Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sterling selectmen to oppose Wekepeke plan, but to what extent?

The Sterling Board of Selectmen finally announced their official position on Nestle's proposal to purchase water from Clinton. They are opposed:

STERLING — Despite being wooed by Nestlé Waters of North America, and advice from special counsel Mark Bobrowski, the Board of Selectmen will lead the town in a fight against any and all commercial pumping operations Nestlé attempts to set up at the Wekepeke Reservoir.

“We decided we’re going to oppose Nestlé,” Selectman Richard Sheppard said. “We don’t especially want to see a large scale operation here that could in the future grow.”
I commend the board for deciding to lead the effort to oppose the plan. I'm a little surprised that the Selectmen took this position--since they had assumed a hands-off stance at the open forum in Sterling last month--but I'm happy that those of us who disagree with the proposal now have the backing of the Selectmen.

While the Selectmen have now come out against the plan, it's still unclear what steps they are willing to take in opposition.
How exactly do they plan on opposing the plan? Are they going to actively work against it? Or are they going to just speak against it?

I fear that it will be more of the latter than the former. From the Telegram & Gazette:

[Selectman Paul Sushchyk] noted, however, that it would be premature for Sterling to take any legal action at this time. “Until Clinton does one thing or another with the water, we don’t have the controversy to take steps toward litigation.”

Selectman Richard A. Sheppard concurred, saying drawn-out litigation involving the large company would be a financial burden Sterling cannot afford.
I'm concerned with both of these points.
Those of us who believe the plan should never get off the ground because state law does not allow it would like to see the town to get a ruling on the law now, as opposed to waiting to fight the plan after it has begun. If it's not permitted under state law, then there is no reason to even entertain a discussion on the specifics of this or any other plan.

It seems to me that the easiest route to a ruling would be to sign on to the petition of Attorney James Gettens, who has already filed a brief with the Attorney General, but it was pretty clear at the open forum that the Selectmen don't want anything to do with Gettens's action. But beyond that, the position of the board is apparently not to do anything until after Clinton makes a move. I think that is a mistake.

While Selectman Sheppard may be correct that a long court fight may be too expensive for the town, wouldn't it be a better strategy not to admit that? Effectively, the position seems to be "We're against it, but we're not going to fight round 1 and we're not going to be able to pay to fight in later rounds."

So how effective is the board's position? Only time will tell.

Previous coverage of the Wekepeke:
April 4: Vermont looking to restrict Wekepeke-style projects
March 27: This can't be helpful
March 25: Tough decision ahead for Clinton
March 21: Nestle's propsal could change everything
March 21: Nestle nominated for "Corporate Hall of Shame"
March 19: Sterling Selectmen disappoint at Wekepeke forum
March 16: Sterling should oppose Nestle...the right way

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