Brie Weisman of Rumford speaks at a special town meeting Tuesday evening on enacting a 180-day moratorium on large-scale water-extraction projects. The moratorium was passed by voters.

Rumford residents hold up green cards at a special town meeting Tuesday night. The cards signify they favor a six-month moratorium on large-scale water-extraction projects. The measure passed overwhelmingly.

RUMFORD — Residents overwhelmingly voted Tuesday night for a 180-day moratorium on large-scale water-extraction projects.

After a 75-minute discussion, so many of the 175 voters held up green cards to indicate support that moderator John Madigan said a count by ballot clerks was unnecessary.

Resident Cliff Harding voiced what several others were saying: “We need time to see if LD 90 passes,” he said. “I just want to see results of a vote.”

State Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, sponsored the bill, “An Act to Amend the Charter of the Rumford Water District,” though she is neither for nor against Poland Spring Water Co.’s proposal to withdraw millions of gallons a year from wells on Rumford Water District property.

Her emergency bill would force contracts for commercial water extraction or resale be put to a public vote. The bill needs two-thirds support in the House and Senate to pass.

Rumford Water District bylaws give trustees authority to negotiate contracts for water extraction.

On Wednesday morning, a legislative workshop is scheduled in Augusta where a committee could decide whether to support or suggest killing the bill.

In December 2016, Mark Dubois, a geologist and natural resource manager for Poland Spring Water Co., proposed a 15- to 20-year contract to the Rumford Water District for Poland Spring to draw up to 150 million gallons a year from two new wells on district property off Route 5. In exchange, Poland Spring would pay the district more than $400,000 in annual lease and water payments.

Poland Spring Water Co. is a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America.

The moratorium would be on “large-scale extraction of water, in the town of Rumford, for the purpose of reselling the water as ‘bottled drinking water’ or to be resold for consumption or other use outside the town of Rumford.”

On Feb. 2, Len Greaney of Protect Rumford Water Alliance presented selectmen with a petition with 520 signatures, asking that a Jan. 25 vote of the board to deny acceptance of a water-extraction petition be overturned.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, he said the moratorium would provide time to develop a land use ordinance governing large-scale extraction of water.

Many residents who spoke on the issue Tuesday night.

Brie Weisman said the moratorium does nothing more than slow the process down.

“The Rumford Water District is offering us an arrangement marriage before we’ve even had a date. This allows for the vote of the people. Let’s remove the burden of three people (Water District trustees) making the decision for the entire town.”

Karen Wilson said, “They want what we have and we get very little from the millions they’ll make off us. We want this six months because we want LD 90 to pass.”

Mahala Patrick said, “Nestle is a bully and they won’t be going away. We deserve time to brace ourselves,” adding that perhaps during the moratorium the town could work together to find ways to “save our infrastructure.”

Greg Buccina asked selectmen if a moratorium would send a message to Nestle to leave and go someplace else.

“I can’t answer that question,” Chairman Jeff Sterling said, noting that it would not be until the spring of 2019 before Nestle would be operating here.

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