Veolia's French connection is not a concern to city officials

Based in Paris, Veolia Environnement – the company Nashua would use to manage day-to-day operations if it acquires Pennichuck Corp. – describes itself as the largest environmental company in the world. It manages water, sewer and energy and transportation systems.

Pennichuck has been quick to point out the irony of that choice.

The city first explored a takeover of the local water utility by eminent domain in 2002 because it was unhappy about the prospect of an out-of-state company controlling the local water supply. Pennichuck Corp. had announced plans to be acquired by Philadelphia Suburban Corp., which was partially owned by a French company named Vivendi.

Veolia is the corporate successor of Vivendi.

Nashua alderman Brian McCarthy says this time around, the city is not worried about Veolia’s French roots because the utility would be owned by the Nashua, and decisions would be made locally. If Veolia doesn’t behave as it’s supposed to, the city can hire another company, he said.

The city selected Veolia in 2005, after asking 11 companies – including Pennichuck – to bid for a $5 million per year water management contract. Veolia was one of only two companies to actually do so, and won, although the official contract remains unsigned pending a successful takeover.

This summer, the city moved one step closer to that goal when the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission ruled a city takeover was in the best interest of the public, and set the price at $243 million. Pennichuck is appealing.

In defense of Veolia, the city has argued such a large company has significantly more technical and managerial expertise than Pennichuck, and could operate the system for less money – particularly without the expense of highly paid executives.

However, Pennichuck imagines a mindset in which meeting basic contract obligations would trump a responsibility to local customers, according to documents filed in the eminent domain case.

Veolia serves about 600 communities in the United States. In addition to Indianapolis, one of its largest contracts is the operation of Milwaukee’s wastewater system. The company also designed, built and operates the water system in Tampa, Fla.