Bankruptcy court OKs USA Springs land sale

Former owner’s bid fails in $1.2 million deal

A U.S. bankruptcy court judge in Manchester has tentatively approved the sale of the former USA Springs property in Nottingham and Barrington to a Massachusetts investor who had previously told town officials that he wished to withdraw groundwater from the site.

The bankrupt USA Springs estate will sell the 189-acres site for $1.2 million to Kevin B. Delaney, a Massachusetts investor and manager of Nottingham Springs LLC.

Francesco Rotondo, the flamboyant former owner of USA Springs, withdrew his offer of $2 million, after sending an email to Thomas J. Raftery, bankruptcy trustee, saying that he wouldn’t be able to finance the deal for at least a month.

Rotondo had been seeking new financing ever since he filed bankruptcy in the summer of 2008, leaving a partially finished water bottling plant exposed to the elements for more than eight years.

“The history of this case teaches you that you take someone with the money in hand,” said Judge J. Michael Deasy, “not with someone with money down the road.”

While the agreement says that the land comes with permits –

the major one being state approval to withdraw 300,000 gallons of groundwater a day – the trustee made it clear in court that “I’m not saying they are valid.”

That was exactly “what I’d like to hear,” said Peter Roth, an attorney for the state of New Hampshire.

Federal law can sometimes extend permits beyond their expiration date to protect an estate’s assets for a couple of years, but not in a case that has lasted “longer than the Obama presidency,” Deasy said. “That is not a road this court is going down. Those permits are what they are. If they are expired they are expired. I’m not going to put my thumb on that scale.”

Roth and town officials have maintained that most of the permits are outdated, a position taken by a number of residents who came to observe the hearing and have opposed the plant for years. In addition, the laws have been toughened regarding groundwater withdrawal, and any application will get extra scrutiny, especially in light of the severe drought that has stricken the area.

“You are not likely to be invited to any barbecues in the neighborhood in the near future,” quipped Judge Deasy to

Delaney, who was sitting alone in the in courtroom,

“Delaney better do his due diligence,” Judith Doughty told NH Business Review after the hearing.

Doughty, a Nottingham resident for 50 years who filed an objection to the sale, said that neighbors intended to enforce a local ordinance against commercial water withdrawal.

Delaney declined comment, and his attorney said he wouldn’t be commenting in the foreseeable future. Neither said anything in court.

Most of that $1.2 million from the sale will go to taxes. The town of Nottingham alone claimed it is owed nearly $1 million. Roswell Mortgage, which claims it is owed more than $12 million on an original mortgage of $8.5 million, would walk away with $100,000, unless Aho Construction, which claims a perfected lien of $200,000 against the rusted structure, gets its way.

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