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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Alderman to request Pennichuck’s $2.2m proceeds from Parcel F sale for city conservation

NASHUA – The next installment of “Who’s the Boss?” between the city and Pennichuck Corp. may soon begin over $2 million in proceeds from the Parcel F land sale.

Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess has crafted a resolution for next Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting requesting that Pennichuck give the $2 million it made on the sale of Parcel F to the Nashua Conservation Commission, pending Public Utilities Commission approval, if required.

“The development of Parcel F is going ahead, but it seems to me that since the citizens of Nashua paid for the acquisition, that the proceeds of the sale should go to benefit the citizens of Nashua,” Donchess said. “The best place to put the money is the conservation fund because we are losing a parcel of land that, in my view, should’ve been preserved.”

Parcel F refers to roughly 33 acres that Pennichuck Corp. and real estate subsidiary Southwood Corp. sold to North Concord Street Properties LLC for $2.2 million on Jan. 23, two days before the city acquired Pennichuck.

The land, off Concord Street and considered the last piece of developable Nashua property once owned by Pennichuck, is being cleared to make way for an 85-unit senior housing development called Hayden Green.

Since the public caught wind of the development at a Planning Board meeting last July, fiery debate ensued over whether the city should buy the property from North Concord Street developer Kevin Slattery to protect Pennichuck’s nearby watershed, which some thought to be threatened by the development.

Since February, aldermen battled back and forth on whether to meet Slattery’s $4.85 million asking price for the land with bonding or city dollars, but they ultimately killed their last effort to buy in April.

“One of the stated objectives of the (Pennichuck) acquisition is that there not be any further land sale,” Donchess said. “There’s $2 million sitting in the bank account somewhere being held by Pennichuck.”

Since the money derives from a sale of property that Donchess feels should have been preserved, the proceeds should go toward the city’s future preservation efforts, he said. If acquired, the money could then be used to preserve land elsewhere in the city, he added.

If aldermen approve the resolution, Donchess said board President Brian McCarthy would likely have to determine how the request is communicated to Pennichuck’s new 10-member board of directors, which began operating the company in January.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is a member of Pennichuck’s board for a two-year term.

“A request coming from the city of Nashua is a strong request because the city owns Pennichuck,” Donchess said.

Jay Leonard, who serves as chairman of Pennichuck’s board of directors, had yet to see the proposal Tuesday, but he said the board would likely treat the resolution like any business proposition.

In other words, even if aldermen wanted to use the money for conservation, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

“The city owns a business, but no matter how you look at it, the business is Pennichuck, and it has to be run as a business,” Leonard said. “It’s not a part of the city.”

The city of Nashua closed on buying Pennichuck and its subsidiaries for $200 million in January. Nashua became Pennichuck’s sole shareholder when it purchased roughly 4.7 million of Pennichuck shares at $29 a share as part of the acquisition.

“They purposely created this structure to have a separation between the business of producing water with Pennichuck and the municipal business of the city,” Leonard said. “It’s the board’s decision, and it isn’t the Board of Aldermen’s decision.”

Before the resolution even falls to the board of directors though, the Board of Aldermen will get their first crack at the proposal.

As of Tuesday, none of the other aldermen had seen Donchess’ proposition yet.

“I don’t see why not,” Alderman-at-Large David Deane said of requesting the $2.2 million from Pennichuck. “We own the company. We spent millions of dollars on attorneys and consultants and room rentals and meals and everything else. … This is Nashua-owned property. It’s not like we’re going into other communities and selling off property and using it to purchase land in Nashua.”

Ward 3 Alderman Diane Sheehan’s knee-jerk reaction was that the $2.2 million should be put toward watershed preservation, she said.

“I would like to see some conservation,” Sheehan said. “It’s too early. It would be great if they used it for watershed purchases, and Pennichuck should own it, but I don’t know enough about it.”

By the Board of Aldermen requesting action from Pennichuck’s board of directors, it adds a layer of complication, Sheehan said.

“I would like Pennichuck to use that money to conserve land that’s critical to the watershed, but I think they ought to own that land,” Sheehan said. “I have no problem deeming it conservation land so nothing could ever happen to it again. … That was my desired outcome.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).