The towns of Nottingham and Barnstead

Situated in the middle of the state of New Hampshire, Nottingham  and Barnstead are rural communities about 18 miles apart with a little under 4000 residents each, dating back to the early 1700’s.  Among Nottingham’s grantees was Peregrine White, descendant of the first child of English parentage born in New England. According to the United States Census Bureau, water comprises 4 percent of the town’s 48.4 square miles. Containing 14 lakes and ponds, Nottingham is drained by the Pawtuckaway and North rivers, and at one time, had 17 watermills in operation. The town of Barnstead in Belknap County, is nearly as water rich, lying within the Merrimack River watershed. In summer you can see kids jumping off the town bridge into the river, or swinging by a rope from a tree branch far into the middle of the water.  Barnstead recalls an earlier possibly more idyllic time, with its large grassy commons, bordered by Victorian homes painted white, and lush surrounding woods.

Given the abundance of good water, it’s no wonder this part of New Hampshire has been targeted by a handful of water corporations who want to suck out a commodity that sells at a higher price than raw crude oil.  However, these small towns also are places where democracy is still practiced at the local level, in the form of the town meeting. Any registered resident may attend and vote on every article brought up for discussion. Here decisions, budgetary and otherwise, are made; here officials are elected or selected; here ordinances are passed. Some town meetings can get rowdy, even stretching into the following day. Nobody ever said that democracy is easy or orderly.

Environmental assault threatens community

In 2001, a company known as USA Springs wanted to put in three wells, to withdraw over 430,000 gallons of water a day from the local aquifer for a massive water bottling operation. These wells were to be situated at the headwaters of Nottingham and nearby Barrington, where most inhabitants rely on wells for their own water supplies. This bottling operation presented a threat to both water quality and quantity. USA Springs came to the Nottingham planning board to get the necessary permits. Early on the board, believing that the plant would bring business to Nottingham, which would add to the tax base, changed the zoning of the property from residential to commercial. As time went on, the hearings got volatile as many Nottingham residents objected. They brought in experts who showed that this operation would drain the bedrock aquifer, pollute the remaining water, and disturb wetlands and wildlife. But the planning board had no real ability to say no, once the necessary parts of the permit application were filled in.

Community group forms to fight corporate activity through the regulatory system

In response also in 2001, an umbrella citizens group formed in Nottingham and Barrington, and called itself Save Our Groundwater. SOG proceeded to hire lawyers and familiarize themselves with the State’s permitting system. USA Springs in the meantime went to the Department of Environmental Services, which in 2003 turned down their permit on 27 reasons. At that time a test showed how in just ten days, even while pumping less water than the proposed operation, the wells in the neighborhood dropped 40 feet. The USA Springs lawyers said: nothing to worry about. We’ll fix whatever problems arise. But this startling fact unified folks in the various communities affected; it helped SOG cross political and social boundaries and become strong enough to raise funds to mount a legal case.

SOG presented DES with a list of the contaminants the pumping operation drew deeper into the aquifer, as seen in the test. These were considered adverse impact under the New Hampshire Groundwater Protection Act, and DES denied the permit. SOG celebrated. USA Springs appealed. As one of the reasons for denial was buried toxins from large truck repair in the abutting property, the company proceeded to buy that property and fill in the well with chemicals to decontaminate the area. Afterwards they applied for a third time and in 2005, the permit was approved. The other 26 reasons for DES’ earlier denial all disappeared.

(SOG researched USA Springs to find that it was a “realty investment trust.” So far they’ve spent two million fighting it and still don’t know who is behind it, except for one owner, Francesco Rotundo. Corporations set up different shells to protect themselves, and SOG couldn’t find records.)

Local government says: “nothing we can do”.

After the DES reversed itself and issued the permits, the Nottingham Select board said there was nothing they could do about it. Nottingham passed an ordinance to stop people withdrawing water from the town, which had passed with one dissent. This ordinance was overturned the following year however, when the selectmen’s attorney met with the USA Springs’ attorney, something only later discovered in court papers, and representing a breakdown in the normal democratic process.

CHRIS MILLS, NOTTINGHAM RESIDENT: At every planning board meeting, I was fully assured that the government would be there to protect us, that it would take notice of the will of the people of the town who did not want a water bottling plant. Yet at these same meetings, every permit asked for was granted and the community’s will was ignored.

A second group formed to help fight the company, called Neighborhood Guardians. Together with SOG they continued to battle USA Springs through the regulatory system, losing the case on every singe permit – Department of Transportation permits, Building permits etc. At one point later in the game, USA Springs applied for a new driveway permit. The police chief went to the hearing, talked about the danger on route 4 of having trucks pull out one every 3 minutes, the disastrous effect of fully loaded trucks on this main thorough fair between Concord and Plymouth. He was told he had no standing. Neither did any other community group. Only USA springs had standing to testify and they say it’s their right to draw water from their land. Following years of appeals, this case would end up squarely in front of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The activists

Active in SOG was a young woman studying for a degree at the university of New Hampshire in political science with a focus on sustainable living. OLIVIA ZINK became aware of water as an issue with political dimensions and decided to do an internship with “Save Our Groundwater”. She jumped in at the deep end to help defeat the plant, which is how she learned how to do community organizing.

OLIVIA ZINK, ACTIVIST: “Our water is our life. Who owns our water? Here was this company intending to take 430 thousand gallons a day to ship overseas to Italy for profit. This really fascinated me and I wanted to learn more.”

So Olivia learned to be an organizer, to share information, to work with media, with business people, with neighbors, with elected officials. It’s all about developing those relationships.” SOG met with the governor and their state representatives, and learned that there were seven other water bottling plants going in around the state.
In response, SOG submitted legislation to strengthen the current state laws, which was passed by the New Hampshire House and declared that water is held in the public trust. As part of this effort they were fighting back the Department of Environmental Services, with public comment at large meetings.

Democracy School co-founder Richard Grossman came and talked with SOG about regulatory law and democracy, explaining corporate rights, and Olivia remembers saying to him: “the regulatory system is going to work for us. We just need to go through the process.” And at first it did seem to work, when New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services denied the permit, but when the company reapplied for the third time using mostly the same information, and they received the permit, Olivia was appalled to realize that they had received permission to literally steal the water.

Community group fails, or may win and then fail in the end.  

The Department of Environmental Services does have a law: you have to apply for a permit. But when companies complete the application, then DES has to grant them the permit, in other words the state grants permits with no power to say no. To Olivia’s indignation, the company doesn’t even pay for the permit.

Through her contact with Richard Grossman, the opportunity arose  to attend a Democracy School in Pennsylvania. She found it a whirlwind of information. She learned about 400 years of history that she didn’t get in any high school or college class she’d ever taken. She learned about how people fought back, about the women’s movement, civil rights, how were they organized. She determined to learn from those movements. After attending the school, she helped bring Richard Grossman and Thomas Linzey to teach a school in New Hampshire.

OLIVIA ZINK: We have to start focusing on who is making the decision. The fight is about water, but it’s really deeper than that, it’s about who decides what our community looks like.

Group turns to CELDF – to help fight same or another threat

In the meantime, the people in Barnstead had been witnessing what was happening, how in Nottingham so many tax dollars were spent fighting this operation, how in Alton, another community nearby, a smaller bottling plant was already operational, taking spring water to sell. They thought, maybe we’re next and invited SOG to come have a discussion. Olivia showed “Thirst,” a documentary that details the multinational Bechtel Corporation’s involvement in Bolivia and how this company prevented people from accessing their own water. The people in Bolivia revolted in the streets and threw Bechtel out. The film also shows how local people in India’s dryer regions dug ponds, which started to transform the land, but then companies came to take the water from those ponds to sell it back to people.

In the discussion afterwards in the hall, Olivia compared this to what is happening in Nottingham, albeit on a different scale. She shared about everything SOG went through –- how they had appealed every permit, raised funds to mount a Supreme Court case. She asked the folks of Barnstead: Do you really want to spend energy and community resources on that, or move ahead in a different way? She told them that the CELDF sludge ordinances had been successful; not a single teaspoon of sludge had been spread in communities where the anti-corporate sludge ordinances have been passed into law.

This drew the attention of Barnstead Resident, Gail Darrell, because Barnstead had passed a resolution against sludge spreading earlier, which did not stop the practice and folks in various other communities were passing resolutions to protect their water, but a resolution is like a wish, while an ordinance is binding law.

Gail asked Olivia for more information. A New Hampshire native, homesteader and gardener, Gail was glad to be a stay at home Mom, raising her four children and her vegetables in the quiet countryside. Gail lives in a rustic old home with a welcoming kitchen, where a pot of soup is always simmering on the woodstove. The river runs 150 yards from the house and their well right sits right by the kitchen door, supplying both house and garden. It may look like there’s an abundance of water in the state, but Gail knows the monitoring wells are down 6 feet. If the aquifer is drained by the water bottling plant, the area’s farmers would be affected, and the animals would be affected.

Olivia gave Gail an article by Thomas Linzey, which mirrored a lot of conversations Gail has had with her husband these past few years when she saw how blatantly the state was keeping citizens from protecting their water.  It had clicked that the regulatory system is set up to create a barrier between local citizens and the corporate entity. What she learned from reading and going to Democracy School, is that this barrier isn’t some kind of malfunction, it’s built in. So even though some people in Barnstead thought it was worth exploring the regulatory route, Gail knew it was a waste of time and energy.

GAIL DARRELL, ORGANIZER: When I went to democracy school, I didn’t have preconceived notions about living in a democracy.  But I got the tools, the specifics. Afterwards, I thought how could I hide in my garden now that I’d learned the words to speak? How about we start acting like sovereign people who have an impact and a perspective? If you have corporations that come in to your town, and you do not have a say, you do not live in a democracy.

Democracy school education of group leads to understanding of root causes of problem.

Something communities under assault have in common is that they come together in reaction to a specific issue. They are always pushing against what they don’t want, rather than asking themselves what they do want. The conversation in Democracy School allows people to ask, what kind of community do we want to live in? And how do we go about creating our vision for our community, instead of spending all our energy and resources fighting what we don’t want through the regulatory system.

OLIVIA: Democracy School is a good tool, but it’s using that tool to inform your community that matters. The first school in Barnstead spurred on conversations at the community store, or the town hall or while pumping gas. That first night, people didn’t sleep, they pulled out the constitution, and returned in the morning excited and motivated to keep learning.

Group reframes the problem and decides on a new rights based course of organizing.

After the school, Gail and other citizens formed a committee with the goal of bringing to the selectman a real plan for protection of Barnstead’s water. The core group is about ten people at any given time. To organize effectively, Gail finds, you need that core of people who understand the issue. And usually it was three or four who kept the ball rolling, because most of the people had day jobs. Gail went door to door to talk to every neighbor, and then further by car, to nudge people into attending the public presentations and to tell them about what was happening in Nottingham and share about a new approach for Barnstead. She gets a thrill from seeing that spark in somebody’s eye when they learn something new. It helped that Gail had participated in town for a long time and has the reputation for being honest.

GAIL DARRELL: The most important part of organizing is the day to day conversations with neighbors around kitchen tables. That’s what builds a strong movement, sharing information and expertise and opinions. When people begin to talk, not only about what they are against, but more importantly, what they want for their communities to look like, what rights they believe they possess.

That community spirit came alive, in conversations over soup and bread. The Barnstead selectmen proved open to meeting with Thomas Linzey. It impressed them when he started quoting from New Hampshire’s Constitution. Thomas asked: so what do you guys want to do? And Selectman Jack O’Neil said we want you to write us an ordinance, and we want it to start it with “We The People.”

OLIVIA ZINK: There are many issues I would disagree with Jack O’Neill on. But we developed a relationship with the selectmen that was even more powerful than the words of the ordinance. Jack said, I’m walking point for the people of Barnstead.

Section 2. Preamble and Purpose. We the People of the Town of Barnstead declare that water is essential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – both for people and for the ecological systems, which give life to all species. We the People of the Town of Barnstead declare that we have the duty to safeguard the water both on and beneath the Earth’s surface, and in the process, safeguard the rights of people within the community of Barnstead, and the rights of the ecosystems of which Barnstead is a part. We the people of Barnstead declare that all of our water is held in the public trust as a common resource to be used for the benefit of Barnstead residents and of the natural ecosystems of which they are a part.

For Gail and others, it’s such a relief to stop debating parts per million of toxins in the water, and start talking about people’s rights, inalienable rights, rights as a sovereign people. It awakens that fire in people.  She felt hopeful because in New Hampshire, local ordinances are given respect.

Group codifies this new vision into laws with CELDF’s help.

It took a couple of months to write the ordinance. Included in its language are the laws from which the community of Barnstead derives its authority.  Under the authority of the NH Constitution, they have inalienable and fundamental rights. Article ten states that government is instituted for benefit of the whole community, not for a particular class of men. In Articles 5 and 83, the spirit of the law  subordinates corporations to the body politic. Under their system of government, they are allowed to make laws and execute them and provide enforcement for these laws. All of this writing backed up their intent, which was to ban corporations from withdrawing water in the town of Barnstead.

Section 4. Statement of Law. No corporation or syndicate shall engage in water withdrawals in the Town of Barnstead.

Community gathers support for the ordinance

Among the many folks who worked hard to get the ordinance passed were BRUCE SHEARER AND CAROLYN NAMASTE: A couple who have chosen to live life in the country, to raise some of their own food and live close to the land. They strongly believe that they have to practice what they preach when it comes to protecting nature.

CAROLYN: We think all life is sacred. Water is life, without water there is no life. Yes, we have to attend town meetings and vote, but we are so wasteful, we need to clean up our whole act. It’s about educating your neighbor. Some people listen, some people don’t. We haven’t been very successful with our children.

BRUCE:  We’re part of the whole living web of life, but people don’t realize that politics and economics are the same thing in this country. The government represents money. I’m not saying there are no good politicians. *****But really, who’s calling the shots? It comes down to who decides here, we the people or we the money.

One of the selectmen also participated. For Jack O’Neill it was all about education. Initially, the selectmen had supported the company coming in, because Barnstead is poor and need businesses, but the more he learned, the less he could support it. He decided to take the time to personally educate the community: he wrote letters to the editor, joined in the potluck dinners and meetings at the library, wrote articles to keep people informed, spoke at the American legion. He admits that one of the things that swayed the other four selectmen, was the argument that if they had an ordinance in place, the corporation would not spend a half million dollars on legal fees, but be motivated to go elsewhere. It also helped that CELDF committed to stand by Barnstead and fight any legal battles that ensue.

It took a year of solid organizing. Gail and members of the group went to every selectman’s meeting in order to remind them as well as other folks who might not have that same inspiration, of the importance of the ordinance and their duty to do the will of the people. Gail could get upset sometimes, it was stressful but she made the decision to treat everyone with respect. With the folks on the boards, she reminded herself that their intention is to serve the community and tried to understand their concerns. Probably the biggest concern is that part of the ordinance goes against established law.

OBSTACLE: People’s unwillingness to break illegitimate law.

The ordinance states that the New Hampshire Constitution requires citizens to oppose tyranny and usurpation and confers upon them the duty “to recognize that two centuries’ worth of governmental conferral of constitutional powers upon corporations” has deprived people of the authority to govern their own communities, and requires steps to remedy that usurpation of governing power.

GAIL DARRELL: The original corporations were set up to suck up resources to send to the king. When done, they picked up and moved on to the next place. That’s still happening, but instead, corporations send lobbyists to draft law to set it up best for corporations, not for the people.

Section 5. Statement of Law. No corporation doing business within the Town of Barnstead shall be recognized as a “person” under the United States or New Hampshire Constitutions, or laws of the United States or New Hampshire, nor shall the corporation be afforded the protections of the Contracts Clause or Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, or similar provisions found within the New Hampshire Constitution, within the Town of Barnstead.

Gail and other realized that for some people going up against settled law presented a huge challenge. She would remind them that all through American history people had come up against settled law when it violated rights. She would remind them the ordinance did not violate their own Constitution. She recognized that without having the knowledge from the democracy school, people are missing essential pieces of information. Many don’t know they are not as sovereign as they thought and that corporate personhood rights trump their human rights. Some folks got angry at Gail and she understood how frightening it can be, because then who is looking out for their interests? People can react negatively to the messenger.

BRUCE SHEARER: The self-governance thing puts people on edge. That ordinance would not have passed if it weren’t for legal fees of Nottingham and Barrington. It’s as if people have to have something that’s threatening before they’re willing to move.

Gail agreed with Bruce that if they hadn’t had that living illustration of how following the regulatory system wasted taxpayer money, the ordinance probably would not have passed. When there is a situation close to home people can identify with, they are more awake. At Barnstead’s annual town meeting, the community agreed that this was the right approach to protect their water and voted a resounding Yes, with 135 people voting for and only one against. The board of selectmen had approved it beforehand, except for one.

The Selectmen who passed ordinances into law.

Along with the administration of the budget and the employment of police and fire fighters, the responsibilities of the selectmen include planning for the future, and water lies within that province. Jack O’Neil and Gordon Preston present quite a contrast: Jack is the more rough-hewn. He fought in Vietnam and came back to fight the demons of alcoholism, got sober when his son was two years old, has a scar on his back from a tumor caused by the dioxins in agent orange.  Now he and his wife live on a piece of land, on a dead end on a dirt road, where moose wander up the driveway. Gordon is more urbane, grew up in England, moved his family to Barnstead to be near ski country and runs a couple of successful business from his farm. While wildly different in temperament, both were proud to pass the ordinance and both recognize they’ve done something that is not just about protecting the water in their town, but is ground breaking law. *****They agree that looking at the long term is important. Gordon and Jack also say that in this time when there’s drought and America is facing hard times, Barnstead would be willing to help other communities that need water, and water should not be controlled by commercial interests.

JACK O’NEIL, SELECTMAN: I went to war for my country. I have to say, this is the first time in my life I’ve seen democracy starting to work. We the people of Barnstead threw aside our fears for the generations to come ahead of us, knowing we were in a battle with the corporations and their legal teams. To the nation, this might be a small battle, but something has to be done, and we the people of the town of Barnstead will walk point.*****

GORDON PRESTON, SELECTMAN: The New Hampshire motto is “Live free or die!” Is that a threat or exhortation? It can be both. I’m of the opinion, that if you feel something should be changed, then you should run for office like I did. New Hampshire is a good state to do pioneer this law in. Because of our structure of town meetings and the wording of our constitution, our judges are extremely reluctant to go after an existing town vote, so it’s therefore unlikely it would be overturned.”

Afterwards, they decided to send out a letter to the select boards of all the surrounding towns that shared the aquifer, such as Gilmanton, Alton, Pittsfield. They suggested to them that they band together with Barnstead showing the way. None responded. Nevertheless at the Barnstead town meeting the following year, the citizens strengthened the law and included the rights of nature, and then the nearby town of Atkinson has since followed suit, and folks in Nottingham have started moving in that direction.

This second ordinance happened because Gail and others saw that a community in Pennsylvania’s ordinances were challenged, when a corporation sued a township for loss of future profits, so they figured they needed more layers to protect the law. In this one they also gave nature rights.

SELECTMAN JACK O’NEIL: It’s a whole different mindset, that says we were speaking for the community, and our community is embedded in nature, so we can speak for nature. People ask, so how do we know what nature wants? Well children don’t have a voice, so adults speak for them in court. Why can’t we speak for ecosystems and animals? Don’t animals have a right to water too?

GAIL DARRELL: When you protect nature, you give yourself more rights.

*    *    *

All the while that the folks in Barnstead were being proactive in organizing and passing the ordinances, the activist groups Save Our Groundwater and Neighborhood Guardians had high hopes as their case moved its way forward to be heard in the New Hampshire Supreme Court. They pinned these hopes on arguing that because groundwater is held in the “public trust,” the court should prevent abuse of the groundwater system because water is community property for all residents to access and use. They argued that the DES permit violated the public trust doctrine because it allowed privatization of the water supplies.

On July 8, 2007, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued its decision. It denied that the two community groups had “standing” in the case and unanimously ruled in favor of the corporation, and the State, which had filed a brief supporting the corporation.

By now enough citizens had anticipated this possible dead end to move ahead and investigate following in Barnstead’s footsteps. Among them are Nottingham residents Chris and Gail Mills, a long married couple, who cheerfully agree that being a married couple and working together as activists can sometimes get contentious: “Sometimes one of us has to go take a drive to cool down. We’ve been doing that most of our married life, when we disagreed over our kids. It seems to work better when we have our own separate duties.”  Chris grew up on the outskirts of London, started out as a high school teacher, then immigrated for economic opportunity, and now has in a manner of speaking come full circle in educating his community. Chris and Gail attended a Democracy School, soon after Barnstead had passed their ordinance. He loved that the school was limited to 20 people, so that he had the chance to get into discussion and ask questions

CHRIS MILLS: “I’ve never gotten involved in doing anything like this before but I was appalled that USA Springs kept getting their permits. I was hoping somebody else would step up, but no one else did, so I said, I’ll do it myself.”

As a younger person, Gail fought the Vietnam War, and moved on to women’s issues. With the environment however, she is even more impassioned, because once it’s destroyed, so are humans. She thinks of her children and grandchildren, but really, it’s the injustice of it all that most gets to her.

GAIL MILLS: the thought that this small group of people can run the country and have most of the money and destroy our world and tell the rest of us what we can or can not do.

Group reframes problem, decides on a new rights based course of organizing

They decided to form a new organization and call themselves The Nottingham Tea Party. Their purpose was to educate the town so they could pass an ordinance similar to Barnstead’s. They had speakers come in, developed publications, put together brochures. When they started, most considered it was too late to do something about USA Springs. So they created a brochure, entitled: “IT’S NOT TOO LATE.”  They made the point that another corporation could come in, that this ordinance could protect them in the future. There are about 16 active members in the Tea Party, democrats, republicans and independents. In their displays they use a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.  Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Another active member, JOHN TERNINKO, who has lived in Nottingham for 41 years and calls himself a “city kid turned country,” came on board when he signed the petition Chris was handing out to get the ordinance on the ballot, and immediately wanted to discuss making some changes. Democracy School validated his own experience. He even spoke at the DES hearing and said: I recognize that everything I will say is irrelevant. This company has violated our trust, they have violated 17 ordinances in Barrington already, which should be sufficient grounds to not do business with them, but that doesn’t stop you at DES from moving forward with the permits. This whole process is a sham.”

All three activists chose to live here in Nottingham, and care deeply about what happens here. When Gail Darrell called to tell them Thomas was coming in, they decided to organize a meeting, made up posters and put them around town. They invited their select board, who declined.

Group continues to educate community, finds allies.

A lot of organizing happens at the dump, because that’s where folks get a lot of their information.  Saturdays the Tea Party took their petition there and gathered 162 signatures. Then they presented it to the town clerk, who verified all signatures as those of residents. Once that’s done, the selectmen have to place it on the agenda. After which they went back to the dump to make sure people would show up at the town meeting!

The organizers faced to main OBSTACLES. First the assumption that all business is good business, because it will brings taxes and jobs. The organizers have to explain that the jobs are often filled from outside the town, and the town’s treasury will be severely taxed to pay for the costs of infrastructure and pollution. The second obstacle is based in fear of giving up the notion that our government is taking care of us. Even when experience shows them this isn’t so, they find it hard to give up that hope.

Nottingham water rights and self- governance ordinance.

In their ordinance, they are relying on article ten of New Hampshire’s constitution, which was written in 1784.  It says that government is instituted for the whole community and those who are unhappy, have the right to take action. This is called “the right to revolution.” Government is not constituted for any particular class of men and when other means of redress are ineffectual, people ought to establish a new government. Chris and Gail are proud to be governed by the only state constitution, which has that right penned in.

group codifies this new vision into law with help of CELDF

We the people of Nottingham declare that all of our water is held in the public trust as a common resource to be used for the benefit of Nottingham residents and of the natural ecosystems of which they are a part. We believe that the corporatization of water supplies in this community – placing the control of water in the hands of a corporate few, rather than the community – would constitute tyranny and usurpation; and that we are therefore duty bound, under the New Hampshire Constitution, to oppose such tyranny and usurpation. That same duty requires us to recognize that two centuries’ worth of governmental conferral of constitutional powers upon corporations has deprived people of the authority to govern their own communities, and requires us to take affirmative steps to remedy that usurpation of governing power.

Gail Mills: Stripping corporations of the rights of persons really confused people. Businesses were getting frightened, calling to say they wouldn’t be able to do business in Nottingham any more. We had to explain to them when it is that corporations use those rights, that they wield them, not when they are doing good business but to get their way when they are doing harm.

When their fire department chief expressed his concern that he wouldn’t be able to help out other towns with water, the Tea Party created an amendment to the ordinance, identifying the exceptions: which organizations would be allowed to use and transport water, such as the fire dept, local utilities, the military, non-profits, as long as they don’t sell the water outside of Nottingham.

The heart of the ordinance is section 4: No corporation shall draw water in Nottingham and sell it somewhere else. They included a section defining rights:

Section 5.1. Rights. All residents of the Town of Nottingham possess a fundamental and inalienable right to access, use, consume, and preserve water drawn from the sustainable natural water cycles that provide water necessary to sustain life within the Town. Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the Town of Nottingham. Ecosystems shall include, but not be limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems.

The town meeting lasted from 8 am to 5 pm, and 365 people attended. The Select board had the same amount of time to present their position as the Nottingham Tea Party did and they chose to put down Thomas Linzey and the ordinance. They said that they the town has spent a lot of money defending lawsuits and they didn’t want any more money spent on fighting USA Springs, especially now the company had obtained all their permits. They recognize this ordinance could go all the way to the Supreme Court and if so, that this would cost taxpayers a lot of money. That argument might have swayed more folks at the meeting if they had not also declared that people should not worry because the town has agreements in place with USA Springs.

In spite of the fact that the selectmen opposed this ordinance, it passed with 63 percent of the vote. They also wrote in that 2/3rds of the community would be needed to overturn ordinance and that this cannot happen without a town meeting – to protect against unilateral action by the select board, having learned their lesson.  Afterwards the Nottingham Tea Party sent a registered letter to USA Springs, informing them of the passing of the ordinance, and suggesting that their business plan was in violation of local law.

Interestingly, USA Springs stopped building when the ordinance passed, and since that time, the Nottingham Tea Party has heard that the company has gone bankrupt.  Nevertheless, they are keeping up pressure on the select board by making sure they attend and tape all the meetings. Given the select board’s reluctance, they are reminding them it’s their job to enforce and pay expenses for enforcing the ordinance. They are also warning them: If you choose not to, we can go to the courts and indicate that you are not performing your duty. Article 8 says it is the duty of elected officials to execute the will of the people, and if they don’t they may be removed.

OLIVIA ZINK: Now I can share around the world with other people, this is what the residents of New Hampshire are doing to take back their water supply. It may seem strange to say, but I hope the ordinance gets challenged because it will present an opportunity, a tool to spread the message wider.

GAIL DARRELL: People say: You passed the ordinance in Barnstead?  How did you do that?  I tell them you have to be willing to take the time to talk to people, lots of people, about what you see as the problem. It takes perseverance, a person who’s committed, and who doesn’t give up. To be effective, you have to learn from what you do and keep going, and you have to keep the faith and the hope, because these fights are long, the hours are long and there are many losses along the way. But how else am I going to answer to my children? It was my commitment to my children that made it happen.

Additional Resources