Published in the August 25, 2016 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Just a couple of months after North Reading Town Meeting voted to join the MWRA district for future water supply starting in 2019, it appears the town of Andover is making a last minute pitch to remain the town’s primary water supplier.
At June Town Meeting, voters opted by an 82 percent majority to authorize $1.25 million in bonding to cover the cost of planning, design and land acquisition to connect to the MWRA distribution system through the town of Reading. The meeting also voted almost unanimously to join the MWRA district.
The decision came after two years of study of North Reading’s water supply options by town officials and negotiations with MWRA and Reading town officials. At Town Meeting, Selectmen told the voters that MWRA membership, in the long term, is the financially responsible option rather than investing more money in the town’s water supply system and that Andover, which has been North Reading’s main supplier for the last 20 years, cannot meet all of North Reading’s water supply needs in the future.
The plan is to connect North Reading to the MWRA system by 2019, when North Reading’s water contract with Andover expires. The two towns agreed to a five year extension of their water sale agreement after a couple of years of hard bargaining. At one point in 2014, some Andover Selectmen threatened to cut off the water supply to North Reading in a rate dispute.
After North Reading’s pro–MWRA vote in June, Andover apparently reconsidered its previous position and made an offer to North Reading officials that, with improvements to its own water system, Andover can meet all of North Reading “current” water needs.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto advised the Selectmen of these developments Monday night and made the following statement.
“I’d like to offer the Board and the community an update on the MWRA water interconnection project. The Town’s consulting engineers, Wright–Pierce, are in the process of preparing responses to comments received from various stakeholders as a result of the Town’s Draft Environmental Impact Report. Wright–Pierce will attend a future Board of Selectmen meeting to review and discuss the comments received.
“After recently expressing a general desire and ability to provide North Reading all of our water, the Town of Andover and their consulting engineers at a meeting on Monday, August 8, represented to Water Superintendent Mark Clark, Wright-Pierce, and I that with improvements to its distribution system, Andover believes it can provide all of North Reading’s current water needs. Andover represented that this could be achieved for less than the cost of the capital portion of the MWRA interconnection, and that Andover could offer financially competitive terms for the sale of water to North Reading.
“While Andover’s response to North Reading’s 2014 request for information did not indicate the ability or desire to provide all of North Reading’s water, nor did the Intermunicipal Agreement negotiated and signed in 2015 call for such an arrangement, this representation is now being made. There are many questions to be answered regarding this representation, including its technical viability, cost, permitting implications, current water supply capacity and long-term water supply capabilities (highlighted by this summer’s drought), the cost of purchasing water, the Town’s standing/stature on any agreement, and what has changed since 2014 and 2015.
“Wright–Pierce and the Town are currently preparing a letter requesting specific details on the proposal represented by Andover. A substantial and time-consuming effort would be required to vet the aforementioned questions, and in the interest of maintaining the established MWRA project schedule to purchase all of the Town’s water from the MWRA on July 1, 2019, planning work on the MWRA project will continue while Andover’s representation is analyzed. I have advised both the MWRA and the Town of Reading of Andover’s representation.”
The Selectmen listened to Gilleberto’s statement but did not make any comment other than say the offer would be taken under consideration.