Pascoag Utility, Harrisville Fire District look to consolidate water service; Merger talks underway

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BURRILLVILLE – Pascoag Utility District and the Harrisville Fire District Water Department have been engaged in what officials say are “serious,” discussions about merging and creating a new entity that would cover electric and water distribution services in a significant portion of Burrillville.

According to a joint announcement this week, the new entity would own and operate the current electric distribution system in Pascoag and Harrisville, and upon completion of the merger, would also own and operate the water production and distribution system in the villages of Harrisville, Pascoag and Oakland.

“This proposed merger makes sense in the increasingly complex world that water systems live in today for regulatory compliance, through gains in efficiency of operations and in exploration of new water resources that would help provide water rate stability and benefits to all its members/customers,” noted the joint release from PUD board Chairman Albert Palmisciano and HFD Operating Committee Chairman Brayton Round.

PUD General Manager Michael Kirkwood noted that the two entities are still working through the details – and have yet to come up with a new name for the merged entity.

“This is a significant deal for both or our companies, and we are happy to let our customers/members know,” Kirkwood said.

Subcommittees from PUD and HFD have been meeting to lay out details of the plan, which will need approval from the full boards of each entity to move forward. Pending board approval, customers will also have a chance to weigh in at respective special meetings of the two districts.

The consolidation would also mean creation of a new charter, which would go before the Rhode Island General Assembly for vote.

“Such charter would separate the Harrisville fire and water assets, while at the same time creating the new entity that would contain all utility assets of the new combined water and electric district,” the release noted.

The plan envisions a new, seven-member board of utility commissioners to oversee the entity, populated initially with three commissioners from each of the existing boards, plus a seventh member to be voted on by the new and expanded customer/member base. Future commissioners would be subject to elections after terms expire.

Kirkwood said both entities’ employees were informed of the plan on Monday, April 3.

“The reaction has been mostly positive,” he said.

Once all approvals and a new governing board is in place, the consolidated water and electric company would begin operations, with service to a significant portion of homes in town. In addition to its roughly 5,000 electric customers, PUD currently provides water to around 1,100 homes and businesses. Harrisville supplies water to more than 150 fire hydrants in that village and Oakland-Mapleville, along with four of the five Burrillville schools, the library, the Town Hall, and many of the households.

But first, those involved will have to choose a new name, and officials note they are in search of a moniker that possibly, “symbolizes the area of northwestern Rhode Island where we serve so proudly.”

“We are excited about announcing this potential merger, one that would bring together two great districts that have worked so closely and cooperatively together all these years,” the release stated.

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