December 10, 2019
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New charity receiving Poland Spring aid lacks federal nonprofit status

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Chris Palmer (right), of East Coast Exploration and Drilling, and Jeff Day, Lincoln water district supervisor, in May 2017 check the gauge to see how much water is flowing from the test well recently dug in Lincoln.

Despite not having yet acquired nonprofit status, a still-forming charity has a $150,000 commitment from Poland Spring as the retail water seller extends its influence in northern Penobscot County.

The Northern Penobscot Activities Council announced the first of three $50,000 donations it will receive during the next three years from the retail water seller during a dinner held at Northern Penobscot Tech of Lincoln earlier this week.

Brian Souers, the council’s advisory group president, said Poland Spring and his group could really benefit their neighbors. Poland Spring is building a water-truck loading station on Route 2 in Lincoln for completion this summer and has declared the land of 13 lakes a possible site for a $50 million bottling plant that would also buy from the Lincoln Water District.

[The Poland Spring water controversy, explained]

“I met up with the Poland Spring people who work ahead of their investments last summer and was extremely impressed,” Souers said Thursday. “They seem to be extremely concerned about doing everything they can to positively impact the communities they invest and work in.”

The activities council began working with Poland Spring, and has advertised itself as a nonprofit, despite failing to secure nonprofit status. The activities council successfully filed articles of incorporation as a nonprofit organization with the Maine secretary of state’s office on Jan. 18, according to an office spokeswoman, but it has not applied for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. A federal application will be filed within several weeks and hopefully will be granted by October, group co-founder and president Robbie McKay said.

When asked about NPAC’s lack of nonprofit status, Poland Spring spokeswoman Heather Printup said that the company understood that the group was pursuing that certification.

“At Poland Spring, we look for opportunities to partner with local organizations whose goals align with our own philosophy of giving back to the communities where we live and operate. NPAC’s vision of helping the elderly and youth populations in greater Lincoln is in line with our own,” she said in a statement on Friday.

Some local charities expressed surprise at the existence of NPAC, a group not generally known among the Lincoln Lakes regions’ nonprofit organizations, and wondered who NPAC’s members were, while a Poland Spring critic warned that the corporation’s donations should be viewed skeptically.

[Poland Spring wants faster rail service for possible Lincoln bottling plant]

Poland Spring is among several brands owned by Nestlé Waters North America and Nestlé Global, multi-billion-dollar corporations that environmentalists fear threaten the long-term sustainability of their host communities with their water purchases, said Nickie Sekera, co-founder of the Community Water Justice network.

The donation “is Nestlé’s way of convincing the local citizenry that they are a good neighbor and have shared values,” said Sekera, who is also a trustee of the Fryeburg Water District. “It is easy to do when you have a corporation with a market capitalization fund of $296 billion.”

“Comparatively, to the [water] resources they are taking out from under us, $150,000 is a pittance,” Sekera added.

[Lincoln a good fit for Poland Spring plant, rep says]

Nestlé Waters’ brands, including Poland Spring, Ice Mountain and Arrowhead, made $4.5 billion in sales last year.

State nonprofit status requires the group to form a board of directors and serve Maine through education, outreach, personal and community development, according to the group’s articles of incorporation.

The group shall refrain from any substantial “propaganda [or] influence of legislation.” Nor shall it “participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office,” according to the articles.

[Poland Spring’s plan to take water from Lincoln wins regulators’ OK]

It shall not be formed to make profit or personal gain, except for reasonable payment to workers and contractors, the incorporation documentation states.

Who’s behind the effort

The group has been around since the fall. McKay said she began forming the group before becoming involved with Poland Spring.

Its application with the Maine secretary of state’s office lists three incorporators. Souers is a landowner who also owns Treeline Inc., a forest management, road and site construction and trucking and truck servicing company in Chester near the Lincoln line.

The second name is David Whalen. He is a former Lincoln Town Council member who is the owner, publisher and general manager of the Lincoln News, a weekly newspaper serving the Lincoln Lakes and Katahdin regions.

McKay is a resident of Molunkus Township, which is in Aroostook County, and a freelance writer for the News. McKay identified Garth Robinson as the group’s vice president, Dawn Fiske as its secretary and Steve Worcester, Mattawamkeag’s former administrative assistant, as its treasurer.

[Articles of incorporation explain Northern Penobscot Activities Council]

McKay described her organization as dedicated to improving the quality of life of northern Penobscot and Aroostook counties.

Members of other charities said they were unaware of the council or its members.

“I have no knowledge of them whatsoever,” said Meg Crocker-Curtis, manager of the Penobscot Valley Humane Society shelter in Lincoln.

Phyllis Aiken, Lincoln Historical Society member and fundraiser organizer, said that the council “hasn’t been around long enough for me to have it digested yet.”

McKay admitted that she had no experience forming or running a charity and had not consulted with anyone who had before accepting Poland Spring’s commitment.

“I don’t want to waste time,” McKay said, adding that the region’s residents need help now and that she was grateful that an organization such as Poland Spring would be so helpful to them.

“We are just a little country group that is very happy that we are going to have some help that is allowing us to help other people as well,” she said.

Council members have no precise idea how to allocate the $50,000, but part will go to hiring an outreach coordinator. It advertised the job on May 12 on its Facebook page, which had an oldest posting dated April 18 as of Thursday.

[Judge dismisses Poland Spring lawsuit, but fight over groundwater claim likely to go on]

The ad and the page advertise the group as nonprofit.

Souers and McKay said that the region has many charities that do good work on specific issues, but none address all charities and community needs left unaddressed.

That’s what the council hopes to do.

Bring jobs

Aiken said she hopes that the group and Poland Spring benefit the region.

“If Poland Spring wants to be generous, I think it’s great. I just hope that they bring some jobs with them into the area,” she said.

Water district officials have expressed confidence that the region could support a truck-loading station and a plant. The station is expected to draw up to 172 million gallons per year from a well in Lincoln. State regulators have said the deal won’t harm other water district customers.

Nestle wants to fill as many as 100 tankers per day and haul the water from Lincoln to bottling plants in Poland; Hollis; Kingfield; Framingham, Massachusetts; and other bottling facilities.

If it comes, the $40 million to $60 million bottling plant will bring 40 to 80 jobs to the struggling Lincoln Lakes region. The company is reviewing several potential plant sites around the state.

The company’s sources are in nine Maine locations — two in Poland plus single sites in Hollis, Kingfield, Dallas Plantation, Pierce Pond Township, Fryeburg, Denmark and St. Albans.

A Lincoln bottling plant would use about the same amount of water as the pumping station and the water district provided the same amount to the Lincoln paper mill for decades before it closed in 2015, officials have said.

Sekera said that long term, environmentalists fear what the extraction of billions of gallons could mean for the area. She hopes Lincoln-area residents will join her organization, if only to monitor Poland Spring.

“Nestlé’s No. 1 job,” Sekera said, “is to extract as much as they can from any community they get into.”

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