Water fight continues


A tumultuous year for Pennichuck Corp. is ending as it began: with the company fighting to fend off the city of Nashua’s takeover effort. Before the year ended, though, the company settled an unrelated securities investigation involving Maurice Arel, its former president and chief executive officer. State and federal officials announced 10 days ago that Arel, a former mayor of Nashua, had agreed to pay $270,000 in fines to the utility as part of a $390,000 settlement between Pennichuck, the state and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Pennichuck will pay the other $120,000. The agreement capped a two-year investigation, and Arel had stepped down suddenly in the spring of 2003 amid news of the probe. One of the SEC allegations was that Arel hadn’t disclosed a $70,000 discount on a home built for him at cost in 1998 by real estate developer John Stabile. Regulators also concluded Pennichuck should have disclosed its relationship with Stabile, who partnered with the company to develop more than 1,000 acres of Pennichuck land - in deals worth more than $36 million - in Nashua and Merrimack. Meanwhile, the water company and the city spent the year battling with nearly as much fury as the Red Sox and Yankees - in court, in front of the Public Utilities Commission, and in the press. Both sides have had reasons to celebrate. A judge in Hillsborough County Superior Court has tried to keep the matter in the PUC’s hands, rejecting Pennichuck’s claims that its constitutional rights had been violated and that it deserved financial damages from the city. The PUC issued an opinion earlier this month that the city can’t seize two Pennichuck subsidiaries that are outside city borders - which leaves Pennichuck Water Works as the only entity on the table. Waiting in the wings is the Merrimack Valley Regional Water District, which was officially established this year to manage the utility if it winds up in municipal hands. Of course, the regional district won’t have much to do if the city’s eminent-domain effort fails.
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