Board, lawyers review utility battle

NASHUA – Aldermen on Wednesday sat down with attorneys in a closed session to discuss the legal battle brewing over the city’s proposed acquisition of a drinking water system.

Among the filings in play: The city wants state regulators to revisit the value they placed on Pennichuck Water Works.

Attorneys representing Nashua have filed a motion for a rehearing and clarification on the July 25 ruling by the state Public Utilities Commission that gave the city the green light to acquire Pennichuck by eminent domain.

In that ruling, two of the three commissioners placed the value of the company at $203 million.

However, in a motion filed Aug. 25, the city is asking the PUC to consider placing the company’s value at $151 million, the figure named in a dissenting opinion from Clifton Below, one of the three commissioners.

Besides purchasing the company at the value set by the PUC, the city would also have to pay an additional $40 million to protect Pennichuck’s other holdings in order to move forward with the acquisition.

Pennichuck Corp. had also filed a motion for reconsideration or a rehearing on the ruling. The company is opposing the city’s efforts to acquire the company.

Pennichuck officials have also said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court if their motion for reconsideration was denied.

The city’s chief attorney in the matter, Robert Upton, passed out copies of both motions Wednesday before the special meeting of the board of aldermen.

Aldermen, the city attorney and the mayor met with Upton and another attorney from Upton and Hatfield to discuss the litigation.

The board voted to seal the minutes from the closed session, Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said after the meeting. No other vote was taken on the matter when the board convened in public following the closed session, McCarthy said.

The board has held at least two closed sessions with attorneys since the PUC ruling was issued.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has said she wants to hold a public discussion about the acquisition, but the time hasn’t been right with the pending appeals. “As soon as I can, I will,” Lozeau said Wednesday.

The push to acquire Pennichuck began in 2002 during the administration of Mayor Bernie Streeter, who championed the eminent domain case. That year, Pennichuck was nearly purchased by Philadelphia Suburban Corp.

Streeter and others worried the city could lose control of its water supply to a company controlled by foreign investors. Though the deal eventually fell through, the city forged on with its takeover efforts.

In a 2003 special election, Nashua voters gave the city permission to continue pursuing a takeover.