Walter Buotte of Protect Rumford Water Alliance asked the Rumford Board of Trustees on Wednesday to consider a straw poll of Rumford citizens to gauge their feelings about entering an agreement with Poland Spring.

RUMFORD — A group opposed to any agreement between Poland Spring Water Co. and the Rumford Water District has asked district trustees to schedule a straw vote to gauge public support.

The poll is not required by law, and would not be binding.

During a meeting to review a draft agreement between the district and the bottler, trustees heard the plea but made no commitment to the group.

The Rumford Water District board of trustees met this week and announced that a draft agreement that would permit the company to draw up to 150 million gallons a year from two new wells on district property off Route 5 has been posted at the district office, 25 Spruce St. The document will remain posted for 30 days.

A public meeting on the proposed agreement will take place July 12, and an agreement will not be executed until at least Aug. 11, according to trustees.

Most of the 75 people attending the district meeting were members of the Protect Rumford Water Alliance, which is opposed to a proposed water-extraction contract between the water district and Poland Spring.

Andrew Hamilton of Eaton Peabody, legal counsel for the district, was on hand to highlight parts of the agreement.

He said the initial term of the agreement is 15 years, whereas in Fryeburg it was 20 years. “The company is going to have to come back and prove certain things in order to get an extension of that 15-year term,” Hamilton said.

“There’s a guarantee of three years of payments, even if Poland Spring terminates the agreement early. The district will retain water rights and control over its water resources,” he said.

He said the company is bound to spend at least $100,000 exploring for additional water supplies to support a water bottling plant because there has to be an anchor well site, and usually a secondary site in the same aquifer. And then, for redundancy, wholly outside that aquifer there must be a third site.

“As far as negotiations, we’ve understood there will be three sources that need to be identified,” Hamilton said.

Several people asked trustees to consider a straw poll of Rumford residents to gauge their feelings on entering an agreement with Poland Spring.

Walter Buotte said, “If the people of Rumford don’t want this corporation in our town … do you care how we feel?”

Trustees said they do.

Buotte responded, “Then why not sample, by a poll, how the community feels! It’s not illegal. Is it?”

Hamilton noted that a water utility is separate from a municipality, and the Legislature and Congress determine how the water district is governed.

He said, “It’s improper. I don’t think the trustees have that authority to go outside the legal framework. We have to comply with the legal framework that the water district is subject to. The Legislature determines what that legal framework is.”

With most of the concern from the audience centered on an agreement with Nestle Waters North America, parent company of Poland Spring, Jon Starr said that, to him, the issue is something else.

“It’s about water extraction. We’re after responsible water extraction loss,” he said.

Starr also said he has concerns about the groundwater extraction ordinance, to be voted on by Rumford residents June 13.

Hamilton asked about those concerns, but Starr did not elaborate.

However, Brom Cook later noted his concern about the ordinance was that it wasn’t strong enough.

The proposed water extraction ordinance, developed by the district, says the purpose of the ordinance is “to protect the quality and quantity of groundwater located wholly or partially in Rumford, to ensure that any large-scale water extraction is subjected to prior review and approval so as to establish the ongoing sustainability and quality of … water supplies.”

The revenue from an agreement would be used by the district for improvements over the next decade, totaling close to $8.1 million. These include $770,000 for the downtown infrastructure replacement, and $160,000 for the Falls Hill booster station.

And, regarding scheduled bridge replacements by the state in 2018-19, the water district’s cost to replace the High Bridge water main would be $200,000, and another $78,000 to replace the Swift River Bridge water main.

Trustee Chairman James Thibodeau cautioned, “Some people might get the impression that our infrastructure is actually falling apart. It’s not. But it’s time to address the issues that are going to be forthcoming.”

Water District Supt. Brian Gagnon said the district has just over 1,600 ratepayers.

Rumford has more than 4,300 registered voters, according to the town.

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Draft agreement with Nestle Waters North America:

Water purchase: At the current district large customer water rates, Poland Spring’s estimated 100 to 150 million gallons per year would result in the company paying between $200,000 to $300,000 per year to the district.

Lease: Wells and equipment used to extract spring water will be paid for by Poland Spring, owned by the district, and leased back to Poland Spring at $12,000 per month ($144,000 per year).

Terms of the agreement: Fifteen years with five additional renewal terms of five years each; guaranteed minimum payment for first three years; and district can terminate the agreement after 10 years if Poland Spring does not fulfill its obligations under the Community Benefits Agreement (i.e., $1 million investment fund) or the Evaluation Agreement (i.e., $100,000 for aquifer exploration and $175,000 impact fee to the district).

Infrastructure: Poland Spring will provide $160,000 for redundancy between the Milligan and Scotties Brook wells.

Community benefits for Rumford: Current proposed community benefits by NWNA—Creating Shared Values investment of $250,000 per year over the first four years of water extraction in Rumford to create an investment fund of $1 million. Additionally, NWNA would provide $50,000 per year in each of the first four years to provide Rumford money for projects now; and additional community benefits are $20,000 per year payment in lieu of taxes throughout the term of the water supply agreement. NWNA estimates the loading station will produce $20,000 to $30,000 per year in property taxes.

Pathway to a bottling plant: Allow for sufficient time to gather long-term data on reliability of the water source, and allow for time to find two additional sources of spring water that could, in addition to the Ellis River aquifer, support a bottling plant in Rumford.

NWNA has agreed to meet four times a year with the town and the district to provide updates.

NWNA has agreed to expend $100,000 to find additional spring water sources in the Rumford area over the course of at least three years.

NWNA has agreed to pay the district $175,000 for an evaluation impact fee.


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