Sunday, February 3, 2008

Alliance for Democracy and Barnstead NH Make History

First ordinance in the country to ban corporate theft of water and assert the rights of nature

Communities Take Power

by Doug Pibel
The Citizens of Barnstead, New Hampshire, Used Local Law to Keep Corporate Giants Out of Their Water
Fall 2007: Stand Up to Corporate Power
YES! Magazine
Read this article in Spanish. Lea este artículo en español

Gail Darrell, Gordon Preston and Jack O'Neil, citizens of Barnstead, NH. Photo by Channing Johnson.
Gail Darrell, center, and other Barnstead, New Hampshire, residents pressed for a law to counter the “tyranny and usurpation” of the people's right to govern themselves, especially with regard to water. Gordon Preston, left, and Jack O'Neil were two of five selectmen who supported the ordinance.
Photo by Channing Johnson for YES!

In 1819, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that corporations are entitled to protection under the Constitution. That case started in New Hampshire. Since then, corporations have been granted virtually all the rights constitutionally guaranteed to human beings. They use those rights to site polluting feedlots, dump toxic sludge, build big-box stores, and take municipal water to sell, all whether citizens want them to or not.

Now, New Hampshire townspeople are fighting to turn that around and put people, not corporations, in charge. What manner of revolutionaries are these? The kind you should expect in the United States: laborers, mothers, farmers, businessmen, and other ordinary citizens. They are people like Gail Darrell, a New Hampshire native who, 25 years ago, moved with her husband to the little town of Barnstead to raise their children in a rural environment. They are people like Barnstead Select Board member Jack O'Neil, a Vietnam veteran and George Bush voter.

What's These People's Problem?
Barnstead is located just south of New Hampshire's lakes region. The Suncook River runs through town, and four lakes are within the town limits. It's a water-rich community sitting on a big aquifer.

Which puts it in the crosshairs of corporate water miners. As bottled water has become a “must have” commodity generating nearly $10 billion a year in consumer spending, corporations have descended on communities like Barnstead and set up pumping operations. They extract hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day, bottle it, and ship it out for profit. Taking that much water raises the specter of lowered water tables and dry wells, infiltration of pollutants or saltwater, and damage to wetlands. The townspeople lose control of one of the necessities of life.

Barnstead residents watched as nearby Barrington and Nottingham fought to block multinational corporation USA Springs from taking their water. They saw those communities work through the state regulatory system and, after years of labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, find themselves without a remedy. Corporations, they were told, have constitutional rights that limit what regulators can do with zoning or other land-use controls.

Gail Darrell and Diane St. Germaine, another Barnstead resident, didn't want their town to face the same expensive battle. They already had experience with the regulatory system, having worked to get the town to ban local dumping of Class A sewage sludge. Once that ban was in place, the corporations shipping the sludge simply got it reclassified as Class B biosolids, and the town was back to square one.

The full story is here: Communities Take Power

More Information


Summary of the process and situation leading up to Barnstead adopting this ordinance.

Town of Barnstead, NH Home Page

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has a Model Anti-Corporate Water Ordinance

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