Trustees say AWD land sale was legal, but poorly communicated to town
Two Andover Water Dis-trict trustees said last week that while the recent sale of the AWD’s former reservoir land is legal, they regret the board did not notify the town beforehand.
Chairman Kevin Scott, trustee/treasurer Fred De-theridge and Superintendent Lucien Roberge met with about 20 residents and customers last week to discuss the March sale.
The former water source, Stony Brook on the Upton Road, was sold for $250,000, Scott said, and the funds are currently in the district's bank account.
For the past decade, the AWD has drawn its water from wells near the village.
Last week’s meeting was occasioned by a petition circulated by Brian Mills three weeks ago and submitted to the Public Utilities Commission, claiming the land was sold in violation of state statute.
The statute cited requires that the municipality be given the right of first refusal to purchase water-district land “owned by that water utility for the purposes of providing a source of supply, storing water or protecting sources of supply or water storage …”
Mills said the AWD had sold the land without asking the town.
But Scott said the statute does not apply to land that is no longer used as a water source, and that the PUC had approved the sale.
The AWD planned to reply to the PUC regarding the petition, he said.
Mills, who attended last week’s meeting, said he did not necessarily agree that the statute did not apply in this situation.
“It doesn’t say it has to be used,” he said. “I still consider it a water source.”
Leon Akers, a former AWD trustee, said residents had voted at a Town Meeting about 10 years ago not to buy the land at that time, “but at the same time they made it very clear they didn’t want it sold. No matter what the law says, people thought they would have a chance at the land.”
Akers also said the AWD should have considered keeping the property as a backup water supply should the current well system become contaminated.
Scott said AWD emergency plans call for either trucking in potable water to a reservoir, or as a last resort, pumping non-potable water that has been tested into the system and boiling it for drinking, if safe to do so.
He also said there is no infrastructure linking Stony Brook with AWD distribution or treatment, and that pumping water from Stony Brook would not be feasible. Were water to be pumped from a local source, he said, it would be from the West Branch of the Ellis River because it is closest to the distribution system.
As for the Town Meeting vote, Detheridge and Scott said they had not been aware of it.
“We were focused on the rules [for making the sale],” said Scott.
He said when he became a trustee, the district had very little money in the bank. The board wanted to do the best it could to put the AWD and its customers on firmer financial ground, he said.
Mills said, “If the district was that bad off, it would have been the perfect time to hold a special meeting and say, ‘this is what we’re doing. What do you think?'”
“I wish in hindsight that we had notified the community,” said Scott.
He said nothing about the sale process was intended to be secretive.
Scott said he had been approached by a potential buyer last summer, and over time more than one party became interested in the land.
The property, said Scott, had been appraised at $80,000.
He said the board was interested in using the assets from the sale to improve AWD infrastructure and pay down its debt.
Resident John Foster saw an overall financial advantage in the sale.
“Politics aside, it’s tremendous good fortune for the Water District. It will put it on good footing,” he said.