LITTLETON -- When Savas Danos showed up for work as a water-quality engineer in 1982, he little suspected that he would end up decades later retiring as general manager of Littleton's Electric Light and Water Department.
"The community has been great to me, as well as the Board of Water Commissioners, who have given me the opportunity to meet the challenges of the job and allow for the success of what we have done," Danos said. "It's been a constant evolution of the utilities with managers who were innovators and, frankly, they hired people who embraced challenges. But that's just the way we do things here."
For him, it all began when Littleton became a magnet for the high-tech industry.
"How I got here was, late in the 1970s there was significant growth in computer companies expanding into the area," Danos said. "At the time, there were a number of mom-and-pop machine shops doing piece work for the computer industry on things like PC boards. To do that, a whole new group of chemicals called solvents were being heavily utilized and when they were dumped onto the ground, they contaminated the aquifer. In addition, local gas stations were getting old and their tanks began leaking. The state decided that as a result, all water was getting contaminated and at one point, Littleton chose to conduct a survey of its own water resources.
The survey was intended to answer three questions: Was water in town being contaminated? What was the potential threat? And how could the water be protected if it was being contaminated?
"The results of that report ended up in the creation of new bylaw protections and the hiring of someone to supervise their implementation," Danos said. "And that person was me. I worked together with the Board of Health, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and Water Department to work on the problem and our efforts drew national attention."
The success the town has since had in protecting its groundwater, said Danos, is one of the accomplishments he is most satisfied with looking back at his long career.
"It was the most satisfying because that's where my roots were," he said. "We also designed and built the first membrane plant for the removal of iron manganese from our water sources."
Another accomplishment the former manager is proud of is the fact that Littleton Electric has the lowest rates in Massachusetts and the best service.
"Surveys always showed us to be at the top in those areas," said Danos. "But that's not just because of me, that's due to our whole staff. All three of those accomplishments -- water protection, rates and service, and the membrane plants -- have been big."
To Danos' regret, however, were projects he was leaving undone, such as the clean-lakes initiative.
"The water side of the department is a constant problem of infrastructure requirements and water capacity needs," he said. "Also, keeping water rates down. The department always struggles with economic reality. It bothers me that the Water Department is not in as good economic shape as it should be. But water is the most difficult product to deliver to customers on an economic basis. Treatment keeps the price up, something that state regulations always want more of. But how clean is clean?"
Danos expressed support for a gas pipeline being proposed for the area by the Kinder-Morgan Corp., a plan being criticized by many local residents, but that he described as being "vital" for the area's energy needs.
Danos said that, certainly, more low-impact routes for the pipeline's installation need to be found than that proposed, and that there is a place for alternative sources of power such as wind and solar, but they cannot be the exclusive answer to the region's energy requirements. In any case, there would still need to be a manner to convey energy generated by wind and solar to where the customers are and that, like the pipeline, would require overland corridors to be cleared for power lines.
As for the future of locally operated electric departments such as exist in Littleton and next-door Groton, Danos is optimistic. With their ability to provide quick and reliable service to customers, low rates and profit to towns, locally operated departments have become "far more visible than they were 40-50 years ago."
Taking over the reins of the department is Scott Edwards, formerly assistant general manager.
"My advice to Scott would be to listen to those around you and take their ideas under advisement," Danos said. "We have really good people working here. But generally speaking, people like it here and if they enjoy coming to work, then good things happen."