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Local strategy for state DPW evidentiary hearings on Unitil.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

FITCHBURG - The state Department of Public Utilities has granted the city the status of "limited participant" during the upcoming evidentiary hearings into Unitil's response to the December ice storm.

Mayor Lisa A. Wong said she has been consulting with town managers in the other communities in Unitil's service area and is confident their shared concerns will be addressed when the state agency hearings are held in May. Unitil has been criticized by residents of Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Townsend and Ashby for the pace of its response to the ice storm and maintenance of its system.

Attorney General Martha D. Coakley's office and the town of Lunenburg were granted full participation in the evidentiary hearing, so they will be allowed to summon and cross-examine witnesses, said Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the DPU. Fitchburg will not have that option.

"What they are allowed to do is file briefs and reply briefs and get copies of all documents," Ms. Capone said yesterday.

The town of Townsend also is seeking limited participant status in the hearings, Ms. Capone said.

State Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said he was confident the concerns of residents will be heard even without the city having the ability to call its own witnesses because the AG's office is the ratepayers' surrogate in the proceedings.

At the same time, he added, the Unitil service area's legislative delegation is continuing efforts to improve utility service to the region.

DPU officials recorded hours of heated testimony at hearings in late January and early February in Fitchburg and Lunenburg from residents upset with high bills and lengthy outages. The evidentiary hearings are scheduled to run the week of May 11 at the DPU headquarters in Boston.

"The strategy is for all four communities to work together," Ms. Wong said yesterday. "It's not necessary for there to be multiple lawyers saying the same thing for each city and town."

The mayor noted Fitchburg has an independent city solicitor. The other Unitil towns are represented by the large Boston law firm of Kopelman & Paige.

Ms. Wong said she will be meeting with town managers from the other three communities next week to discuss strategies related to Unitil.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 7, 2009
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