Pennichuck takeover saga is far from over

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the next few Sundays, The Telegraph will look at ongoing issues surrounding the city of Nashua’s attempt to acquire Pennichuck Water Works.

NASHUA – Two things happened pretty quickly after July 25, when state regulators gave the city the green light to pursue the acquisition of its water supplier.

The first was that Mayor Donnalee Lozeau called a closed meeting of the board of aldermen to discuss the decision with its attorneys.

The second was that Lozeau said she’d like to soon see the ruling and acquisition discussed in a public meeting.

The mayor’s first wish was fulfilled, as the board of aldermen met with attorneys the Monday following the state Public Utilities Commission’s Friday decision that OK’d the city to pursue its hostile takeover of Pennichuck Water Works.

Also, a nonpublic session of the board of aldermen has been called for Wednesday. The purpose of the meeting, according to a letter from the board’s president to the city clerk, is to “discuss the status of the Pennichuck PUC filings and future proceedings.”

However, more than a month after the decision, a public discussion is yet to be held on the takeover, which would cost $243 million. Partly, that’s because the Pennichuck acquisition has been temporarily trumped by another huge issue: the Broad Street Parkway. The board of aldermen is weighing a proposal to borrow up to $37.6 million to build the much-debated, long-delayed roadway, which would provide a third crossing over the Nashua River.

But mostly, the urgency for a public meeting was lost after Pennichuck Corp. announced it would ask the PUC for a rehearing on the takeover. Also, Pennichuck has indicated it would fight the decision in the state Supreme Court if its appeal was denied.

“It would be nice to get before the public and explain to them all the good reasons why we continued to pursue the acquisition and what the benefits are to them,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said.

McCarthy, the board’s vice president, is an advocate of acquiring the utility and helped argue the city’s case during hearings before the PUC.

Among other benefits to the city, McCarthy argued that in the long run, ratepayers would save money if the city owned the utility.

However, with the pending appeal, city officials have been reluctant to publicly discuss the ruling, and in fact have been advised by attorneys not to, McCarthy said.

One of the unanswered questions for now is Lozeau’s support for the acquisition, which had been championed by her predecessor, former Mayor Bernie Streeter.

Throughout her campaign for mayor, Lozeau had expressed skepticism about acquiring the utility, and in statements after the ruling, she still hedged. She has said that hoped there would be another way to acquire the utility other than eminent domain.

“I am exploring all of my options to determine what I think is in the best interest of the city,” Lozeau said.

Lozeau said she would like to have a public discussion or work session on the ruling, similar to the one she scheduled in July concerning the financing of the Broad Street Parkway.

However, the Pennichuck issue is third on the list of topics, behind a discussion of the city’s purchase of a new financial software system and related computer hardware, Lozeau said.

“I see myself doing a similar thing with Pennichuck at an appropriate time when the process moves forward,” she said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or