FRYEBURG – The Appeals Board is being advised to write out the reasons it believes the Planning Board erred in giving Poland Spring Water Co. approval to build a loading station on Route 302.

Appeals Board attorney Michael Hill said he is urging members to explain on paper their 4-1 vote last Wednesday night that supported neighbors’ contentions they didn’t have proper notice of official meetings and opportunity to be heard.

“I am going to advise the board that my recommendation would be to clarify what due process error the Planning Board had committed,” Hill said.

Due process involves establishing rules for processing each permit application, including rules that govern public notice, alerting abutters to a project and other procedural rules.

The case is being carefully watched as Poland Spring expands its operations into several western Maine towns. In addition to Poland and Hollis, the Poland-based company draws from wells in Fryeburg, Pierce Pond Township and St. Albans. It is seeking to build new pumping stations in Dallas Plantation and Fryeburg, and a new bottling facility in Kingfield. It operates two bottling plants in Hollis and Poland.

Poland Spring, a division of Nestle Waters North America in Greenwich, Conn., applied for permission to construct a loading station where tanker trucks could fill up with water pumped from a well in neighboring Denmark. Fifty trucks would stop there daily.

Neighbors are contesting the way in which the Planning Board arrived at its decision last October and the validity of it.

Their attorney, Philip Merrill, said due process also demands that officials conduct their decision-making process in a way that assures the public they have reached a fair and impartial judgment.

“Any one of the little steps that happened in this case in themselves do not violate due process, but when you look at them all together, you cannot walk away and be certain that test was met,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

He alluded to the possibility that Planning Board members may have consulted with each other and with Nestle employees prior to their final vote.

In his petition, he asks the appeals board to conduct an independent inquiry into the Planning Board’s decision and to request copies of all e-mails sent between board members and Nestle employees.

Hill said, “There is no record of anything improper indicating violations of due process.” Nor does he see any evidence that there were clandestine communications between the Planning Board and Nestle employees, he said.

Tom Brennan, spokesman for Poland Spring, has denied such allegations. He said Thursday, “The Planning Board followed the correct process and came to the correct conclusion.”

The Appeals Board has addressed the issue of whether or not they believe planners arrived at their decision correctly. It will address the second issue of the validity of that decision and planners’ interpretation of the land-use ordinance at a public hearing Jan. 23.

After that, either party – Poland Spring or the property owners – may appeal to Oxford County Superior Court in Paris.



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