Residents debate water district charter

NASHUA – The different perspectives between the city’s overwhelming numbers of customers connected to the Pennichuck water system and the surrounding towns’ control of the water supply played out clearly Wednesday.

City residents told the Regional Water District Charter Committee that the 77 percent of the water system’s customers living in Nashua justify more say in the governance of the proposed water district.

Town representatives pushed back.

“With all due respect, this is not a Nashua system. This is a regional system,” said Marilyn Peterman, an Amherst selectman and the committee leader.

Michael Scanlon, a member of the Bedford Town Council, said agreement on the makeup of the district’s directors is an “absolute compromise.”

A regional district will only work if it represents the interests of all its members, not individuals, Scanlon said.

The current plan gives all communities a vote on the board of directors. On three specific items, such as raising water rates, the board casts ballots on what is called “voting by customer.” Nashua’s representative would have the largest sway on those votes.

After the three-hour meeting, most dominated by the question of organizing a governing board of directors, the committee gave up its plans to pass the draft charter. Instead, a second public meeting was scheduled for Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Nashua High School north campus.

Also, Nashua’s aldermanic ad hoc special Pennichuck Water Committee is scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday.

The regional district hopes to take over the water system in the Nashua area.

The 24-page draft charter has been the work of representatives from 16 towns. In 24 articles, it lays out the framework of workings of a regional water authority to provide water to some 29,100 customers, 21,000 living in Nashua. nichuck Corp. $121 million to acquire the company. City leaders have indicated the water company would become the responsibility of the water district to oversee.

About 50 people attended the first public review the draft charter in the auditorium at the Nashua High School north campus.

Outspoken Nashua residents have criticized the draft. They do not like that Nashua will have only one representative on the board.

Robert Sullivan, of Stonybrook Road, said the current charter is not what residents voted to support at the polls in January.

But Ward 5 Alderman Brian McCarthy, a city representative to the charter-writing committee, said the goal is to have Nashua speak with one strong voice.

One director prevents a split vote so all of Nashua’s interests are represented, he said, unlike in the Statehouse when the legislative delegation splits and the strength of Nashua’s vote is weakened.

Also, residents urged the committee to adopt specific language in the charter to avoid future trouble.

Mike Lowe, of 6 Sheffield Road, asked the board to consider such items, rules of order.

But committee members said the charter needs to be flexible enough to deal with the unforeseeable. Adopting specific items can make it hard to deal with future changes.

Another area of dispute was the $50 payment per meeting paid to a community’s director and alternate.

Critics said the bill paid to the directors could run into the thousands of dollars.