RUMFORD — Colin Smorawski, a Massachusetts native and Maine College of Art grad, was cooking at a Portland restaurant when he saw an ad for 98.6 acres that backed onto Mount Dimmock.

“I saw it on Craigslist, believe it or not, when I was looking around and daydreaming about farms we could try to own,” said Smorawski, 34.

Sellers wanted more than $350,000. That wasn’t happening. But Smorawski couldn’t quite let it go, driving the rural stretch of road on Route 5 to check it out whenever he had the chance. 

After the price dropped dramatically, he bought the land and opened Roaring Lion Farm in 2012. Now-wife Arianna started farming with him in 2013.

One of the draws: Plenty of water to raise alpaca, sheep, heritage breed pigs, chickens, beef cows and a host of vegetables. They sell all over New England, enough that this year they’re full-time farmers.

This summer, he and Arianna learned Poland Spring might move across the street.

“The first thing we talked about . . . is, ‘How do we leave?'” he said. “It’s heartbreaking for me because we put a lot of money and a lot of time into these four years that I would never, ever get back. This is a place that we thought was hidden enough.”

Smorawski’s list of concerns is long: Truck traffic and noise stressing the animals. Losing the peace and quiet of nighttime with trucks loading water around the clock. And, after a dry summer like this, someday not having enough water.

Others opposed to a potential deal between Poland Spring and the Rumford Water District talk about owner Nestle’s corporate reputation and political might, being a David shaking hands with Goliath.

Rumford had just under 5,700 people in the last U.S. Census count. It’s rural, shrinking and trying to find economic footing: The median household income here is nearly half what it is in the rest of the state.

Last year, Nestle, had sales of $92 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. 

It’s the 33rd largest public company in the world.

“How do you oppose this massive company that has the resources to sue a town into insolvency if they care to?” said Jake Pitcher of Andover, a member of the newly formed Western Maine Water Alliance. “There is a concern that it is a massive, global corporation. It’s not an abstract, unfounded hatred of a company simply because it is a successful business.”

‘THEY’VE TAKEN OVER THE TOWN’

Nonprofit watchdog Corporate Accountability International got its start 40 years ago protesting Nestle. At the time, the company was asking doctors to push its infant formula in Third World countries.

“Nestle was encouraging mothers to use their infant formula (even though) they did not have access to safe water to mix it with and even encouraging doctors to tell mothers that their formula was better than breast milk,” said senior national campaign organizer Lauren DeRusha. “A group of women got together in their basement in the ’70s and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.'”

In the years since, Nestle has been a frequent flyer on CAI’s Corporate Hall of Shame ballot, this year nominated for “bottling water on expired permits, during drought and in drought-prone areas, exacerbating global water scarcity for the sake of increased profits.”

As bottled water demand skyrockets — U.S. consumers this year are forecast to drink more bottled water than soda for the first time — more communities are organizing to keep them out, DeRusha said.

In May, Nestle lost a seven-year-long effort in Oregon to bottle water in Hood River County. In Pennsylvania, citizens sued over a new zoning change that would have allowed Nestle into town to draw water; Nestle pulled its application in June.

Vera Littlefield lives two hours away from Rumford, yet she, too, is fighting to keep Poland Spring out of that town. 

Littlefield is a lifelong resident of Hollis, where Poland Spring has operated a water extraction site and bottling factory since 2000.

She and a friend sat in lawn chairs next to that plant in June. Over four hours on a random weekday, they counted a truck exiting or entering the factory every 1.23 minutes.

“In 1999 — and we have this on video — the representative Rob Fisher from Nestle told us we would get one truck every 15 minutes,” said Littlefield.

At night, she keeps her windows shut to hear TV over the noise. Trucks have additionally veered from planned driving routes.

“They’ve taken over the town,” said Littlefield. “We can’t walk on the streets, we can’t ride our bikes, you can’t walk with your animals, your dog. Our roads in our small town, we don’t have sidewalks.”

According to Poland Spring’s tentative plans, any water drawn in Rumford would likely be hauled to Poland Spring’s bottling plants in Poland or Hollis, depending on that day’s plant activity. (It’s less apt to be trucked north to Kingfield, a spokesman said.)

Littlefield’s aim in sharing her experience with Rumford organizers: “We would like to slow down the water coming in, not that we have any choice.”

‘INVEST MORE IN PEOPLE LIKE US’

On the heels of truck traffic, WMWA’s Pitcher said, are concerns about:

* Road wear and tear and who pays for it. According to the Maine Department of Transportation, a single 80,000-pound truck can do the same amount of damage to a road as 9,600 cars. Trucks loaded with water weigh as much as 100,000 pounds.

* Long-term effects on the local aquifer. One of the great unknowns, as opponents see it: whether a massive, regular draw now would deplete local resources sooner or alter the landscape if it’s trucked away.

Twenty years ago, peak daily demand at the Rumford Water District’s Milligan Well, where Poland Spring is testing now, was as high as 900,000 gallons, according to the district. That’s dropped to 600,000 today, a difference of more than 100 million gallons of water less being drawn each year.

Pitcher said it’s not as simple as letting Poland Spring buy up that water slack.

“There’s an issue of that water cycling back into the watershed when it’s used by the citizens and the Rumford Water District versus the flat-out removal of our natural resource to other counties, other states and possibly other countries in the future,” he said.

* Lastly, how — and whether — recent changes to the Rumford Water District’s 105-year-old charter come into play.

In September, opponents delivered a formal complaint to the water district signed by 32 people, largely Rumford and Andover residents, detailing why they believe the charter change approved by the state Legislature earlier this year broke the law and should put the brakes on any pending decisions.

They can’t point to any specifics within the charter amendments that relate to Poland Spring’s search for a new site in Rumford, but they don’t like the timing of it all, convinced that somehow those changes pave the way for a deal with Poland Spring.

“The steps that they took, I feel, were kind of pretty obvious,” said Bromley Cook, a Rumford retiree. After Poland Spring expressed interest, the water district engaged a law firm, then a hydrologist, then drafted a new charter, he said.

“How the (old) charter impacted the ability of Nestle to do business with the water district is difficult to tell, but the way the timeline is, there must have been something in there to cause them to do it.”

The Western Maine Water Alliance, which has 50-plus members, hired a lawyer three weeks ago to dig into it.

State Sen. John Patrick in Rumford, who sponsored those charter changes in the Legislature, said no one mentioned revisions being linked to Poland Spring. He said he’s trying to remain neutral until more test results come in this fall out of respect for residents.

But, in an interview this week on Maine’s Big Z 105.5, Patrick spoke more bluntly: “I’ve always had a problem dealing with multi-national corporations in that they’re there for one thing, profit only,” he said. “My own personal opinion, I have a problem with going forward with the water extraction because you see that more and more of it’s going (on) and I think in the future, as a commodity, water is going to be worth more than oil.”

Roaring Lion Farm owner Colin Smorawski said he worries nonstop traffic and noise will affect the overall flavor and tenderness of the meat he’s raising.

“If someone’s coming in and surprising you all day long, you’re going to be on edge,” he said. “It’s the same with the animals.”

Wife Arianna, 34, from Rhode Island, said the more she learns about a potential Poland Spring-Rumford deal, the more questions she has. 

“We are technically flatlanders,” she said. “We really want to be in an area where we felt like we could give back to the community, growing food and raising animals. With this threatening our business, we feel like we just really want the water board trustees . . . to invest more in people like us and local businesses to help bring Rumford back to its heyday, instead of picking major corporations to come in to take something but not really give much back.”

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