Haverhill leaders need to be concerned about the city's future as they consider a plan to sell water and sewer service to nearby communities.
The last thing Haverhill needs is to sacrifice its own potential for growth to promote the development of an economic competitor.
In September, Councilor Sven Amirian proposed that Haverhill sell water and sewer services to nearby communities such as Plaistow. City Councilors David Hall and Michael Young, whose terms expired this week, used the occasion of their last council meeting to warn against Amirian's proposal.
They made several good points.
Hall said he is concerned that, while Haverhill may have sufficient water now, the city's anticipated growth over the next several decades means the city will need all the water it can get for its own residents.
Haverhill water supply issues came to a head in 2009 when the City Council heard the results of a study of the city's potential sources of water. Haverhill currently gets its water from Kenoza Lake, Crystal Lake and Millvale Reservoir. The city's state water permit allows it to draw 7.1 million gallons per day from those sources. That's enough to provide for the city now, but will not meet the city's needs as it grows to an estimated population of 75,000 over the next few decades.
A six-year, $422,000 study of the water supply from 2002-2009 found no new sources of water for Haverhill other than the Merrimack River. The study projected that Haverhill's demand for water would outstrip its current supply by 2019.
The idea of using the Merrimack to supplement the drinking water supply split the council and Mayor James Fiorentini and raised an outcry among a number of Haverhill residents.
Critics of the plan raised concerns about the safety of river water given Haverhill's place as the last major city between the river and the ocean. Several cities that now tap the Merrimack River for drinking water, such as Lowell, Methuen and Lawrence, are upriver from Haverhill.
The outgoing councilors also questioned the wisdom of providing water to Plaistow, an economic competitor to Haverhill. Why make it easier for businesses to relocate over the border to New Hampshire, Young and Hall asked.
"It's a matter of supply and demand," Hall said. "We can't afford to do it.''
Indeed, why would Haverhill want to limit its own potential for growth by selling off some of its water supply, while at the same time making more economic growth possible in Plaistow?
That argument was enough to win over at least one councilor.
Councilor William Macek said in September he had an "open mind" to the possibility of selling water alone. Now, he told reporter Tim McCarthy he's become "lukewarm" to the idea, primarily because Haverhill's sewer service keeps restaurants from crossing the border into New Hampshire. (See story, page 1.)
"I don't want to put Haverhill at any disadvantage," he said. "I would not want to lose our downtown restaurants for a location in New Hampshire."
Haverhill already is providing some water and sewer services to other communities. A water line services some Plaistow businesses just over border from Haverhill. The city treats up to 500,000 gallons of Groveland sewage daily, bringing Haverhill about $225,000 annually and also provides water to about 30 homes along Center Street in that community.
Amirian wants to look into expanding the sale of water and sewer service.
"I didn't appreciate people putting the issue to rest after a 10-minute conversation," Amirian said of the initial reaction to his proposal in September.
It's worth a look. But Haverhill must be careful not to trade its potential for future development for a small monetary gain today.