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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A momentous day in Nashua history

Telegraph Editorial

Slowly but surely, the last pieces of the complex puzzle that is the city’s acquisition of Pennichuck Corp. have fallen into place these past few months.

The final regulatory approval by the Public Utilities Commission. The appointment of nine directors to run the new city-owned water utility. The affirmation by Fitch Ratings of the AAA rating for the general obligation bonds the city will use to finance the $152.1 million deal.

And the final piece was snapped into place Wednesday afternoon when Mayor Donnalee Lozeau announced the official closing of the deal during a City Hall ceremony that was attended by many of the people who helped to make it all possible.

“This is a very important day in the history of our city,” she said, before inviting some of the key players up to the podium to say a few words to mark this wonderful occasion.

People like former Mayor Bernie Streeter, who remembers grocery shopping one day in 2002 when he received a telephone call notifying him the Pennichuck board of directors has just voted to sell the company to a Pennsylvania-based utility that was partially owned by a French conglomerate.

Streeter would begin mobilizing city opposition the next day, a drive that would culminate months later with the Board of Aldermen approving a resolution to acquire all or part of Pennichuck Water Works and placing it before voters in a citywide referendum.

It was that vote – 6,525 to 1,867 in favor of pursuing the acquisition – that is credited with scuttling the agreement between Philadelphia Suburban Corp. and Pennichuck.

People like Barbara Pressly, then an ex-alderman and former state senator, who helped lead a citizens committee charged with establishing a regional water committee to pursue the acquisition of the utility.

The group also was instrumental in the petition drive to gather the necessary signatures to put the question to a citywide vote. In fact, during Wednesday’s ceremony, Pressly, now an alderman-at-large, held up one of the blue-and-white “Keep Our Water Supply Local” signs that was used to bring attention to the cause on Saturdays at the city landfill.

People like board President Brian McCarthy, who took some pleasure Wednesday tweaking former Alderman-at-Large James Tollner about a conversation they had back in 2002 over whether the city had the wherewithal to acquire Pennichuck. Tollner said he didn’t think so; McCarthy said he wasn’t so sure that it couldn’t.

While many aldermen would come and go during that crucial 10-year period, McCarthy would prove to be a steadying influence on the board right up through the final deal.

And let’s not overlook the all-important contributions of our current mayor, the host of Wednesday’s ceremony, who exhibited extraordinary leadership in orchestrating what industry experts acknowledge is pretty unique: a municipality acquiring a private utility that will be run by an independent board of directors.

Ultimately, Lozeau and her valuable team would strike a deal for the city far superior to the initial eminent domain victory before the PUC: $152.1 million to acquire the corporation and its land holdings instead of $243 million to get only Pennichuck Water Works, its primary subsidiary.

So congratulations to all who had a hand in this remarkable accomplishment. Because of their hard work and dedication, Nashua has assumed full control of its most precious natural resource.

Now that’s an achievement worth celebrating.