RUMFORD — The Rumford Water District has laid out terms for negotiating with Poland Spring for drawing up to 150 million gallons per year from two new wells on district property off Route 5.

Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America, has proposed a 15- to 20-year contract in exchange for more than $400,000 in annual lease and water payments to the district. 

The trustees have decided that the district will only consider an agreement to supply water to Poland Spring if the deal:

* Allows the district to continue to provide a safe, reliable source of water to its customers without harm to the sustainable yield of the Ellis River aquifer;

* Stabilizes rates for its customers; and

* Creates economic and social benefits for the community.

The agenda for the district’s next meeting March 1 includes a review of the negotiating terms and an executive session with legal counsel on the rights and duties of trustees.

The trustees will hold a public meeting on a draft agreement April 5 and act on a final agreement at their May 10 meeting.

“In my opinion, if this does fly, I don’t see any water coming out of there for a year and a half or two years,” said Jim Thibodeau, chairman of the Water District board of trustees. “It will be a lengthy process. There’s no question about that.”

He said details of the negotiations would enlighten people.

“We’re not just sitting back and selling it for what we have to and not looking for anything else,” he said.

The district’s five-page negotiations document says that over the next 25 years the district will have to replace about 28 miles of water main to comply with its 100-year-design life. At about $750,000 per mile, the district will have to invest approximately $825,000 per year.

Other capital projects in the district’s 2009 Water System Capital Improvement Plan that have not been completed include:

* Removal or repair of the Mt. Zircon Dam;

* Pipe looping projects;

* The Falls Hill Booster Station; and

* Construction of a redundant transmission plan.

The total estimate for these projects is $13 million.

“What we’re trying not to do is portray the fact that the infrastructure is going to fall apart if we don’t do something,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t want to use that as a club to entice people, because it’s not true.”

He making a deal with Poland Spring could give the district money to improve infrastructure without rate increases.

“And no matter what happens in this town, we need to address our infrastructure,” Thibodeau said. “This is stuff you can’t ignore. Infrastructure, if it fails, your town fails.”

The district has between 1,500 and 1,600 ratepayers, Superintendent Brian Gagnon said. The minimum charge is $38.04 for 1,200 cubic feet per quarter. The last rate increase was in 2010.

He said the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s website lists 153 regulated utilities, and Rumford is the 13th least expensive.

Gagnon said the Catalyst paper mill and power plant use between 40 and 50 percent of the town’s water supply during the summer months.

“You can’t count on that all of the time, especially with the power plant,” he said. “But the sad thing is that if Catalyst hadn’t been able to buy this mill, it could have very well closed.” 

He said trustees are looking at what’s best for the ratepayer “because if something occurs at the mill, even in a process where something might shut down or decommission, all that affects the ratepayer because they’re our big user.”

“Do the math in your head,” Gagnon said. “If something happens to the mill, and it doesn’t have to be a total closure, it’s going to affect the ratepayers drastically.”

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: