Board says water district running smoothly but records lacking, questions remain

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ANDOVER — A handful of Andover Water District ratepayers who attended Tuesday night’s annual district meeting learned the town now has a functioning water district.

“Your assets are appreciating through the roof right now,” district Board of Trustees President Kevin Scott said. “The (Maine Public Utilities Commission) will be looking for us to reduce our rates because of our revenue stream.”

But Scott and Trustees Barbara Kenney, clerk, and treasurer Fred Detheridge fielded many questions about how the district achieved this for its more than 100 ratepayers, despite showing little to no record of it via motions and approvals in meeting minutes.

Kenney, who became clerk last September and serves as the board’s secretary, took the blame for that, apologizing for not knowing procedures considered “appropriate.”

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“It’s my fault not to be more accurate,” Kenney said. “I remember us discussing about (motions and approvals), but I never put it in the minutes. I made a mistake.”

Residents and ratepayers Sid Pew and Brian Mills accused the board of “questionable procedures,” most of which pertained to the district’s sale in March of its former reservoir land without giving the town first right of refusal.

Mills has filed a petition with the PUC, claiming that land was sold in violation of state law.

That resource — Stony Brook on the Upton Road — was sold for $250,000.

“You have said that it’s a closed issue and the (PUC) has sided with the water district, but I think that a lot of what the water district did is questionable, because you started it off with the letter of Oct. 19 to the PUC that wasn’t signed by you,” Pew said.

He said the PUC alone has the authority to grant the district the right to sell its property, and then said the board based its decision to sell the land not on PUC rules, but on a letter it received from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

He said DHHS “has absolutely no authority to designate whether a land is water resource or not.”

“My question is, where is the certification back from the PUC that it is not water resource land and that you can do with it as you like, and why you went into a questionable executive session?” he asked.

Scott, now a Maine licensed public water systems operator, said that at the last district meeting, he objected to the sale of the land in 2008 when he was a trustee.

“Basically, the previous board wanted to sell the property to a family member of one of the board members … for about $35,000 to $40,000,” Scott said.

“I was alone with those trustees at the time and my objection was, they have insurmountable debt, they were not billing their customers. I mean the list goes on and on, their chemical treatment was ineffective, all of the maintenance was defective. So why would you sell the only asset you have when you’ve shown you can’t handle the finances?”

The district was in such deplorable shape that Scott brought Bethel Water District Superintendent Lucien Roberge in on Jan. 9, 2009, to restore everything, including fire hydrants, half of which were frozen and inoperable..

“They had $400 in the bank and a roomful of chemicals, and that was it,” AWD Superintendent Roberge said. “It was a mess, but we’re light years from that now. I thought the land sale was appropriate and I support them. This water district runs like a water district now. It didn’t have that when I got here.”

Responding to Pew, Scott said he didn’t know why the Oct. 19 letter wasn’t signed.

“Regardless, PUC has accepted that letter into the case file,” he said. “The portion that says PUC is to give you a certification, if you read it very closely, it says they may or may not at their discretion.”

And, as to why the board went with the DHHS insight to sell the district’s former reservoir land, Scott said the DHHS and its Rural Drinking Water Program “is like God” to the PUC, and the PUC relies on them for their expertise.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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