PORTLAND, Maine — The group Food and Water Watch and Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor have asked Maine’s top court to toss out state regulators’ approval of a controversial 25-year deal between Poland Spring owner Nestle Waters and local Fryeburg Water Co.

The group has asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to consider specific parts of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision but also the unusual process by which the case was decided.

All three of the PUC’s commissioners recused themselves from the case over conflicts of interest, as they each had business involvement with Nestle Waters prior to their appointment to the commission. The impasse resulted in new state law allowing Gov. Paul LePage to appoint as alternate commissioners the retired judges Paul Rudman, John Atwood and Francis Marsano.

Rudman and Atwood decided the case, stipulating that Fryeburg Water Co. could sell bulk water to other companies and would have first dibs on its water in the case of an emergency. Both alternate commissioners agreed with the companies that the deal provides the water utility “a reliable source of income” that helps keep down rates for other customers.

In its appeal filed Feb. 20, 2015, Food and Water Watch questioned the legal basis for the commission to approve the contract on four points and whether it was appropriate for commissioners who later recused themselves to participate in hearings establishing the evidence that would play a part in the case.

They also argue the validity of the decision by the two alternate commissioners and whether they were given due process partly as a result of the interruptions in the case.

Throughout the case, the contract allowing Nestle to buy up to 75 million gallons of water a year 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.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on March 9 requested documents related to the PUC case. The parties will have eight weeks after that record is filed with the court to submit written briefs in the appeal.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.