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Veolia only one to seek Massachusetts water and sewer systems

By Derek Gentile
Berkshire Eagle Staff

LEE -- Texas-based Veolia Water North America submitted the only proposal to privatize the town's sewer and water systems.

According to Town Manager Robert Nason, Veolia is the only company that has sent a response to the town's request for proposals.

Checking options

The town is trying to sort out the financial options between privatizing its sewer and water systems and simply bidding it out and building it with town funds.

Nason said the town will set a date for a public hearing, as well as a special town meeting to vote on the issue.

Nason said he turned over the documents to the town's Privatization Non-Price Committee and its Privatization Price Committee. The Non-Price Committee is charged with examining the qualifications, business plan and fiscal soundness. The Price Committee, he said, will examine the proposal by Veolia Water, "to see if what they have to offer us makes sense financially."

Nason said it was "too soon to tell" whether or not having just one company present a proposal would doom the plan.

"We're running out of time," he added. "We don't really have any time to start this process all over again. If this doesn't meet our needs, we may just have to resort to a traditional design, bid and build model."

The town has been looking into a privatization model for several years. The plan would be to hire a company and negotiate a contract to operate the water and sewer systems.

Opponents believe that, while there may be some operational savings, a private company will be taking a more bottom-line approach than a town-owned and operated plant. Many residents have expressed concerns that maintaining consistent, quality service would be difficult with a private company.

Perhaps most disturbing to many residents is the fact that the town's Department of Public Works workers would be under a different umbrella. Workers in the DPW argue that there is no way to ensure they would get the same health and retirement benefits as municipal employees of the town.

There is also some discussion that a for-profit entity would have no compulsion to retain the entire work force currently under contract with Lee.

Nason and other town officials believe that similar benefits and tenure can be built into any contract with the private entity.