Gloucester — The city is one step closer to ensuring that its water supply remains in local hands.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting in Gloucester, councilors voted 7 to 1 to file an order for a Home Rule Petition that may ultimately keep control over the water system in local hands. Councilor Paul McGeary voted against the motion.
The council vote was the second step of a three step approach, driven by the local water activist group Who Decides? Who Decides’ mission is to prevent future mayors or city councilors from handing over control of the local water supply to corporations without a vote of the people. As recently as last year, the mayor or City Council could have sold interest in the water without public approval.
“I am thrilled the vote went through,” said Russell Hobbs, a member of Who Decides. “I wish it was unanimous, but even so, we are moving ahead to protect and care for our own water supply.”
In the first phase of their approach, Who Decides began a yearlong effort to pass the Gloucester Water Systems Ordinance which ultimately passed on Oct. 26, 2010. The second phase was initiated at Tuesday’s Council meeting, as the City Council filed an order for a Home Rule Petition with the state. Essentially the petition is a request to the state to allow a change in Home Rule Charter.
The third phase is now in the hands of state Sen. Bruce Tarr and possible co-sponsor, state Rep Ann-Margaret Ferrante. Both Tarr and Ferrante would need to pass legislation to amend Gloucester’s home rule charter. If all goes as planned, the water supply could not be sold by the mayor or the City Council without a public vote.
Members of Who Decides assert that both domestic and foreign corporations are currently purchasing municipal water supplies and systems throughout the United States and around the world. According to some, fresh water is seen as a commodity, something to be bought and sold by whoever has the funds to control it. Members of Who Decides believe however, that water quality is best protected by the local communities who drink it.
“Many communities who have sold their water systems are not happy with the results,” said Hobbs. “Look at Nashua, New Hampshire. After an eight-year legal battle, the city of Nashua is poised to buy back ownership of the local water supply from Pennichuck Corporation. They must do this to protect their own water, and protect valuable watershed land.”
Pennichuck Corporation and the city of Nashua began a fight for control of the local water supply after Nashua city officials learned that Pennichuck was planning to sell to an out-of-state company. City officials were also concerned that Pennichuck was selling land surrounding the watershed for development, and loss of protected land would ultimately harm the quality of the water supply.
After years of settlement negotiations and an appeal to the Supreme Court, it appears the city of Nashua will be back in control of its water supply for a price tag of about $200 million.
“Nashua is only 45 minutes away,” said Roz Frontiera, president of Who Decides. “We should be concerned when a major corporation abuses a nearby watershed because it could greatly affect ours. Good thing they finally won it back, but at what cost to an already strapped municipality?”
Frontiera went on to acknowledge that although the Gloucester water system has had many recent challenges, the much-needed work at the Babson Water Treatment plan has been completed and improvements still continue.
“We drink this water and should be in control of it, that’s the bottom line. Now we’re asking concerned Gloucester residents to let Sen. Tarr and state Rep Ferrante know that they support keeping the water under local control,” said Frontiera. “And we invite all to watch a very important documentary on Cape Ann TV.”
As part of an ongoing movie series about water, Who Decides is sponsoring the airing of “Blue Gold: World Water Wars,” on Cape Ann TV twice this month. Cape Ann TV, channel 12, will air the documentary on Friday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m.
Blue Gold: World Water Wars is based on the book called “Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft of the World’s Water.” Author Maude Barlow shares her view of the battle between the public trust and private profit, and community utilities versus multinational corporate takeovers.
To learn more about Who Decides, visit www.whodecides.net.
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