Maine Activists Target Portland Law Firm for Role in Commodifying Maine’s Groundwater
People from across Maine brought trash bags full of empty plastic water bottles to Pierce Atwood Law Firm’s office in Portland, ME on the morning of Friday, November 14 to demonstrate the physical ramifications of the corporate bottling industry for Maine’s landfills. The law firm represents both Nestle’ Waters North America and the Nature Conservancy in their water acquisition projects throughout Maine. Nestle’, the Nature Conservancy, and Pierce Atwood share both financial resources and leadership in order to pursue an agenda of commodifying Maine’s groundwater. Young Maine residents and their allies gathered in Portland to protest against Pierce Atwood’s role as the legal liaison in the corporate theft of Maine’s water. In particular, those gathered were concerned about Nestle’s continued legal action against the people of Fryeburg as well as the Nature Conservancy’s refusal to remove commercial water extraction from the development easements attached to the Plum Creek development plan for the North Woods.
The town of Fryeburg has been battling a Nestle’ expansion project for over four years. As of October 2008, on four separate occasions Fryeburg’s town government has denied Nestle’ the permits needed for a truck loading station that is needed to put another well online for Nestle’s water extraction operations. Each time, Nestle’ has appealed the decision and brought suit against the people of Fryeburg, leaving the community struggling with crippling legal expenses. In September, the multinational corporation filed its fourth suit in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court against the small rural town of 3,000 residents. “How many times does Fryeburg have to say “No!” for Nestle’ to respect their town’s democratic decision?” questioned Andy Smith of Waterville, “this type of legal action is not how good neighbors treat each other.”
Farther north, another client of Pierce Atwood, the Nature Conservancy is expected to take control of over 266,000 acres through conservation easements related to the Plum Creek planned development of the Moosehead Region. Despite numerous concerns raised during public hearings by those opposed to corporate development of the North Woods, commercial water extraction is still a possibility in the Nature Conservancy’s easements. “It seems like the Nature Conservancy has really put the “con” into their conservation,” says Emily Posner of Defending Water for Life, “when the average person thinks of environmental conservation, they do not think of the North Woods being littered with diesel trucks shipping out the region’s water.”
Pierce Atwood is a major contributor, as is Nestle’ Water’s North America, to the Nature Conservancy of Maine. Executives from both organizations also sit on the non-profit’s corporate conservation board. Nestle’ Waters North America—a subsidiary of Nestle S.A.–is the largest food processing corporation in the world. Both Native Forest Network and Defending Water for Life remain concerned that without local consent and often times even public input, Nestle’ is bulldozing its way through Maine’s long-standing democratic processes in order to commandeer the great sand and gravel aquifers that run throughout Maine; the very water that should be a resource and common good for Maine’s future generations, not profits for giant corporations.
This debacle is representative of an emerging world-wide corporate water cartel that is steadily and deliberately eroding community governing practices in their efforts to commodify the land, water, wildlife-even the people-in communities and localities throughout the world. This type of corporate abuse mirrors that which has happened on oil-rich lands. Canada and the northeastern quarter of the U.S. hold a significant percentage of the entire world’s fresh water reserves, and this assault on Fryeburg, ME represents part of a developing, very dangerous trend launched by multinational corporate enterprises to appropriate control over ground and surface water supplies from local communities for markets elsewhere. Along with the actions of bottled-water outfits like Nestle’ in places like Maine, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and Florida–even greater plans are afoot to pipe water from the Great Lakes and the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula (which is largely Indigenous Territory) to provide fresh water for golf courses, swimming pools, gated communities, lawns, and water parks in the Southwestern deserts. Such projects will be pushed on communities in relatively water-rich regions under the guise of providing water for thirsty people in desert communities-allegedly justifying the suspension of people’s right to local sovereignty and control over their own resources.
With the coming climate catastrophe, water will become the most precious of all “natural resources,” and it is likely that most future human conflicts will arise over water rights and dwindling water supplies. As many bio-regions become warmer and drier over time-and with much of their existing water supplies already compromised by pollutants and taxed by over-use-places like Fryeburg, ME represent crucial initial battlefields in the critical effort to protect threatened water supplies on local and regional levels. If people in places like Fryeburg decide they are able to assist less-fortunate communities elsewhere that are suffering from water shortages, then the decisions and terms should be dictated by the people of Fryeburg and nobody else. And with the uncertainties we all face regarding the future climate scenarios and subsequent human migrations, there is no guarantee that places like Maine will not also face water shortages in the future.
For audio of interviews with activists and protestors:
Hey Nestle’-GO TO HELL!