Hingham Journal Letter

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Letter to the Editor of the Hingham Journal, by Mark Cullings

A Question of Stewardship

I support the town’s effort to buy the water company and will vote an enthusiastic Yes! at Town Meeting on Monday, April 22.

For the past several weeks, we’ve all heard a great deal about finances, governance and engineering, what someone called a “three-legged stool.” I’d add a fourth leg to the stool and call it “stewardship”.

Hingham is known for stewardship. Its huge inventory of 18th and 19th century homes, numerous historic districts, 21 miles of coastline, five harbor islands and thousands of acres of protected green space stand as a testament. Generations of Hingham’s citizens have committed to preserve and protect what we value so that future generations can enjoy.

Fulling Mill Pond (some of us remember it as “The Duck Pond”) on South Pleasant Street is one of Hingham’s treasured green spaces, but it may surprise you to learn that we don’t own it. Aquarion / Eversource owns it, and any responsibility for stewardship of the pond is its responsibility. It dies a little bit every year through a process called eutrophication, whereby nutrient-rich water stimulates the growth of freshwater vegetation. For at least 30 years concerned citizens, and occasionally the town, have tried without success to engage the water company owners to partner with them in an effort to mitigate the pond’s slow death. While it’s true that the water company paid for two studies, in 1993 and 2013, of the pond’s condition, and despite findings confirming its deterioration, little has been done.

It’s likely the reason for that lack of interest is that Fulling Mill, unlike Accord Pond, is not a primary source of our water. Despite its designation as a reservoir, what water from this 14-acre pond can percolate through the 5 to 6-feet of decaying vegetation on its bottom recharges the wells next to the pond. It is then pumped into the system for distribution. Why would a for-profit organization spend a dime on something it doesn’t need to, at least until it has to? Reminds me of how water mains are repaired or replaced.

Aquarion / Eversource is one of the largest landowners in Hingham. It owns over 250 acres of Hingham’s open space, including Accord and Fulling Mill Ponds. All this acreage directly relates to our water distribution system, and the protection and preservation of it is critical. Has this company or its corporate predecessors been good stewards? Consider that the last time the water company acquired any land for the protection and preservation, much less the enhancement of our distribution system, was in 1975. A lot has happened since then.

Then consider that in recent years the town has had the foresight to acquire several parcels of open space within the Weir River Watershed and our Aquifer Protection District. These parcels total almost a hundred acres and cost taxpayers nearly $7,000,000. Despite being approached, Aquarion / Eversouce wasn’t interested in participating.

Further, consider that if the water company had been municipally owned, Hingham may have received up to $900,000 in state aid for water supply protection.

Please remember that the water company has changed hands three times in the past 17 years at ever increasing prices. The international investment community knows that controlling water is almost priceless, and there is good reason to think that if a new buyer comes on the scene with the right price, it will be sold again. If we don’t buy it, perhaps the next owner will be headquartered in Beijing, not Connecticut.

Should Town Meeting voters approve the purchase, however, Hingham citizens will at last control what happens to the very sources of our water supply. They will also be giving the gift of preservation and protection of this precious asset to generations yet to come. This issue is most certainly about the future.

Please come to Town Meeting and vote Yes!

— Mark Cullings, Spring St., Hingham