FRYEBURG, Maine — Selectmen and Town Manager Sharon Jackson responded at last Thursday's selectmen's meeting to rumors of negotiations between the Eastern Slope Airport Authority, the town, Poland Spring and possibly a private citizen.
Jackson, a director on the airport executive board, said that “there has been no discussion at any of the board meetings talking about Nestle. That is a dead issue. There has been no discussion with the airport, with private citizens in any of the meetings that I have been involved with.”
She added: “I can say the executive board isn’t even contemplating that.”
In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Sun on Aug. 30, former airport authority representative Steve Bender of Lovell asked whether the airport authority could lease directly to Nestle.
Bender has accused the authority’s executive committee in the past of conducting secret discussions regarding a proposed land sale to Poland Spring and violating its own bylaws. He has since left the airport board.
Last October, Fryeburg residents voted by a wide margin to reject the sale of airport land to Poland Spring for a bottling plant. Nestle is the corporate parent of Poland Spring.
But at town meeting in June, voters approved a 40-year lease of airport land for a jet hangar that some believed might be a way for Nestle to build a bottling facility.
Additional correspondence between Fryeburg resident Scot Montgomery and Jackson, which was provided to selectmen, asked whether the town was “aware of any action or plan to sell airport land to Nestle — have there been any conversations about this?”
Jackson said there were no discussions about airport land being sold or leased.
Connie Harte, a representative to the airport authority from Brownfield, asked the board: “Is there any truth to what Mr. Bender said, the rumor that the town or Eastern Slope Airport Authority is negotiating with Nestle to put the plant in a round-about way back at the airport?”
Selectmen's chair Rick Eastman responded by saying: “To the best of my knowledge, no. The people voted quite clearly that they didn’t want that and just for clarification purposes, the town of Fryeburg owns that property and nothing can happen down there until the town votes to approve to either do it or not do it.”
Harte followed up by asking if the airport authority can lease their land to Nestle without the town’s approval.
Eastman said, “The land is owned by the town of Fryeburg quite clearly.”
Bender then said: “I suggest that you go back and look at the lease agreement that you have. The airport authority does have that right. It’s in the lease, it’s very clearly written in the lease. What you said is not true.”
Jackson told him they know what the lease says.
“Everything that was in your letter was not accurate," she continued. "So what I’m going to tell you is that there’s no communication with the town, the airport and Nestle with anything to do with the plant any place. When Nestle wanted to come here they wanted to buy."
Bender said the rumors came from a “very reliable source.”
He added that “private citizens are looking into it, not the town, not Sharon Jackson, although she is on the board of directors, so she should know.”
Harte asked the board if it was possible that Nestle could be negotiating with a private citizen on private land in Fryeburg. Eastman said it was possible but didn't know of any negotiations taking place and that “they would have to go through the planning board process plain and simple.”
Jackson said that “any private citizen that owns land, they can negotiate with Nestle to sell their land, that could be going on,” but added that the town wouldn’t know about it until an application went to the planning board.
Code Enforcement Officer Katie Haley said the planning board had not received any applications for a Nestle water facility.
Bender seemed pleased with the discussion’s outcome, saying, “Since we’re not allowed to talk or ask questions at the airport authority (meetings), that’s why we’re here tonight, and we wanted to get it on the record, and you said what we wanted to hear. Thank you.”