Aquarion Opposes Sale Article

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, January 14, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON - Aquarion Water said it doesn't want to see the town take over its operation in Hampton.

"We are looking to grow, expand and to acquire other water companies in New Hampshire," said Larry Bingaman, senior vice president of operations for Aquarion Water.

His response came on the heels of a decision by selectmen to put an article on the warrant to see if voters want to set up a committee to look into the feasibility of acquiring Aquarion Water's assets in town.

Bingaman said he's against the article.

Last month, Selectmen chairman William "Skip" Sullivan added the article to the warrant.

The town can take over the water company's operation in Hampton by eminent domain by paying the company the fair market value of its assets.

Sullivan said if the article is approved it will just set up the committee to study the pros and cons of the idea.

"The committee will just take a look at it," said Sullivan. "If its not feasible or a good idea then we will just walk away from it."

Bingaman came before the board Monday night to give selectmen an update on Aquarion's operations and to attempt to persuade officials not to move forward with the article.

"Obviously we are disappointed that selectmen opted to move forward with the article," said Bingaman.

Bingaman said if Hampton chooses to try to take over the company by eminent domain, it could turn into a long, costly legal battle similar to one that is going on in Nashua.

"We are not going to just sit by and let them take the company," said Bingaman.

In Nashua, the City Council is trying to take ownership of Pennichuck Water Company by eminent domain.

It has been two years and Nashua officials have spent more than a $1 million in taxpayer money on legal and consultant fees and so far have nothing to show for it, Bingaman said.

Bingaman also noted that Hampton doesn't have the capacity to service itself.

While Aquarion Water owns 16 wells, only four are within the town of Hampton.

"Currently the wells located within in the town would be unable to meet the maximum daily demand," said Bingaman.

While the wells would meet the needs during the winter months, they would not be sufficient during the summer months unless the town constructs more wells.

Bingaman said he's not sure why selectmen want to put forth the article.

Selectman Ginny Bridle-Russell said it was Sullivan's idea, and while she's in favor of seeing if people want to set up the committee, she's against trying to purchase the water company.

"I just feel, at this time, it's not in the best interest of the town to buy Aquarion Water," said Bridle-Russell.

Selectman Rick Griffin agreed.

"I don't really have anything to say about it to be truthful," said Griffin. "I think it's a long shot and that it's not really practical at this time."

Sullivan said it doesn't hurt to look into it.

"I just think it's worth considering," Sullivan said. "We can set our own rates, and it won't be the private company making money on the water."

In the past, selectmen have raised concerns of the high management turnover at the company and that the company decided to outsource its customer service center to another company.

Bingaman told the board Monday night the company has hired an experienced manager and it is bringing back its own customer service department in town.

He also told them Aquarion has invested $2.5 million in infrastructure improvements and committed more than $2 million for 2005.

Aquarion acquired the water company in Hampton in 2001 in a deal with its former owner, the American Water Works Company.

Aquarion's primary business is public water supply. It is one of the 10 largest investor-owned water utilities in the United States.

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