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Fryeburg Water Company seeks long-term agreement with Nestle for water extraction

CONWAY — The Fryeburg Water Company is seeking state approval for a new agreement that would cement its relationship with the Nestle company through 2037 and possibly until 2057.
Nestle Water North America is a global bottled-water company that buys millions of gallons of water from the Fryeburg Water Company through Nestle's Maine-base subsidiary, Poland Spring. The two companies have had a state-approved agreement since 2008, but the proposed changes mean the agreement will need to be reviewed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
8-23-fryeburg-water-1A Poland Spring truck on Route 302 in Fryeburg Thursday. Poland Spring is a subsidiary of Nestle. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)The new agreement would change the way the Fryeburg Water Company charges rent on the two-acre filling station leased to Nestle, set a yearly minimum that Nestle agrees to extract, and task Nestle with finding an additional water source for the Fryeburg Water Company.
It would also ensure the two companies are in business together for years to come.
"The term of the agreement is 25 years," according to paperwork filed with the Maine PUC, "with the option to extend for up to four additional five-year terms."
Both companies say the new agreement would bring stability to their partnership.
Nestle is a major customer, Jean Andrews, vice president of Fryeburg Water Company, said, and removing some of the guesswork about how much water they will buy each year is important.
In 2006 Nestle bought 178 million gallons water, Andrews said. "That was the most they ever withdrew." In 2009 Nestle bought less than half that, 86 million gallons, and in 2011 that was further reduced to 73 million gallons. "We're never quite certain how much water they're going to withdraw."
That creates uncertainty for Fryeburg Water Company — uncertainty the company is looking to eliminate. The new agreement would require Nestle to buy "at least 75 million gallons per year."
The proposed agreement would also change the way Fryeburg Water Company charges rent to Nestle for its pumping station off Route 113. Under the current agreement, that rent fluctuates with the amount of water Nestle buys. "If they take more water then their rent is more money," Andrews said. The new plan would fix the monthly rent for the two-acre parcel at $12,000. The rate would then be adjusted every five years.
"It's offering us a whole lot more stability," Andrews said, but "in order to get that stability they want a long-term contract."
A spokesman for Nestle, meanwhile, said the company understands Fryeburg Water Company's position.
The contract is "mostly trying to meet the needs of the water company," said Mark Dubois, natural resource manager for Poland Spring, the local Nestle affiliate. "It doesn't really change much for us at all."
Fryeburg Water Company maintains the right to hold off supplying water to Nestle in the case of an emergency, according to the PUC filing.
Nestle will also have to "seek an additional water source for FWC and its customers," according to the filing, "at its sole expense."
Nestle is happy to invest in the Fryeburg area, Dubois said. "We want to be a strong member of the community."
The PUC announced it is currently accepting public comment on the proposal. The comment period is open through Sept. 4.
The PUC has not, however, posted the full agreement to its website. The commission posted a three-page summary after The Conway Daily Sun made several phone calls to PUC officials, but the full agreement is not yet available to the public. The PUC was looking to the situation at press time. Fryeburg Water Company provided a copy to the Sun for review.
"I don't know why it hasn't been posted," Andrews said, particularly since the state is asking for feedback.
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