The Poland Spring bottling company has backed off its request to double the amount of water it is extracting from one of its wells in Hollis, after mounting opposition from townspeople concerned about the additional withdrawal amid this summer’s drought.
Local residents, some of them with wells that had gone dry, attended two public meetings to express their outrage and to demand answers from the bottling giant. The decision to pull the application came just a few days before another meeting of the town planning board that had been scheduled to hear the permit request.
“Meeting and public hearing canceled for September 14,” a notice on the Hollis town site said Friday. “Poland Spring has withdrawn their application.’’
Poland Spring was seeking to double its withdrawal from 30 million gallons of water a year to 60 million gallons from what it calls Borehole No 6, one of its wells.
On Friday evening, the company confirmed to The Maine Monitor that it was retreating.
“Consistent with our principle and longstanding practice of being a good neighbor, we have determined it is in the best interest of everyone not to proceed at this time. While this project recently received Maine DEP approval, we appreciate the community’s engagement on this permit application as well as their comments and suggestions,” a Poland Spring spokesman said in a statement..
The Monitor reported that BlueTriton Brands, the owner of Poland Spring, filed an application in June to modify its permit in order to increase the withdrawal.
Like much of Maine, a large portion of York County was in a drought this summer, and the application request surfaced as anxious residents worried about their wells. But the request also raised broader concerns among some residents about Poland Springs, which has been tapping water in Hollis for about two decades.
Residents attended two meetings of the Hollis Planning Board in the past several weeks, and a third meeting was scheduled for Wednesday.
“I have never seen this many people come together like this before,’’ said Barbara Coleman, a local resident.
The town planned to hire an independent hydrologist and other experts to assess the request. Residents were upset about the number of Poland Spring trucks running through town as well as the impact of more water being taken from the aquifer.
In its application and at the Aug. 24 public meeting, Poland Spring insisted the additional withdrawal was relatively minimal. “The increased withdrawal rate will not deplete or degrade adjacent water bodies or supplies,’’ the application said.
In its statement Friday night, a spokesman said, “we will continue to be avid water stewards and report water withdrawals to the town of Hollis and the Maine DEP.”
Experts have differed on what impact bottlers’ extraction of huge amounts of water has on nearby wells, and the bottled water companies have traditionally argued that they are removing a relatively small amount from Maine’s vast aquifer. Nonetheless, in 2016, Poland Spring, then owned by Nestle, cut back on its water withdrawal amid a severe drought, the Portland Press Herald reported at the time.
David Dahl is the editor of The Maine Monitor. Reach him with ideas for other stories: firstname.lastname@example.org.