Columbia Gas of Massachusetts today announced the next phase of recovery and replacement activities for the Greater Lawrence Area following the tragic events of September 13.
NiSource President and CEO Joe Hamrock hosted a press conference with Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor, Adjutant General of the MA National Guard Gary W. Keefe, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz, and public safety officials to announce utility restorations for the impacted areas, continued community support and the replacement plan for the gas pipeline system.
“Many people are still hurting in the wake of last week’s disaster,” said NiSource CEO Joe Hamrock. “We owe it to this community to fully address the community’s needs and rebuild your trust in us.”
Hamrock said Columbia Gas’ recovery and replacement plan will:
- aim to have service restored to all homes and workplaces by November 19;
- bring immediate help to people who need it most;
- replace and upgrade appliances and other natural gas equipment damaged in customers’ homes and businesses; and
- provide the assurance of a safe and modern energy system, installed with the highest levels of scrutiny and accountability.
Governor Charlie Baker announced that through his executive authority under a state of emergency, he has instructed the Department of Public Utilities to request that Columbia Gas hire an outside contractor. Columbia Gas announced today that Navy Captain Joe Albanese, Ret., Founder and CEO of Commodore Builders, a construction management firm, will serve as the Chief Recovery Officer for the project. He will be assisted by Rear Admiral Richard E. Cellon, Ret., President of Cellon and Associates. Albanese spent 25 years of military service with the naval construction forces, most recently leading more than 2,000 Navy SeaBees in contingency operations and more than 2,000 SeaBees throughout the Middle East in 2007. He will be responsible for command, control and communications.
To assist with the next steps in the recovery effort, Governor Baker has activated the National Guard to support delivery of hot plates and provide resources for the assessment team.
Starting Saturday morning, hundreds of the Massachusetts National Guard will assist Columbia Gas in providing nearly 7,000 self-contained hot plate units to customers who need them for cooking until natural gas service is restored. This will be followed by a similar distribution of space heaters next week.
On Monday, 60 Columbia Gas and contracted construction teams will begin the massive replacement program in all three communities. The effort will ultimately replace the 48-mile, cast iron and bare steel distribution system with state-of-the-art infrastructure and safety features such as excess flow valves that automatically shut off gas flow if a service line is damaged or broken.
“We will return natural gas services as quickly as possible – but our core commitment to safety will underpin these efforts,” Hamrock noted. “Services will be restored only after new facilities have been fully inspected, tested and proven safe.”
Columbia Gas is working closely with industry and regional partners, including local fire and police departments, elected officials and the Department of Public Works, which is reviewing all engineering and construction plans.
Next week, teams of electricians, plumbers, and assessors will begin electrical assessments and installation of 24,000 space heaters in homes. Before installation, local fire chiefs and electricians must certify that a dwelling is safe for a space heater to operate without risk of fire hazards. For places that do not meet these criteria, the team is exploring alternative home heating options. Language translators will be available and residents should be aware that teams of workers and guardsmen that visit homes will present an identification card.
On Wednesday, September 26, teams will begin deployment to every impacted residence or business to do a full assessment and determine what appliances need to be replaced or repaired. This assessment will help prepare customers to have gas service restored safely. Residents will receive a communication from Columbia Gas to confirm the assessment so they can plan to be home. It will take several weeks for all assessments to be completed.
As part of planning, the team is in the process of evaluating all 48 miles of pipeline that service approximately 8,600 meters and will prioritize affected systems and address those immediate concerns first. Preliminary work to restore service for a very limited number of customers is also underway. Customers will be updated as more details become available.
On September 13, a series of fires broke out and explosions occurred in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover related to the delivery of natural gas. The fires tragically killed one individual, caused a number of injuries, destroyed homes and led to the evacuation of significant portions of each municipality. A mobile command center was stood up in Lawrence and supported by first responders, utility companies, federal officials and members of state and local government.
On Friday, September 14, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency to facilitate a comprehensive emergency response and recovery effort for the people of Greater Lawrence. The action authorized the Chairman of the Department of Public Utilities to authorize Eversource to take management control over the coordinated effort to safely restore utility services in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Over the course of the weekend, teams accessed the 8,527 meters that were impacted by the gas incident, turned them off, and safely cleared the home for any gas detection. By Sunday, September 16 all impacted homes had been safely cleared of gas, power was restored to nearly all homes in the area, and people were allowed to return home.
On Saturday September 15, Columbia Gas opened a claims center in Lawrence and later subsequent claims centers in Andover and North Andover for affected residents to establish an initial claim and a monetary advance payment toward loss to meet immediate needs for evacuation costs, food spoilage, child care costs, and other expenses.
On Sunday, September 16, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency opened up a Recovery Resource Center (RRC) in Lawrence to provide services and programs to meet the needs of residents of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover who were impacted. The Recovery Resource Center has been staffed by representatives of key local and state agencies, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, disaster relief organizations affiliated with Massachusetts Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and Columbia Gas. State agencies at the RRC include the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Department of Children and Families (DCF), Department of Mental Health (DMH), Registry of Motor Vehicles, and Division of Insurance (DOI).
On Monday, September 17, the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund was formed to serve the needs of impacted residents, including housing, sustenance and support services. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant announced a $10 million contribution by Columbia Gas.
About Captain Joe Albanese:
Albanese has 28 years of military service and retired as a Captain in the United State Navy Civil Engineer Corps and is the Founder and CEO of Commodore Builders, a construction management firm started in 2002. Joe Albanese spent 25 year of military service with the naval construction forces, where he focused on thinking strategically about world defense, security and the global economy. Most recently, he led more than 2,000 Navy SeaBees in contingency operations and more than 2,000 Sea Beas throughout the Middle East in 2007. Albanese’s priorities have been on driving development and change locally by attracting entrepreneurs, creating affordable housing, improving commerce and the economy in Massachusetts. He has deep ties and strong roots in Massachusetts, working at the executive level at a number of local construction firms and serving on the advisory board of UMass Lowell College of Engineering, as past chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts and as current Chairman of the Board of Directors, New England Center for Homeless Veterans. Albanese graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from UMass Lowell and has an MBA from Boston University.
About Rear Admiral Richard E. Cellon:
Admiral Cellon currently serves as President of Cellon and Associates, where he consults for multiple clients on a wide variety of business management and leadership issues. Prior to this, he was Director of Operations of Sustainable Biofuels Solutions (SBS) in Hamilton, Virginia after serving as President of the Downstream Oil and Gas business segment in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1978, he has over 31 years of Naval service commanding Naval Facilities Engineering Commands across the nation. Retiring in October of 2009, his final duty assignment was as Commander of the FIRST Naval Construction Division. After leaving active duty, he worked at Willbros Group, a global engineering and construction contractor specializing in energy infrastructure serving the oil, gas, petrochemical, and power industries, headquartered in Houston, TX. Cellon holds master’s degrees from the University of Florida (Civil Engineering) and the Naval War College (National Security and Strategic Studies). He also completed the Wharton School’s Advanced Management Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. Cellon is a native of Gainesville, Florida.
About Columbia Gas of Massachusetts
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts delivers clean, affordable and efficient natural gas to over 320,000 natural gas customers in southeastern Massachusetts, the greater Springfield area and the Merrimack Valley. Headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts, the company is the largest gas-only provider in the state and is one of NiSource's seven regulated utility companies. NiSource (NYSE:NI) is one of the largest fully-regulated utility companies in the United States, serving approximately 3.5 million natural gas customers and 500,000 electric customers through its local Columbia Gas and NIPSCO brands. More information about Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is available at www.ColumbiaGasMA.com. NI-F
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