Water district officials split over privatization

 By Christopher Marcisz

 Special to The Eagle

 Monday, October 20, 2003 

WILLIAMSTOWN -- While plant officials at the Hoosac Water Quality District say maintenance and administrative changes have saved the district money and prevented additional violations,  North Adams officials remain convinced that privatization is still necessary, though they concede the proposal will likely fail because of a split among the four members of the commission.

At a North Adams City Council meeting last Tuesday, HWQD Commissioner and City Councilor Ronald Boucher explained in a brief report that it appears that a final decision on privatization would fail with a 2-2 tie. "I don't think it's going to happen," he conceded.

Privatization plan 

A seven-member evaluating committee is in the process of considering whether to recommend privatization. The district -- comprised of Williamstown and North Adams -- has received  proposals to run the plant from Aquarian of Londonderry, N.H., and U.S. Filter of Norwell.

It appears Williamstown officials are reassessing the situation in light of changes made since December 2002 by waste-water treatment plant manager Ridelto "Rusty" Nodal.

HWQD Commission Chairwoman K. Elaine Neely said she is pleased with his work. "I think Rusty is doing an excellent job of managing the processes and maintenance of the plant," she said, and that his work "makes a great deal of difference in the ultimate decision" whether or not to privatize.

But North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who supports privatization, said there are problems with the decision-making process. "They never gave it a fair chance," he said of the Williamstown side of the district. "You've got the operator of the plant campaigning against it."  

He described last month's meeting with the Williamstown Selectmen as "a dog and pony show" and said, "[Nodal] sold his case to Williamstown, and he got the two votes he needs to block it."

Barrett prefers bringing in a private contractor, who would be accountable for violations. He blasted the decision-making process, saying, "They may have won this battle, but the war isn't over on this particular matter.

"There will be a lot of tie votes over there," he warned, particularly on the budget. He also said North Adams may question the legality of the current commission arrangement. "We pay the most money, but we have equal representation," he said.

EPA decree

Since late September, the plant has been running under a federal Environmental Protection Agency consent decree, which sets formal parameters within which the plant must run to avoid fines.

The decree requires regular reports to EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection.