Archive for Cohasset Water
The uproar over uncivil emails must seem inane. It is. Until you realize that it’s about public officials using their office to bully, intimidate and embarrass private citizens and members of the press who have the temerity to question and/or disagree with them.
I declined to attend last Tuesday night’s BoS meeting as I chose not to validate the Board of Selectmen’s authority to bring a private citizen before them with the purpose of examining their emails and blogs.
And, while I choose not to engage in a futile dialogue with Peter DeCaprio, I will say that his statements, both verbal and written, as they pertain to my actions are gross misrepresentations and outright untruths.
Cohasset has seen a lot of drama over the past 20 years or so, where its water system is concerned, culminating in a management contract/concession RFP that came nerve-wrackingly close to the edge, where the risks of unknown costs and came into play.
However, come second session of Town Meeting on Monday night, the clamor for risk and radical measures was replaced by a measured tone and well-reasoned action. The Town’s water commissioners and BOS took note of what voters and the water industry were telling them and did the right thing.
Article 32 (a grant of discretion to water commissioners to negotiate a concession or a long-term management contract with unknown terms) was pulled. The water commissioners announced that they would move forward under prior authorization with the process of selecting of one of the 2-year management proposals that came in under historical and expected prices. This choice was not only the financially savvy option but the most ethical and responsible one with respect to stewardship of the public interest.
So much for what is obvious and uncontroversial. Now comes the third rail.
We have never met, talked with or otherwise communicated with the Town’s retiring manager (Mike Coughlin) and hold no brief for or against him, but the best advice that Cohasset’s BOS and water commissioners heard at Monday’s meeting came from this gentlemen – when in doubt disclose!
Against a backdrop of decades of system failures, substandard operations and nonexistent financial controls and reporting that Cohasset leaders have been working hard and with some success to remedy, it makes no sense to follow opaque procedures when letting the Town’s next water system management contract. The final draft of the proposed contract should be published for comment on the Town’s website and allowed to circulate for a reasonable number of days before it is executed. With reliable financial records, visibly improved maintenance (i.e. regular flushing of mains, etc.) and a transparent procurement process, Cohasset can dispel suspicions that the sorry past is somehow the prologue to the future.
Restoring the integrity of the Town’s water delivery system was step one in the process of rehabilitation. Getting a functional financial reporting system in place was the second. The next step will consist of restoring confidence in governance. Transparency will be a vital part of that process. It is something that Cohasset’s volunteer leaders are well equipped to deliver.
We tuned into the May 17 Cohasset Board of Selectmen meeting to hear what would be said concerning the Town’s water services RFP and the proposals received in response. A few of Water Chairman DiCaprio’s statements regarding the proposals and the existing management contract with American Water were revealing:
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Those of worried about a Cohasset water concession contract, however small, can sleep peacefully tonight. Monday’s Town Meeting will be asked to vote on a regular old Water Maintenance and Operations contract.
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This morning, a municipal water client finished (and passed) the bond rating agency equivalent of a TSA strip search. Our client was a bit surprised at the heightened scrutiny and widened scope of this year’s version of a process that used to be the equivalent of renewing a motor vehicle registration, but understood and cooperated admirably when we put the agency’s new approach into context.
After getting torched by Congress, the bond raters (Moody’s, S&P and Fitch) are a bit touchy and defensive today, so issuers need to be well prepared when their turn comes to justify their ratings each year. One question in the Moody’s review that ended today (copied below, along with the client’s answer) blew us away and brought us to our feet to applaud.
Moody’s surveillance question: “The percentage of MGD’s lost over the last 5 years?”
Client answer: “The Town has held unaccounted water consistently under 10% i.e. within the “green” zone for unaccounted water).”
For decades, we have tried to get the agencies to look at unaccounted water percentages (water that is treated and delivered into the system but not billed to customers) as a critical measure of management effectiveness, efficiency and professionalism of operations as well as the condition of water system assets. Moody’s obviously finally got it! The question above actually appeared at the top of the first page of their list!
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An e-mail from Kathy Morgan of Hull this morning….
“E-coli has been found in Cohasset water. Why didn’t Hull residents get phone notification? I was very upset to hear on the news at 5:50 AM this morning that E. Coli has been found in Cohasset water. Since we receive “blended” water, I want to know why no phone notification was sent out by Aquarion.”
Will the Real Town Manager Stand Up!??
According to our former town manager, Mike Coughlin, American Water tests for E. Coli all the time. They don’t need to have the state run any tests to know it’s there.
Coughlin said the press release from the water commissioners indicated they were notified of the E. Coli on Saturday May 12th. But samples were collected on May 8th and according to Coughlin, American Water tests for E. Coli in-house.
“To get the word out– they could have made a public service announcement at (Cohasset’s ) Town Meeting on Saturday, but of course that would have put the Water Commission in a bad light and would have reinforced the citizens’ petition argument that professional oversight of our contract operations of both water and sewer is needed.”
“I know I feel strongly about water but when I was Town Manager in Southbridge– our DPW director reamed out the operator of the water system for trying to downplay when e-coli was found in the system, Coughlin said.
Coughlin added: “I hope someone asks why this was not disclosed on Saturday. According to Joe Campbell– he was preparing to serve 1,300 at Atlantica on Mother’s Day – it would have been nice if the safety precautions like throwing out ice– would have been known immediately.”
How convenient that water bid contracts will be opened after the Mariner goes to print, how convenient that Peter (chairman of the water commission) claimed that he would not be involved in the selection but now he is on the agenda to brief the selectmen on bids.”
Did water commissioners know of this much earlier and not warn the town (24 hour notice required for E. coli outbreaks) because of sensitive water articles before town meeting? And what did the selectmen and the acting town manager know, and when did they know it and do they know anything?
by Mike Coughlin, former Cohasset Town Manager
In government there is an old practice when you want to kill reform you study it to death. Last week I read with great interest about the proposal by the Interim Town Manager (ITM) to place an article before Town Meeting to study the “legalities of combining water and sewer” for a total of $20K. Aside from the fact that the ITM is telling us that we can not afford to keep the police station open at night– why the need for another study?
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Phil Lemnios, Hull Town Manager, was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Hingham Water Supply committee. We thought his insights on his exposure to several methods of water operations was noteworthy. Lemnios said he could see an inter-municipal water agreement as best benefiting all involved towns.
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Water Supply Committee
MARCH 28, 2012 A posted meeting of the Hingham Water Supply Committee (Committee) was held on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in the North Central hearing room, 210 Central St., Hingham, MA.
The meeting was called to order by Mr. Mullen at 7:30PM.
MEMBERS PRESENT Sam Mullen, Chairman
Kirk Shilts, Secretary
Tom Burbank, Member
Paul Cappers, Member
Maureen Doran, Member
Roger Sullivan, Member
OFFICIALS PRESENT Harry Hibbard, V.P. Massachusetts Operations, Aquarion Water Co. (Aquarion)
Clinton Sanko, Aquarion Water Co.
John Walsh, Aquarion Water Co.
Peter DeCaprio, Chairman, Cohasset Water Commission
Ted Alexiades, Hingham Town Administrator
AGENDA Mr. Mullen reviewed the posted agenda with the Committee.
Thereafter, the agenda was established as posted.
HINGHAM BOARD OF SELECTMEN: Mr. Alexiades presented to the Committee on behalf of the Hingham Board of Selectmen to discuss their proposed Warrant Article to conduct a feasibility study about acquiring the rights and assets of the Hingham Water Co., currently owned by Aquarion. Town Special Counsel Atty. Kerry Ryan accompanied Mr. Alexiades.
Mr. Alexiades said the motivation behind the study was precipitated by the current rate increase.
Mr. Alexiades said the Article seeks $500,000 to complete an acquisition study within one-year. He believed the study is needed to make an informed decision about the financials (management structure & infrastructure) surrounding Hingham’s current water service. He added the largest cost component of the study is potential litigation; and the degree of litigation will depend upon the level of cooperation that Aquarion provides.
Mr. Alexiades stated the town last studied acquisition in 1985 and $55,000 was appropriated for this purpose. He also said the Hingham Municipal Light Plant commissioned its own $20,000 study a few years ago to determine how the Light Plant could potentially purchase and operate the Water Co. He added that copies of both studies are available in the Selectmen’s office.
Mr. Alexiades believed the study would be expected to address Mr. Sullivan’s concern related to the state DEP approving the multi-town aspect to any eventual purchase of the Water Co. by the Town.
Atty. Ryan discussed the Town of Oxford acquisition suit. He said Oxford involves an ‘eminent domain’ action with compensation based on ‘fair market value’. With Hingham, the statute allows the town to purchase the Water Co. assets ‘outright’ with compensation based on ‘original costs’. He mentioned that that an adversarial tone has developed between Oxford and Aquarion.
Mr. Alexiades believed that there are a number of benefits to be obtained by acquiring the Water Co and it would be worth conducting the study to determine whether those benefits were likely to be obtained. He said the process of acquisition would not be a ‘take over’, but rather moving forward on the town’s statutory right.
COHASSET WATER COMMISSION: Mr. DeCaprio presented to the Committee to discuss water-supply related issues in the town of Cohasset. He presented as a member of the Cohasset Water Commission and not on behalf of the Commission.
Mr. DeCaprio stated his belief that all municipal services within Cohasset, including water service, should be outsourced to larger corporate or regional entities due to the town’s limited economy of scale. He thought the same would be true for most small towns including possibly Hingham.
Mr. DeCaprio said the task of operating a water system is complex, due in large part to extensive regulatory oversight. He said it was a ‘disaster’ when Cohasset town employees ran the water system. Engineering deficiencies within their system and poor management decisions required the town to bail out the water department a few years ago, which resulted in a 30% rate increase. Cohasset customers currently see annual cost increases of about 4.5%. He said Cohasset presently has the most expensive water in the state. He mentioned the “Tighe & Bond” study as a good guide for comparing water rates.
Mr. DeCaprio said operating the Cohasset system is presently contracted to American Water Co., whose contract is about to expire. Cohasset Town Meeting will soon discuss four proposals for awarding and/or extending the next contract. He said the commission’s goal is to build a 10% return into the concession contract and allow the operator to assume all benefit/risks.
Mr. DeCaprio said the Cohasset system has a $4.7 million revenue base from approximately 2,300 customers. He estimated the value of the Cohasset system at $36 million based on the simple financial equation of 9x cash flow.
Mr. DeCaprio said Aquarion serves 316 Cohasset households. These same homes also have Hull municipal sewer service. He added Cohasset would like to purchase these 316 customers from Aquarion and already has a service connection to this portion of Aquarion’s system.
In discussing Cohasset’s often-maligned water quality, Mr. DeCaprio said constant movement of water within the pipes is a key to improving quality and requires circular interconnections. He said dead-end runs are the most problematic. He also identified the difference between a predominately surface water source like Cohasset and the more pristine well water source that most towns, including Hingham, utilize.
Mr. DeCaprio said Cohasset has the potential extra capacity to supply 300,000g/d for out-of-basin use, and an extra 1,000,000g/d capacity for in-basin use. He added that Scituate is within the same watershed basin as Cohasset.
AQUARION UPDATE: Atty. Hibbard mentioned that Aquarion has scheduled a community outreach on Tuesday, April 10th at the Hingham Middle School to assess customer concerns.
Atty. Hibbard confirmed that Aquarion was kept in the dark regarding Oxford’s intent to file suit. He said a large percentage of the Oxford litigation centers on determining matters relative to costs as well as the natural defensive reaction from being unexpectedly pulled into court action.
Atty. Hibbard stated that Aquarion was currently polling their customers on the proposed feasibility study issue and its cost to the community. Ms. Doran stated her household was polled, which she herself participated. She thought the poll was somewhat “heavy-handed” by its questions that seemed to frame a pre-determined perspective.
Atty. Hibbard reiterated that even though his company did not see the need for the proposed feasibility study, Aquarion would continue to cooperate with the town and offer all financial information that is available.
Atty. Hibbard believed that the state DPU would likely issue their decision on Aquarion’s current rate case at the end of this week.
• COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP Dr. Shilts discussed the matter of committee member attendance. He mentioned that a particular member has been chronically absent for seven of the last eight meetings dating back to 2008 and asked if anyone knew why.
Thereafter, Atty. Mullen will contact committee member Connelly to discuss his absenteeism and committee responsibilities.
MINUTES The Committee reviewed the meeting minutes of January 25, 2012.
Thereafter, a Motion was made by Mr. Burbank and Seconded by Ms. Doran and it was VOTED (unanimous);
To approve the meeting minutes of January 25, 2012 as drafted.
SCHEDULE The next meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 7:00pm.
ADJOURNMENT The March 28, 2012 meeting of the Hingham Water Supply Committee meeting adjourned at 9:48PM.
No. 1. There will be two town managers at annual town meeting. Interim Town Manager Mike Milanoski will preside over the meeting but former town manager Mike Coughlin will be sitting at Milanoski’s elbow – giving a live critique of articles and motions.
No. 2. Karen Quigley’s citizens’ petition – an article (Article 21) asking the town to take charge of its water and sewer commissions is more than timely. “Who knows what will happen with the hammer of the mighty Commonwealth coming down,” Sewer Chair John Beck told advisors last week.
Yeah, stupid us. Again.
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