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Aquarion hopes changes will keep Hingham a customer

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  July 26, 2012 03:13 PM

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Hingham’s water supplier is changing more than just management, months after the town began a feasibility study on the idea of purchasing of the town’s water infrastructure.

According to John Walsh, Aquarion’s newly appointed vice president of operations for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the company is changing its whole strategy when it comes to water service in Massachusetts.

“We’re focusing on customer service and the collaboration with the town,” Walsh said. “I rejoined the company in February, and since that time I’ve worked closely with the town and the engineers. We want to do more of that.”

That collaboration has not only come in the form with increased communication with town officials, but in further collaboration with town engineers – coordinating when streets will be paved and which water mains need to be replaced so as not to duplicate work, Walsh said.

Additionally, Walsh – a former director of supply operations and manager of engineering for Aquarion - hopes to bring his past experience to the table to better improve the customer experience for the 45,000 clients in Hingham, Hull, and parts of Cohasset.

“There are a lot of challenges in this system…there is an aging infrastructure here, there is limited water supply, and questions about customer services and concerns about rates…I think someone who has experience with the broader organization benefits this operation up here,” he said.

Ronit.jpgAccompanying him will be Ronit Goldstein, who was recently promoted to community relations manager for the Hingham District.

Charged with managing community events, sponsorships, and educational programs, Goldstein said she will be the liaison between the town and the company.

“I’m not new to the company; I’ve been here four years. I’ve always done customer service, but the community outreach piece, while it’s a part of my job, we’re going to do more of it…it will be more of a focus for me, for all three communities,” Goldstein said.

Already Goldstein has met with Hingham School Superintendent Dorothy Galo to discuss collaborations with the schools, and more outreach has been planned.

Overall, the changes stem from months of meetings between Aquarion officials and Hingham customers regarding the proposed water infrastructure purchase.

Although Aquarion could not dissuade the town from pursuing a feasibility study, officials said they heard the town’s feedback loud and clear.

“We have learned a lot over the past six months and what we've heard, particularly at Town Meeting, is that the town wants us to be more responsive to their needs, and our customer's needs,” Walsh said. “I think you'll see that we've done a lot of listening, and I expect that our customers, as well as town officials, will see a positive change at Aquarion.”

Regardless of the changes at Aquarion, Hingham Selectman Bruce Rabuffo said the town will continue to seek out other options for water distribution.

“We’re looking at this with other purposes,” Rabuffo said. “I’m appreciative they have recognized a need to communicate better with the communities they serve, but we will still do our work. That’s an internal decision on their part, and I applaud them for doing it. They should have done it sooner, but they have done it and that’s good. But it doesn’t change us from doing the study. The data itself will tell us if [purchasing the infrastructure] is a good idea.”

Regardless, improving customer service can’t hurt Aquarion’s cause, Walsh said.

“My plan is for the company to do a great job and by the end of this year, we’re hoping to be in a place where folks in all three towns think they don’t need to acquire the water system to get the service they want,” Walsh said.

Although Aquarion’s goal is to keep the Hingham district, Walsh said the company plans to cooperate with the town as it seeks out information on a possible acquisition.

“My role is to continue to cooperate with the town, provide them with the info they are looking for to do their evaluation, keeping the lines of communication open and continuing to be a good neighbor in the community,” he said.

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