Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nestle, Poland Spring, and conflicts at the Maine PUC

Nestle Waters North America, subsidiary of the world's largest food and beverage company and owner of the Poland Spring brand, has been locking horns with some in the Fryeburg, Maine area for a decade now.  The story has been irresistible to outsiders: small town with family-controlled private water utility divided over the bulk sale of local groundwater to major bottler. It's been the focus of a popular book (Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania) and an award-winning documentary (Bottled Life) and a host of newspaper and magazine stories.

The latest chapter has Nestle and the local water utility seeking regulatory approval for a 25- to 40-year contract that would stabilize cash flow to the utility and lock in an important supply for the bottler. But as my story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram reports, the regulators have ties to the company, with all three Public Utilities Commission members and the public advocate (whose office represents ratepayers in PUC proceedings) having links to the company, most of them via Maine's largest law firm, Pierce Atwood, has been cropping up in my stories frequently of late.

How did it happen and what will come if it? Read on and find out.

[Update: 9/2/2013: One correction to the print edition: there have actually been five previous public advocates in Maine, not four as I stated, and Gordon Weil was the first of them. My list missed the third of them, Paul Frizsche, who had previously worked with Pine Tree Legal Assistance and, thus, was also "consumer side" in his background.]

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