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State pols support rescinding Columbia Gas emergency

While state lawmakers from the Merrimack Valley cheered Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent decision to rescind the state of emergency due to the Columbia Gas disaster, they cautioned that the region remains scarred and still needs help.


by Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune


While state lawmakers from the Merrimack Valley cheered Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent decision to rescind the state of emergency due to the Columbia Gas disaster, they cautioned that the region remains scarred and still needs help.


On Tuesday, the Baker-Polito Administration terminated the state of emergency -- nearly two years after it was declared by Baker.


On Sept. 13, 2018, overpressurized gas lines led to high pressure gas being injected into homes and businesses in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. It led to fires, explosions, dozens of injuries and the death of Lawrence teen Leonel Rondon.


The crisis resulted in the displacement of thousands of residents across the region, some who fled their homes on foot. Businesses in the impacted area were shut down for months as Columbia Gas replaced miles of gas pipeline and thousands of gas-powered furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and other appliances. When it was safe to return, many residents lived for months in homes without working stoves, heat or hot water.


Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, said in a press release issued Friday that the governor’s decision “marks the significant recovery the communities have made.”


“Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, our community has really been responding to and recovering from two different crises,” said Finegold, who represents Lawrence, Andover, Dracut and Tewksbury. “This milestone is a testament to our resilience, and we should be proud of our recovery thus far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean our communities have been made whole again. My office continues to help constituents navigate the class action settlement process and receive the money they rightfully deserve.”


The decision to rescind the state of emergency essentially hands responsibility for continued management of the incident to the Department of Public Utilities, or DPU, as it authorizes DPU chairman Matthew Nelson “to take any action necessary to ensure public safety and welfare and restore gas, electric, and water utility services,” according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.


“Although the state of emergency is no longer in effect, the DPU will continue to ensure the safety of residents and businesses through its rigorous oversight and inspections of natural gas companies and infrastructure,” according to the press release.


Nelson said the “the termination of the state of emergency is an important milestone in the Commonwealth’s recovery from the tragic gas incident in the Merrimack Valley. Under Gov. Baker’s leadership, we remain committed to supporting the impacted communities and to continually working to ensure the safety of the public and the gas pipeline system.”


Under the state of emergency, the DPU authorized Eversource Energy to take management control over the coordinated restoration effort. Columbia Gas was ordered to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, and was required to enter into an agreement with Nitsch Engineering to monitor the company’s management of the restoration and recovery work.



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