Hingham Votes to Acquire Aquarion

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Hingham Votes to Acquire Aquarion

Town Moderator Mike Puzo reads the results of the ballot vote on Article 10. (Still by Harbor Media)

Town Moderator Mike Puzo reads the results of the ballot vote on Article 10. (Still by Harbor Media)

Town Moderator Mike Puzo reads the results of the ballot vote on Article 10. (Still by Harbor Media)

Town Moderator Mike Puzo reads the results of the ballot vote on Article 10. (Still by Harbor Media)

Will Sutton, Photography Editor

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As Hingham prepared for its annual Town Meeting on Monday, April 27, one issue loomed above the rest. For months, residents had been debating the merits of buying out Aquarion, the private company that manages most of Hingham’s water utilities. After much debate among residents, elected officials, and Hingham’s appointed Advisory Committee, the question was finally settled on April 27: the town voted 1,482 to 382 in favor of Article 10, securing the ⅔ majority needed to purchase Aquarion for conversion into a public utility.

Divided Public Opinion

In the weeks leading up to the vote, public opinion appeared divided. On social media, both sides made their cases; on the streets of Hingham, lawn signs proclaimed support for or against the purchase.

Chrissy Maher Roberts, a strong proponent of the purchase, gave an impassioned speech in favor of Article 10. “Going into Town Meeting I thought we had a good chance of having the article pass,  but given that ⅔ is such a big hurdle I wasn’t overly confident,” wrote Roberts in a statement to the Harborlight. “I truly feel it’s the right thing for the Town so I’m happy for the future generations that will reap the benefits.”

Jim O’Hare, a Hingham resident and representative for the citizen’s group Keep Aquarion, wrote the group had hoped “…Town Meeting voters would recognize that we have an exceptional system run by experts in the industry and that they were being asked to make a significant commitment” by purchasing the company, which O’Hare characterized as “…an asset-heavy, low revenue business.”

Despite the divided attitudes of Hingham residents, the purchase enjoyed broad support of elected and appointed town officials. Hingham’s Advisory Committee voted 11-3 in favor of the proposal, while the Board of Selectmen was unanimous in their support.  “Controlling the management of a critical resource is important today and will be more important in the future,” wrote Selectwoman Mary Power in a statement to the Harborlight.

Town Meeting

Monday’s Town Meeting drew thousands of Hingham residents, filling Hingham High’s gymnasium. Overflow was directed to the cafeteria and auditorium, each with volunteer moderators and monitored by Town Moderator Mike Puzo via video feeds. During voice voting, Article 10 passed on a ⅔ majority in the gym and cafeteria. However, auditorium monitor Scott Ford expressed indecision about his audience. When 50 voters stood, the article moved to a paper ballot.

The voting and counting of paper ballots took about 30 minutes. After delivering the verdict of the paper ballots, Puzo decided to hold votes on Articles 11, 12, and 13 despite the meeting running beyond its 11:00 PM endtime. He justified this as an attempt to wrap up the water purchase issue, and all three articles- each of which dealt with procedures of the transition- passed by voice vote.

Looking forward

By the end of the year, the town hopes to take control of operations. In the meantime, the Selectmen are preparing the transition with the help of Aquarion executives and a former DEP commissioner. “I’m confident in the Town’s ability to manage the transition,” Selectwoman Power asserted. Senior James Winikoff, who attended Town Meeting and voted for the purchase, echoed this idea. “I am confident in the leadership of the town to do it, and I’m confident in the economics of it,” he explained.

While writing for Keep Aquarion, Jim O’Hare said the group has “…no specific plans, other than to follow events as they unfold as others in town doing” and said the group has “no opinion” on the ability of the town to handle the transition.

In the wake of the vote, Keep Aquarion has promoted the Friends of Hingham Water, a watchdog group whose Facebook page promises to monitor the transition process. One of their posts reads, in part, “We voted to own it, but there are still lots of unanswered questions.”

One common thread between all those interviewed was a deep respect for the democratic means by which this decision was made. Winikoff said Town Meeting was a “vital part of town function”; Selectwoman Power lauded Hingham as “one of the few communities in the nation where every citizen has a direct voice in decisions about their community”; and Keep Aquarion representative Jim O’Hare confirmed the group has “great respect” for Town Meeting. As Hingham enters a transition period, citizens from all sides of the debate continue to trust in the import of our democratic institutions.

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