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Business and Economy

Maine Regulators Approve Water Deal for Poland Spring Bottler

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Public Utilities Commission says Fryeburg Water Co. can enter into a long-term contract to sell water to Nestle Waters, bottler of Poland Spring.

The commission ruled Thursday that the contract between the privately-owned utility and Nestle could benefit the utility's rate-payers. Nestle would pay higher rates than household customers.

The contract runs for 25 years. Renewals could make it 45 years. Nestle spokesman Mark Dubois says the deal provides the utility "a reliable source of income.''

That financial point that was underscored by Alternate PUC Commissioner Paul Rudman, who also said the agreement between the company and the water district addressed the issue of water availability with multiple wells.

"Should an emergency situation occur, the company will continue to have Well Number One, and there continues to be a provision for cancelation of agreement should circumstances require," Rudman said.

Alternate Commissioner John Atwood said observations made by the PUC's public advocate were considered in its affirmative ruling for the district, along with concerns raised over future water availability and a recommendation last month from PUC staff that contract be rejected.

Atwood said several of those original concerns are addressed in a new agreement between the parties. It includes a provision to place the needs of the district's principal customers over the needs of Nestle in the event of a water shortage.

"Thus the contract alterations proposed by the Public Advocate's Office to which FWC has agreed along with the enhanced guaranteed revenue to be paid by NWNA, satisfies the standard of approval for this contract, namely that it causes no new net harm," Atwood said.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch criticized the deal. Organizer Nisha Swinton says Nestle is "only interested in profit."

"The Public Utilities Commission has sold off Maine's most important natural resource - it's water - to this multi-national corporation only interested in profit," Swinton said.

Nestle Waters retains 7,500 employees and manages 29 bottled water facilities across the U.S. and Canada.