Northfield officials, stakeholders relay urgency to form water district

  • Members of the public congregate in the Pioneer Valley Regional School auditorium on Wednesday for a hearing regarding the possible formation of the Grandin Water District in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Officials head the hearing at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Wednesday regarding the formation of a potential water district. From left to right: Resources for Communities and People (RCAP) Solutions Environmental Technician Andrew Evans, Thomas Aquinas College Vice President for Finance Dennis McCarthy, Town Counsel Jeffrey Blake and Town Administrator Andrea Llamas. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2022 4:05:31 PM
Modified: 4/8/2022 4:04:27 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Selectboard hosted a public hearing to discuss the potential formation of a new water district Wednesday, concluding with officials and stakeholders expressing a sense of urgency to form the district.

Held in the auditorium at Pioneer Valley Regional School, the two-hour hearing began with informational presentations from Town Administrator Andrea Llamas and Resources for Communities and People (RCAP) Solutions Environmental Technician Andrew Evans that had been shared previously with Selectboard meeting attendees. Public comment followed, in which officials responded to various questions and concerns raised by residents.

Currently, the northern part of town is served by the East Northfield Water Co., a for-profit company, and the creation of what is being called the “Grandin Water District” would transition water services to a nonprofit.

The East Northfield Water Co., owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School, operated at a loss after the campus consolidated to Gill in 2005. With rate increases and business from Thomas Aquinas College, the company is now breaking even, but it does not have the capacity to make necessary improvements, including repairs along Pierson Road and Linden Avenue and equipment upgrades to comply with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s filtration requirements. The company also has limited access to low-cost grants and loans, an issue the town believes would be solved by creating a nonprofit district with access to government funding.

One major topic of discussion at Wednesday’s hearing, raised by Finance Committee member Bernie Porada, concerned how debt would carry over from the existing water company.

“When this group was before the Finance Committee, it came to light that the East Northfield Water Co.’s current debt is $950,000,” he said. “The question was, ‘Would the new Grandin Water District assume it or would Northfield Mount Hermon write off the cost or the debt to the district?’ That still has not been answered.”

He also asked a similar question regarding the transfer of assets, wondering if NMH would transfer them gratis or charge the Grandin Water District for the sale of property and assets.

“On the term sheet (from both the water company and NMH), it was very clear to us that they would be transferring 230-plus acres to the water district — that’s its watershed, the dam, the buildings, all of those assets — for $1,” Llamas answered. “The debt would be written off. It was the only condition we would take.”

Porada also asked if the town would bear responsibility if the district operated at a loss. Town Counsel Jeffrey Blake said this would not be the case, separating the two entities and explaining that a district independently “rises and falls on its own.”

“A district is essentially a town within a town,” Blake said. “Once it is created, it has a life of its own.”

Another significant point of discussion was raised by resident Dave Kaczenski in regards to the district potentially inheriting the private water company’s Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency issues.

“Looking from the outside,” he said, “I would say kick this can down the road, let the owners of the system right now take care of all the liabilities, and go back and visit it and say, ‘Give me something that runs.’”

Dennis McCarthy, vice president for finance with Thomas Aquinas College, East Northfield Water Co.’s largest customer, advocated for the opposite.

“Speaking as the largest customer for the district, I’m concerned if we don’t deal with it now and if we push it down the road, we’ll have bigger problems and it’ll be more expensive,” he argued.

Selectboard members similarly expressed a desire to move quickly toward the end of the meeting.

“This was one of the bigger problems three years ago when I originally got elected, and although the progress has been slow, there’s now a solution in front of us. … To delay things any further is just asking for further problems,” Chair Heath Cummings said.

“It’s kind of like a chicken and egg problem where you can’t do all the things Andrea is talking about if you don’t create a district,” Vice Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque said.

Resident Matthew Lucier, a licensed home inspector who drew on a history of working with the East Northfield Water Co., followed these expressions of urgency by highlighting the severity of what is at stake, receiving applause from a few audience members.

“We’ve got to have a way to live,” he said. “We’ve got to have water to maintain our homes. And we’ve got to have water in the East Northfield Water Co. or the Grandin Water District to make sure everybody is able to enjoy Northfield and live in Northfield. I support this.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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