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Hingham and Hull want SJC to hear Aquarion case

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 20, 2013 09:54 AM

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As Hingham officials and private water company Aquarion get ready to argue out how much the region’s water infrastructure is worth, the two sides will first have to decide a forum for the argument.

Hingham has sought help from the courts in determining a purchase price for their water infrastructure; which services Hingham, Hull, and Cohasset. Yet an unusual request from Hingham seeks to skip the initial trial court and move on to the Supreme Judicial Court, usually reserved for appeals.

Though Hull officials came out in support of that course of action, Aquarion has since filed a request to go through the Superior Court, or the normal court process.

According to John Walsh, Vice President of Operations for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, skipping the trial court phase does not make sense, as there were no extraordinary circumstances that would justify it.

“The town’s study committee spent over a year studying this issue, which tells me at least from the town’s and that committee’s perspective, there was no immediacy on their part,” Walsh said.

Walsh also said Aquarion is entitled to a jury trial and a discovery phase, neither of which would be permitted at the highest state court.

The response comes days after Hull officials came out in support of Hingham in a request to keep a battle over the cost of the region’s water infrastructure under the purview of the SJC.

“The issues raised by Hingham in this mater are of great public import and concern,” said a filing issued by Hull on Aug. 14. “How the valuation is adjudicated may have statewide implications and will directly affect the rates paid by users and the quality and service provided to users of this essential commodity.”

Hull officials went on to add that the state’s highest court should be the first to look at the matter because the dispute was likely to end up in front of the high court as an appeal of a lower-court ruling.

Hingham officials have urged as much in their filing with the Supreme Court to hand down a definitive decision.

Hingham has been looking since June to purchase the infrastructure from Aquarion. When negotiations with the company halted, the town turned to the courts in early July.

Officials said Hull’s support was a welcome development.

“The Town of Hull has been very supportive of Hingham’s efforts to explore acquiring the water company,” said Selectmen Chair Bruce Rabuffo in a release. “We especially appreciate Hull’s making their support loud and clear to the Supreme Judicial Court.

According to Town Administrator Ted Alexiades, Cohasset hasn't filed any documents on this question, but has stood behind the town in not only a purchase of the water system, but having it decided by the Supreme Judicial Court.

“I would say yes, Cohasset is in agreement with Hingham, though they haven’t formally taken that position,” Alexiades said. “Based on what they have said to us in the past and my understanding of the information being presented, I think they would be enthusiastic [for this course of action].”

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