Drivers punished for broken rules

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RANGELEY – A trio of truck drivers who hauled Poland Spring water tankers into town when they weren’t supposed to, were fired from their routes by their company, the Bangor-based Hartt Transportation.

“We fired them from that operation, but offered them other positions within the company,” said Hartt’s General Manager Jeff Castonguay Tuesday.

Hartt hauls tankers for Poland Spring/Nestle Waters on a seasonal basis and currently has 18 trucks and 38 drivers working spring water routes, Castonguay said.

Under its permit with the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, which allows it to tap aquifers east of Rangeley in Dallas Plantation, Poland Spring must follow a traffic management plan for its trucks in town. That plan limits the number of trucks per hour the bottler can route through Rangeley from three to five per hour depending on the situation. But the plan also prohibits tanker traffic in town on “festival days,” Town Manager Perry Ellsworth said.

All of Hartt’s drivers were briefed and signed off on a memo that they were not to go through town on July 3, the day the town celebrated the Independence Day. Instead they were to reach the aquifer, which is located off Route 16 east of town, via Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley and Eustis instead of Route 4 via Rangeley.

The disciplined drivers were not named but two took different routes, some still hauling Poland Spring water on the interstate, while one decided to leave the company, Castonguay said.

The action came after Rangeley bookseller and Dallas Plantation First Assessor Wess Connally complained to Ellsworth that Poland Spring appeared to be violating an agreement with the town of Rangeley.

Ellsworth said he notified the appropriate Poland Spring officials who took action on the complaint. Traffic management was a primary concern for the town when Poland Spring was first seeking to tap the aquifers in Dallas Plantation. The LURC traffic permits are also being appealed to the state’s supreme court by a group of local residents and Dallas Plantation’s assessors, including Connally.

In e-mailed messages and letters, provided to the Sun Journal by Connally, both Poland Spring and Hartt said the truck drivers ignored a directive that no tankers were to be hauled through Rangeley on July 3.

“We couldn’t tolerate them ignoring directives, which they were counseled on,” Castonguay said Tuesday.

In a letter to Poland Spring’s logistics manager, Chris McKenna, Castonguay wrote, “We have decided to terminate all three drivers for violating this directive. We do not take this issue lightly and clearly understand our responsibility as a partner of Nestle Waters that we have to comply with commitments your company has made with the good people of Rangeley, Maine, and the surrounding areas.”

In a message to Ellsworth, McKenna apologized for Poland Spring and wrote, “We are embarrassed that this has taken place and always strive to ensure that our employees are acting as good neighbors and representing our company in the highest regard. The fact that these drivers are contracted is no excuse either; any third party hauling our product is a reflection of our company and our responsibility to manage.”

McKenna went on to state Poland Spring was removing three hauls a day, or 90 hauls a month, from Hartt’s contract to send the message that bottler’s agreements with the town were to be observed.

Connally said the firings seemed excessive.

In a message to Poland Spring’s Terry Coffin, who was the first Poland Spring official notified of the problem, Connally wrote: “It seems to me that no superiors are being held accountable in this situation, that the drivers are having to shoulder the entire blame.

“That is overly harsh. … To simply levy all punishment at the drivers reeks of management taking the easy way out, when management, in fact, failed in making the traffic agreements completely clear to those individuals.”

Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for Poland Spring and Nestle Waters North America, said Hartt did inform its truckers of the rules.

“As far as we know, Hartt did make this request known to their drivers and three of their drivers did not abide by that,” Lazgin said. “We do take seriously that commitment to the town. We want to be good neighbors and be cooperative and I think everybody is on line now with how seriously we do take that.”

Ellsworth said he was satisfied with Poland Spring’s response. The issue was to be discussed again on July 26 at the next meeting of the town’s traffic management committee, which was set up to deal with Poland Spring tanker truck issues. Poland Spring is also paying for road improvements in Rangeley where its trucks enter and leave the town, Ellsworth said.

“We had an issue we forwarded it to the right people and action was taken by Poland Spring,” he said. “Personally, I’m satisfied with that.”

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