BROWNFIELD, Maine — A public hearing on a proposed water extraction ordinance will be held today.

The hearing is set to begin at 6 p.m. at the Brownfield Community Center at 90 Main St. The 27-page-long ordinance can be found at brownfieldmaine.org.

Residents will vote on the proposed ordinance at a special town meeting Aug. 20 at the community center starting at 7 p.m.

The proposed ordinance would replace the 2004 water extraction ordinance. Residents have been working to update the ordinance since 2016.

Both ordinances are aimed at protecting the Ward's Brook Aquifer, which Brownfield shares with Denmark and Fryeburg.

In 2017, Poland Spring embarked on a campaign to ask Brownfield to change a requirement in the 2004 ordinance that calls for an annual extraction permit. Poland Spring says multiyear permits would encourage long-term investment.

Poland Spring extracts water from Denmark and Fryeburg but currently has no operations in Brownfield.

The work of updating the ordinance began with a water ordinance committee in 2016 but that didn't meet with the town attorney's approval.

In November of 2017, residents voted overwhelmingly to pass a 180-day moratorium that prevented water extractors from being approved under the existing ordinance. Selectmen have extended it since.

The Brownfield Concerned Citizens made a draft of the ordinance, presented it to the planning board, and the planning board presented it to the selectmen in October. The selectmen certified the draft ordinance at their meeting on July 23.

The Brownfield Concerned Citizens have a Question and Answer explainer on their website, brownfieldconcernedcitizens.org.

"The current ordinance does not set limits on the amount of water that can be extracted," states brownfieldconcernedcitizens.org. "The proposed ordinance sets limits to help protect the town’s water resource: small-scale extractions are limited to between 1,000 and 9,999 gallons per day; large-scale operations would be limited to between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons per day. No extractions of greater than 20,000 gallons per day are permitted. Further, these limits are an aggregate total, so apply to any extractor regardless of how many extraction points (wells) they may have." 

The Q&A goes onto explain that the proposed ordinance would provide "greater financial protections" to the town in terms of having a water extractor carry the costs of reviewing and managing their application/business operations to include the cost of hiring consultants that might be needed.  The Q&A also says there would be "greater protection" from things like traffic and noise.

In the fall of 2017, Poland Spring said it supported updating Brownfield’s groundwater extraction ordinance "to better align with ordinances established in other Maine communities.

"The key change we recommend is to eliminate the one-year permit renewal, which is prohibitive to long-term, local investment. Instead, other towns have used a conditional use permit process," said Poland Spring. 

The Brownfield Concerned Citizens made a comparison chart between the present and proposed ordinances. According to them:

• Both the present and the proposed water extraction ordinances require annual permit review and approval. The 2004 ordinance requires review and approval by the code enforcement officer while the proposed ordinance would have the planning board do that work.

• The 2004 ordinance requires a permit for extractions over 1,000 gallons per day. The proposed ordinance would have a permit requirement for "small scale extractions" between 2,000-9,999 gallons per day and "large scale extractions" of between 10,000-20,000 per day.

• The proposed ordinance proposes a 20,000 gallon-per day cap while, the 2004 ordinance has no cap.

• The proposed ordinance for large extractions calls for a "cease and desist from pumping if groundwater level drops 3 inches or more in monitoring wells and may resume at 2 inches."

• For large scale extractions the new ordinance imposes hours of extraction and related truck traffic from 7 a.m.- 7 p.m.

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