Fryeburg was incorporated as a town on Jan. 11, 1777. Our forefathers fought boldly for their sovereignty to ensure a prosperous future as individuals, as a community and as a nation. The first settlers who arrived here quickly came to understand the value of this watershed that provided ample opportunity for farmlands, timber harvesting and economic enterprises to support local people. Now, after almost 240 years of Fryeburg’s residents enjoying the security of plentiful, clean water from the Saco Watershed of the White Mountains, our community’s water sovereignty is under threat.
Over three years ago, in August 2012, the community learned that Swiss corporation Nestle Waters North America (for its Poland Spring brand) was pursuing a U.S. precedent-setting, exclusive contract with a private municipal supplier, Fryeburg Water Co., that could last up to 45 years. The Maine Public Utilities Commission commanded these proceedings with commissioners holding conflicts of interest at the helm, leading the community of Fryeburg to not receive adequate administrative relief. Ultimately, after a long struggle, the Public Utilities Commission approved the case, which led to an appeal on behalf of residents who believe this contract is not in the best interest of our community. The contract under appeal clearly gives Nestle, the more powerful party, the upper hand over control of our water and limits our community’s authority over future allocations.
Corporate backers at Nestle are positioning themselves between Maine’s groundwater resources and its people. We must hold on to our ability to develop a strong local economy that protects our environment while ensuring prosperity for future generations. Aquifer groundwater levels must be maintained because they strongly affect lake levels, our ability to draw from our wells and the health of our forests, wildlife and farmlands. Groundwater levels also are crucial to maintaining property values and quality of life. Impressively, in our state, new farms are being started at a rate nearly four times faster than the national average. And, despite being among the oldest, least affluent and least populated states in America, Maine is nevertheless a vital hub of our country’s agricultural renaissance. The commodification of Maine’s water would limit the potential for growth of our food sovereignty, especially if it is sold off to the highest bidder and out of the public’s control.
If this Maine Supreme Judicial Court appeal fails, Nestle will have unfettered access to our community’s groundwater, which gives this multinational corporation authority over our life-giving resource for decades to come. All of Maine is at risk. We do not have adequate groundwater laws protecting us from bulk water mining, which entitles Nestle to exploit and compromise our resources. This is especially concerning with new international trade agreements being considered, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement, which threaten our local sovereignty, individual rights and will greatly affect us in Maine by giving Nestle further proprietary advantage over our drinking water for export.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, was written by corporate lawyers to benefit corporate interests over those of Maine residents. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, pending approval by Congress, will give Nestle the first rights of extraction over serving the needs of local residents. In the case we cannot meet the company’s minimum contractual demands, we open ourselves up to lawsuit in an international tribunal, something our rural state can ill afford. To fight the largest food and beverage manufacturer in the world in a court designed to serve international corporate interests could have a devastating outcome. With this contract, we effectively give up our long-term water security and sovereignty.
Never would our Founding Fathers or the people who fought for this land imagine that its current leaders would be willing to give up our water sovereignty to a foreign corporation for export. Just as our predecessors colonized this territory and took its resources from its rightful stewards, we are now entering the next wave of colonization and this time by a multinational corporation.
Though the state may need a lot of pressure to do what is right by its people rather than submit to corporate interests, the people of Maine do have the power to lead us into securing our groundwater under a public trust for future generations.
Final oral arguments in the appeal regarding the decades-long contract between Nestle and the Fryeburg Water Co. take place at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.
Nickie Sekera is a trustee of Fryeburg Water District.