Share This Page

Tribe hopes to build bottled water plant in Maine to alleviate joblessness

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 8:45 p.m.
This Oct. 1, 2013 photo shows Tomah Stream in Indian Township, Maine. The Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe plans to tap into pristine waters of the nearby Tomah aquifer with hopes of building a bottled water plant. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — Tucked in the nation's northeastern corner, the Passamaquoddy tribe's ancestral land remains as it was centuries ago: rugged and teeming with natural beauty and wildlife. Snow-covered in winter, springtime warmth reveals a rolling landscape, lakes and ponds — and dozens of bubbling springs.

But there is an ugly reality inside this idyllic community: Joblessness is rampant, making it hard for residents to feed their families. The tribe needs more money to bolster public safety and other tribal services.

The leadership has been working on a bold plan to address these issues: Capitalize on pristine spring water by building a 123,000-square-foot bottling plant and selling the water to customers outside of the tribal land.

The tribe is working with an investor and hopes to complete a deal early next year. Planning has been under way for several years, and there appears to be broad support among the 1,300 tribal members in Indian Township.

“People are struggling, especially with the cold weather coming and the high cost of fuel. Some people are having a really hard time,” said Karen Sabattis, a mother of five and grandmother of nine who's laid off from a tribal plant that makes military clothing.

The Creative Apparel plant where Sabattis and several hundred other tribal members once worked is idle, and there are few other employment options in the state's poorest county. The latest figures from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs put unemployment on the reservation at an astonishing 60 percent, causing an exodus of tribal members.

The tribal leadership believes the bottling plant could provide for the community.

“If we had jobs that paid a livable wage, more of our people would come back,” Chief Joseph Socobasin said. “Some of them are my own family members who live off the reservation, and the only reason is that they can't find work.”

The goal for the tribe is to establish 70 good-paying industrial jobs at the plant and to bring in revenue to fund tribal schools, public safety, health care and an assisted-living center at Indian Township, Socobasin said. More jobs would come from spinoff businesses such as a trucking company for hauling water, he said.

Tribal members have been careful not to move too fast; they want to minimize damage to the land's resources and maintain its natural beauty. The industrial plant would be tucked away, and trucks would use U.S. 1, which abuts the proposed plant site.

“It's not just about this,” said tribal member Wes Nicholas, rubbing his fingers together to indicate money. “It's about creating a future for our people. That's our main goal.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.