FRYEBURG, Maine — Maine water-rights activists are planning to gather this weekend to sound the alarm about Nestle’s potential sale of Poland Spring and other bottled water businesses to a private-equity firm.
Nestle, a multinational Swiss corporation that is the world’s largest bottled-water maker, indicated last year it was exploring a sale of its North American bottled water brands in response to slower growth, sharp competition and increasing concerns about plastic waste.
Last week, Reuters and other media outlets reported that Nestle has entered into exclusive talks to sell those brands, including Maine-based Poland Spring, to One Rock Capital Partners LLC, a New York-based private-equity firm.
The deal could be bad for Maine and its aquifers, according to Nickie Sekera, the co-founder of Community Water Justice, a grassroots network of people against water privatization, which said it could be the largest private transfer of water rights for bottling in U.S. history.
“It is a huge deal,” Sekera, of Fryeburg, said Friday. “Nestle is at least a little bit more responsive to negative press … I think a private-equity firm is going to be even less responsive to the concerns of Maine people.”
If Nestle sells Poland Springs, she believes the company effectively would relieve itself of the accountability it has promised to Maine communities. Nestle owns nine spring water sources in Maine, including the Bella Luna Spring in Lincoln, located more than 150 miles away from Poland Spring. In 2019, the company employed 860 people in Maine, including workers at bottling plants in Hollis and Kingfield and Poland.
Sekera and others from Community Water Justice fear that Nestle’s water withdrawal permits, negotiated with different communities, will be included in the sale, with no input from the people who depend on the water sources in question.
“We’re essentially becoming a resource colony for Wall Street,” she said.
A phone call to a Nestle community relations manager was not immediately returned. Neither was a call to One Rock in New York City.
The Community Water Justice event is planned for noon on Saturday with attendees asked to wear warm clothes and face masks and bring bells to ring as they gather at Bradley Park in Fryeburg before marching to the center of town.
Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador, will be among the speakers at the event.
“As Penobscot people still living in our ancestral homelands, we know how precious and life-giving water is for our tribal communities and the whole state,” she said. “We stand in opposition to the proposed action by Nestle and One Rock Capital Partners- and remind our friends and neighbors that water is life.”