May 072014
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series 2014 Election

Selectman Josh Degen is challenging incumbent Groton Water Commissioner James Gmeiner for his seat and a three-year term on the elected body that oversees the town’s water supply, delivery, and associated enterprise fund. West Groton is served by a different board.

The other two Groton Water Commissioners are David Crocker and Gary Hoglund.

According to the town web site:

The Water Commission is responsible for establishing policy for the Water Department.

The Water Department is responsible for operation and maintenance of the public water system:

  • ensuring quality of the public water supply
  • protecting existing water sources and developing new sources and new storage facilities as needed
  • working with other Town departments and contractors to extend facilities for provision of Town water

One point of conflict facing the Water Commission is the use of the herbicide, SONAR, in Baddacook Pond to control a massive overgrowth of invasive weeds in the pond. Although used in Lost Lake, Baddacook Pond is much close to a town water well, and despite urging from the Great Pond Advisory Committee and the Board of Selectmen, the Water Commissioners vetoed use of the herbicide.

Candidate’s Night

Meet the candidates at Candidate’s Night, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School on Chickopee Row. Candidate’s Night is sponsored by Groton’s Democratic and Republican Town Committees.

The Groton Line Candidate Questionnaire

Candidate NameJoshua DegenJames L. Gmeiner
Josh Degen

Josh Degen

James Gmeiner

James Gmeiner

Office SoughtWater CommissionWater Commission
Are you the incumbent office holder?NoYes
Candidate address409 Martins Pond RoadPrecinct Three
Candidate townGrotonGroton
Phone(978) 448-0281Withheld at candidate's request.
E-mailJosh@joshdegen.comWithheld at candidate's request.
Web site URLnone
How old are you?52Withheld at candidate's request.
What year did you become a Groton resident?19911987
Party affiliationUndeclaredUndeclared
Academic degrees / training -- please enter one per line.Attended Tulane University 1979-80
UMass Amherst 81-83 environmental design
Acton Boxborough Regional High School - Diploma
U. Mass - Amherst - BA History cum laude
Suffolk University School of Law - Juris Doctor
If you're currently employed, what is your "day job" or vocation(s)?Owner of Earthscape of Groton 1984 - 2014Legal Counsel
Family information -- married, divorced, number of kids, etc.Married to Amy since 1987
Two children Danya 22 and Alia 19
Married to Adrienne.
A son and a daughter who attended Groton - Dunstable schools K-12
Please outline your experience in the public sector or community service, including elective or appointed offices.I was elected to the Groton Planning Board and served from 1998 - 2007.
I was originally elected in 2006 then re-elected to my fourth term to the Groton Board of Selectmen in 2013.
I am a founder and an original trustee on the Groton Affordable Housing Trust.
I have served on the GDRS superintendent search committee, Groton Town Manager search committee and I am currently serving on the new Fire Chief search committee.
I am a member or the Sargisson Beach Committee.
I have also served on the William's Barn Committee, Recycling Committee, Groton Country Club Authority and numerous other Groton committees.
I have volunteered for over 10 years creating and rehabbing our wonderful William's Barn.
I have also performed volunteer projects at the Groton Pool and Golf Center and at Sargisson Beach.
Groton Dunstable Youth Soccer Club, Inc. 1994 to date. Coach, Age Group Coordinator, Field Maintenance Person, Clerk
Congregation Shalom - Trustee 4 years.
Capital Planning Committee 1988-1994
Waste Water Committee 1992-1993
Sewer Commissioner 1993 to date
Water Commissioner 2011 to date
What personal quality do you think is your strongest asset?My ability to assess complex situations. I listen to others, gather information, formulate a plan then build consensus within the community and fellow board/committee members.

I am always available via email for questions at or via my cell phone at 978 815 0079. I encourage contact for any issues or concerns.
The ability to listen and then make a considered decision.
Why did you decide to run for this office?There are synergies that should be explored by the Water Commissioners. Things like:
1) Consolidation of the Water and Sewer Departments into one.
2) Exploring an intermunicapal water connection with West Groton
3) Consider consolidating the Groton and West Groton Water departments into one.
4) Protecting the aquifers that feed our water supplies. This must be done by controlling the weed populations while ensuring the methods applied are fully vetted by licensed toxicologists, hydrologists and LSP's.
5) Keep our water rates as low as possible.
6) Limit overextending town resources both water and dollars expended for new site expansion. West Groton has a tremendous surplus of water in wells sites already developed. We are one town and should share our resources.
I originally ran for this office in 2011 to see if the merger of the Water and Sewer Commissions made sense. I believe this can and should be done but the two Enterprise Funds must be kept separate in order to protect the respective Rate Payers' interests. I am now seeking re-election because I see a need for the protection of Groton's water sources.
What is the single most important issue facing the town and how would you address it from this office? OR What is the most important issue facing this board?Delivery of clean and safe water in the most effective manner while balancing the oversight of the resources. If elected I would take the knowledge that I have gathered as an elected official and apply it as a Water Commissioner. This would lead to consensus building via collaboration with fellow members. The most important issue facing the Water Commission and the Town is the Selectmen's application, through their Great Ponds Advisory Committee, to allow the use of the pesticide Fluridone in Baddacook Pond.

The Water Commission voted unanimously not to allow this, the major reason being it views the pesticide as a contaminant which does not belong in drinking water. Mass DEP supports this decision not to allow the use of Fluridone within the Zone I of the Baddacook well. The well is a 30 foot wide brick cistern, 19 feet deep, and less than 50 feet from the pond. In the summer 300,000 gallons of water per day are pumped from the well. It doesn't seem wise to risk contamination of one of Groton's primary drinking water sources, especially as Water Rate Payers would derive no benefit by the application of this pesticide to the water.
How would you improve or contribute to the Groton Water Commission?I just stated my answer in the previous question.Most importantly I would continue to support its efforts to protect the Town's water sources. I would also continue to support the Water Department's applications for grants for studies to increase the efficiency of its systems and for cost savings to be realized. One such grant study led to the replacement of a suction pump with a more efficient variable speed impeller pump at Baddacook. This has resulted in increased reliability and energy savings. The use of remote electronic monitoring is another use of technology which resulted in money saved and increased reliability. Finding efficiencies has helped keep our rates at about the state average.
What other issues are important and how would you address them?Fairness, openness and the obligation to listen then address each situation as presented.Another important issue is the separation of powers. Unfortunately when the Charter was under discussion I do not think anyone foresaw a situation where a Selectman would seek election to another board and sit on both boards. Because of this, we now have the possibility of a Selectman sitting as a Water Commissioner, and hearing his own application as Selectmen to put a pesticide in the Zone I of a public water supply. While this might be legal it doesn't seem to be what good government is about.

I hope a prohibition against Selectmen holding other elected offices is considered when the Charter is reviewed.
Does Town Meeting have a role in setting town policy or strategic direction, or is that solely up to the affected elected board? Can the BoS or other elected boards ignore articles and directions approved in Town Meeting? Town Meeting does not set either policy or direction. They do however lend suggested direction. Unless an article is worded in such fashion to mandate things like budgets or purchases each elected board makes these decisions. No elected board can ignore a voted mandate from Town Meeting.Town Meeting may have a role in setting town policy, but the Water Department is an Enterprise Fund. Its primary responsibility is to the Water Rate Payers, which is perhaps half of the households in Town. And so while the Water Department is bound by a town meeting vote on certain matters, I'm not sure it is appropriate for TM to dictate policy, especially if it will cause the Enterprise Fund to run a deficit, to violate state regulations, or to take a course of action contrary to the interests of the Water Rate Payers.
What else would you tell Groton voters?If elected as a Water commissioner, I will continue to serve on of the Board of Selectmen. Our Town Clerk has cleared this with the State. I previously served as a Planning Board member concurrently as a Selectman. Should a conflict between boards arise I would recuse myself from the situation.

I firmly believe that you should vote for the right person for the job period. I believe that my my 30 years as a private business owner coupled with over 16 years of elected service to the citizens of Groton uniquely qualifies me for this new position.

I respectfully ask for your vote on Election Day.
I am not in favor of merging the West Groton Water Supply District and the Groton Water Department. I think such a merger would result in increased rates for both sets of Rate Payers. Any interconnection would require substantial new and additional infrastructure and greatly increase debt service. I cannot see a reason to assume such a burden which would increase water rates. We currently have sufficient capacity for current and future growth in our existing wells, and two more wells are already permitted.

It has been suggested that such a merger would lead to decrease rates by selling more water. This just will not work. Putting aside the cost of infrastructure (and the need to increase rates to pay for it), a DEP well permit limits water withdrawals. The State is currently decreasing authorized water withdrawals. Trying to increase per capita consumption as a means to increase revenue just doesn't make sense when current policy is that per capita consumption needs to be decreased, and proposed regulations are geared to conservation.

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