uncomfortable, so they've opted to push this vote back until June, when the vote will be put to all customers of the Water Co. The reasoning being offered for this move to put the Water District into inactive status is money. They have to pay for a PO Box, and annual elections. They have to fundraise to keep the board active. It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 a year, and this is a terrible burden. Krasker maintains that the reason the Water District was created was to buy the Water Company should it be up for sale. It isn't, so there's just no need for this board to remain active. This is the simplistic view of the Water District's function that is being presented. According to the WD charter, the District has other powers, including the power to act in water emergencies. Under questioning, we learn that no one (not even Krasker!) knows how to do this, if they can do it, or how to render the WD active again in the event of a shutdown.

 John Weston may hold the title of Chairman of the board, but it was very clear from the start of the meeting that Dick Krasker was in charge. He was repeatedly dismissive of the people from outside the water district who were there, referring more than once to people with "agendas, issues, and emotions." Fryeburg can solve it's own problems, he said, without any outside interference.

 Not even inside interference was being tolerated by Krasker. When trustee Scot Montgomery was explaining something, Krasker - with an assist from Fryeburg Police Chief Phillip Weymouth, got Weston to shut him down, on the grounds that what he was saying had nothing to do with their purpose for being there. Chief Weymouth is an interesting character. He was a selectman in Hollis - a Nestle company town. He was the police chief in Rangeley, ME during the time when Nestle was trying to establish a toehold (and a bottling plant) in Kingfield, ME. Now he's in yet another Nestle company town. What a remarkable coincidence!

 Nestle/Poland Spring divided the town a long time ago, and the results were on display at this meeting.

Krasker's performance was astounding. He told us that the quality of the water is perfect! The aquifer cannot possibly be sucked dry! Our rates are some of the lowest in Maine! He presented all of these statements as the kind of fact that surely intelligent people would not question. He did read a letter that he claimed was from Poland Spring, saying that they would stop pumping if the town were to say so. The town manager agreed that this letter does in fact exist. The letter was not offered up for viewing by the local populace.

Krasker offered up some articles for consideration that he would like to see on the June ballot. Trustee Scot Montgomery pointed out that these were carefully written to create certain outcomes, and stated he didn't like either of them. Bottom line - rendering the Water District inactive will come back. It may be on a ballot in June. The official reason for making the WD inactive is money. I can't help but wonder, if money were off the table what would be their next excuse?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand that the water district was established by the ME legislature (and is "independent"), but I'm wondering if there is any oversight at all? Rule of thumb is, if something doesn't look or sound right, it's because something is wrong. It would be wonderful if "they the people" could prevail and take back their water supply and deny Nestle and it's leeches profit. Water is for drinking and the sustaining of life, NOT for money making. Years ago I read "Bottlemania" which outlined the toxicity of greed and water including this particular ongoing issue.