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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Towns confident in city’s ability to run company

NASHUA – Although the vast majority of Pennichuck Corp.’s water customers are in Nashua, the company provides water to thousands more people in towns throughout southern and central New Hampshire.

Those towns are now left with another municipality in control of their water supply.

City and Pennichuck officials agreed this week to a $200 million stock takeover, ending an eight-year eminent domain battle for the water utility. That fight began in 2002 when the city learned Pennichuck was considering selling to an out-of-state company.

Reached Friday, officials in other Pennichuck-served towns were optimistic about working with Nashua and grateful the utility would remain locally controlled.

“It’s nice the have the company remain in local control; that’s why Nashua and the other communities were attempting to try to buy this a number of years ago,” Merrimack Town Manager Keith Hickey said. “I hope that Nashua works with the other communities as they said they intended to do as they manage the assets and the water of that company, and provide the same level of service that Pennichuck provided to us.”

Hickey said the Merrimack Village Water District Water Works provides most of the town’s water supply and is supplemented by Pennichuck.

About 1,785 of Litchfield’s 3,100 water customers are served by Pennichuck, according to Litchfield Town Administrator Jason Hoch.

“Obviously, it’s been percolating long enough that the towns have been thinking about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of open-ended issues. We’re just waiting and seeing how everything takes shape. We’re waiting to see how things will turn out.”

While the size and nature of the purchase is unusual, as is the fact that a city-controlled utility will stretch far outside its own borders, a city or town running its own utility is hardly a new concept, Hoch said.

“It’s not like they’re launching a space program,” he said. “There are plenty of resources for them to get help with questions they have. There are plenty of municipalities that run water companies.”

Several towns formed the Merrimack Valley Regional Water District in 2004 in anticipation of changes to the company’s assets, Hoch said. The current plan is to keep those satellites under the same umbrella.

In addition to Pennichuck Water Works, the city will own two other utilities, Pennichuck East and Pittsfield Aqueduct, plus Pennichuck Water Services Co. and Southwood Co., a real-estate holding company that controls roughly 450 acres of watershed.

Hoch said Nashua is perfectly capable of running the utility and hopes dealings with them will be simpler than before.

“I don’t anticipate any problem working with Nashua on it,” he said. “We’re in the same line of business.”

Londonderry Town Manager David Caron had a similar view.

“I’m very confident they’ll be able to operate the facility in a very efficient manner,” he said. “Communities have been involved throughout the state and the region managing a number of different utilities. I think everyone believed the organization would be more responsive if it remained in local control, local ownership with a local board of directors.”

Carol Granfield, Hooksett town administrator, said Hooksett hasn’t involved itself in the deal and likely won’t unless customer complaints start rolling in.

“We hope that it’s a good decision and that there won’t be issues,” she said. “I’m sure we will hear from residents if there are concerns, and we’ll deal with that at that point.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or