Maine regulators will allow Fryeburg Water Co. to enter a controversial 25-year contract to supply water to Nestle, which bottles Poland Spring Water.
The decision was made Thursday morning by two alternate commissioners of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, former judges Paul Rudman and John Atwood. The former judges were appointed to rule on the case because two of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s three members had recused themselves from the proceeding.
The approval comes with suggested changes to the contract, including permitting Fryeburg Water Co. to sell bulk water to companies other than Nestle.
The contract generated strong opposition from several residents of the town and national water-rights advocates who said the price Nestle will pay for the water is too low. They also expressed concerns that the company would have rights to the water before the local community.
Rudman and Atwood proposed another stipulation in that regard, specifying that towns supplied by the Fryeburg Water Co. would have first dibs on its water in the case of an emergency.
The two alternate commissioners agreed with the companies that the deal would provide the local water utility “a reliable source of income” that would help hold its rates steady for other customers.
The parties opposed to the deal, including the national group Food & Water Watch, could appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after the PUC issues a written order in the case.
The case received scrutiny from policymakers because of the multiple recusals that had prevented the PUC from making a decision. The Legislature passed a bill to allow for the appointment of alternates, allowing the commission to make a decision in the case started in 2012.