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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

City unseals Pennichuck deal minutes

NASHUA – The city’s lengthy sojourn from attempts to seize a water utility to a negotiated deal to outright buy the utility’s parent company can be traced through minutes of closed-door meetings city officials have now unsealed.

Residents can now read the twists and turns in the long process that culminated last month with an announcement that the city has agreed to a stock purchase of Pennichuck Corp., the parent company of Pennichuck Water Works.

That agreement put an end to the city’s attempts to acquire the utility through eminent domain proceedings with the N.H. Public Utilities Commission and to long legal battles between City Hall and Pennichuck officials.

The city has unsealed 36 sets of minutes dating back to a Pennichuck Water Special Committee meeting of Feb. 4, 2004. The minutes can be found on the city’s website, but for the time being, they’re scattered according to the committee and the meeting dates.

“They’ll be where they have to be officially for now,” Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Tuesday.

That means, each unsealed minute will be found with open-session minutes sorted chronologically under each board, whether it’s the special committee, or the Board of Aldermen as a whole, Lozeau said.

However, she hopes by the end of the day today the city’s information technology staff will also have the unsealed minutes stored in one place on the city’s website homepage under the Pennichuck Water Works link.

“That will make it easier” for residents to find and follow the closed-door discussions, Lozeau said.

The city’s website is As of Tuesday evening, to find the minutes, you have to click on “Board of Aldermen” under “city government,” then “meeting minutes” and finally “Index & Clarification of Pennichuck Acquisition Unsealed Minutes dated 12-8-10.”

That brings you to a table that shows the meeting dates. You’d then have to look up each meeting chronologically.

The Board of Aldermen voted Nov. 9 to unseal the nonpublic minutes. However, James M. McNamee, the city’s corporation counsel, first had to review the minutes to redact “portions that contain Pennichuck’s material confidential information which is not yet subject to disclosure,” McNamee wrote in a memo to the board.

McNamee finished the review of the minutes last week, he said.

The Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to accept McNamee’s memorandum.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane noted that there were no minutes unsealed for the entire year 2005.

“Does that mean there were no meetings in 2005 at all?” Deane asked.

“If there are none on there, I don’t believe we did,” responded Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, the board president.

Lozeau has long said she hoped to release the minutes if the city ever struck a deal with Pennichuck.

After an eight-year battle, city officials announced Nov. 12 they had reached a historic deal to take ownership of the local water supply and protect valuable watershed land.

Years of secret negotiations and legal maneuvering culminated when the city and Pennichuck Corp. struck a $200 million deal in which Nashua will acquire all company stock at $29 a share.

Once the deal closes, which could take as long as a year, the city will own all Pennichuck holdings, including Pennichuck Water Works, the utility that the city had fought to acquire through eminent domain proceedings.

The city will also own two smaller utilities, Pennichuck East and Pittsfield Aqueduct; Pennichuck Water Services Co., which provides water management such as pumping and metering; and Southwood Co., a real-estate holding company that controls roughly 450 acres of watershed.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday also addressed two steps required on the path of city ownership of the utility.

Aldermen gave a first reading to a resolution that a stock acquisition of the company is more financially beneficial to the city and water utility customers. The resolution will be debated by the Pennichuck Special Water Committee before coming back to the full board for a vote.

Also on Tuesday, a resolution authorizing the mayor and city treasurer to issue up to $220 million in bonds to pay for the costs of acquiring stock and/or assets of Pennichuck Corp. was given a first reading.

The resolution was assigned to the budget review committee and a public hearing was scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 6 in the City Hall auditorium.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or