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Friday, October 26, 2018
State and Local Officials, Columbia Gas Announce Updated Timeline for Merrimack Valley Recovery Process, Encourage Residents to Seek Alternative Housing

Today, Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and Chief Recovery Officer Joe Albanese were joined by Secretary Matthew Beaton, Mayor Dan Rivera, Town Managers Andrew Maylor and Andrew Flanagan, Chief Recovery Officer for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Pablo Vegas and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Kurt Schwarz to announce an updated timeline for affected residents to have gas service restored in their homes after the incident that occurred on September 13th.  Officials also renewed their call for residents to seek alternative housing options, provided an update on the construction project to replace nearly 45 miles of main pipeline and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts announced a renewed commitment to customer communications.

“Our team is working around the clock to complete our mission of getting the affected residents home with gas service and back to normalcy as quickly and safely as possible,” said Joe Albanese, Chief Recovery Officer for the Greater Lawrence restoration project.  “The set of circumstances created by this incident is unprecedented, and as part of this contingency operation, we are dedicated to continuously improving our repair process to achieve the shared goal of restoring gas service to customers.  While we regret that some people will be delayed by a couple of weeks, we will keep working diligently to relight homes and businesses safely.”

“Since the explosions on September 13th, daily life for thousands of people in the Merrimack Valley has been uprooted, inconvenienced and for some, changed indefinitely,” said Governor Charlie Baker.  “Our administration will keep supporting this team and providing additional resources to affected residents to ensure the repair process moves safely and quickly.  Adjusting the timeline accordingly and realigning resources is critical to helping residents plan for the upcoming weeks, and we continue to urge residents to seek alternative housing to ensure their safety and provide more comfort.  Our administration fully expects Columbia Gas to improve communications with customers to provide accurate information on their “house ready” progress as colder temperatures set in.” 

“Our company is 100% committed to the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover,” said Pablo Vegas, Chief Restoration Officer, Columbia Gas. “We understand this has been a frustrating process for many. The patience and resilience of this community is inspiring, and we will work day and night to restore and regain our customers' trust in us.”

Updated Repair Process to Restore Gas Restoration for Affected Residents

43 days into the creative recovery process, Joe Albanese and his team explained that due to several factors, “house ready” repairs have fallen behind schedule and in response, an updated repair process will be implemented. Resources will be realigned to improve the block construction approach, manpower will be increased, and more efficiencies will be used to safely repair boilers and to replace appliances. Emphasis will be placed on the repair or replacement of boilers and furnaces so that residents can be relit and return to their homes with heat and hot water. If a repair cannot be safely made, the boiler or furnace will be replaced. Customers are advised that the repair of boilers/furnaces is only a temporary solution. Repairs will only be made to qualifying boilers/furnaces and Columbia Gas is committed to fully replacing (this process will begin in the Spring 2019) the heating equipment. The replacement of other appliances, dryers and stoves, will occur soon after the repairs made to boilers/furnaces (in some cases on the same day or in the following days as best determined by workers).

The team will also be adding three additional contractors (SLS, Windover, and WGP Companies), hundreds more plumbers and gas fitters, and approved repair options to safely expedite the “house ready” process. Currently, the time spent in each dwelling has exceeded original forecasts, in part due to the mitigation of hazardous materials, which include asbestos and lead paint, various code violations, and other issues.

Customers can check the projected range for their “house ready” repairs on the Interactive Map. This map will be updated by early next week.

All affected residents should expect to have their homes “house ready” and restored with gas service between December 2nd and December 16th.

Summary of Increased Resources and Repair Options (effective October 29th):

  • Contracting two additional construction companies to support GRS (SLS and WGP Companies) for block concept repairs for residential customers, and one additional company, Windover to lead restoration for Business customers.
  • Deploying additional field supervision to increase accountability and productivity at the crew level for block concept repairs.
  • Escalating manpower up to nearly 1400 plumbers, gas fitters, assessors, electricians, in-field management, inspectors, and linguists.
  • Safely utilizing the option to temporarily repair a boiler or furnace where appropriate. (While repairs will be made when it is safe and appropriate before December 16th, Columbia Gas is committed to permanently replacing and paying for all boilers and furnaces, which will begin after service is restored to all customers).
  • Prioritizing the temporary repair or replacement of boilers/furnaces is the first task of “house-ready” repairs so that customers can have heat and hot water restored to their homes faster. The replacement of appliances, like dryers and stoves, will be the second task of workers (on the same day or in the following days as best determined by qualified workers).

Commitment to Improved Customer Communications

Columbia Gas announced an improved customer communications plans regarding the gas restoration timeline through the following means:

  • The interactive map will be updated to reflect the updated “house ready” schedule range. During this range, customers should expect to have work crews first repair or replace their boiler/furnace. Secondly, in the same date range, workers will revisit residents to replace appliances like dryers and stoves. Updates will be posted early next week.
  • A weekly newsletter will be mailed to affected residents with updates on construction and available resources, from claims to housing.
  • The 72-hour schedule will be posted daily on ColumbiaGasMA.com so residents can monitor when crews will be expected to arrive at their homes for the "House Ready" step. Customers can also call the Affected Customer Helpline at 1-866-388-3239 for schedule updates.
  • Any affected residents whose gas service will not be fully restored by the originally forecasted November 19th date will receive a phone call from Columbia Gas to identify customers' needs and provide resources including temporary housing, temporary heating or assistance with claims.

Construction Progress for Main Pipeline

Columbia Gas continues to make progress in replacing pipeline and other infrastructure in homes and businesses in the affected area. To date, Columbia Gas construction crews have replaced over 42 miles of pipe, covering 95% of the main pipe line, and 100% of the polyethylene pipe has been re-qualified. The crews have also replaced 4,343 service lines with 4,249 of them deemed “gas ready” for service. Across residential and business properties, 1040 meters have been relit, and 922 water heaters, 877 boilers, 171 furnaces, 123 ranges, 110 combination units, 58 tankless water heaters and 57 dryers and have been installed.

Affected Customers Urged to Seek Alternative Housing

State officials also reemphasized the need for individuals and families, especially the most vulnerable populations, to seek alternative housing that has been organized through Columbia Gas and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

With some affected residents facing delays beyond what was originally expected, officials renewed their call for residents to seek alternative housing arrangements to ensure their safety and security as cold temperatures set in.

The alternative housing program, which is being coordinated by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts with support from local and state agencies and other partners, includes hotel rooms, apartments, travel trailers, and combination warming centers and shelters. Affected customers will be able to stay in alternative housing until service to their homes is restored. In addition to housing options, a congregate shelter location is available for residents to use as an overnight option and for daytime use for hot showers and a warming center. For residents staying in hotels and apartments who have no means of transportation, arrangements – including Uber and Lyft rideshare services are being provided.

Columbia Gas has been proactively reaching out to its most vulnerable customers, including the elderly, families with young children, and people who have access and functional needs or medical conditions to offer temporary heating solutions and to facilitate alternative housing assignments.

Affected residents seeking alternative housing should contact the Columbia Gas claims department at 1-800-590-5571 ext. 3 where a member of the Housing Assistance Team will gather information, including information about access and functional needs, size and family makeup, and individual and family needs in order to identify housing options.

Business Loan Assistance Programs

Recognizing the burden placed on several families and small businesses, the Baker-Polito Administration and local officials have continued to offer assistance through loans and resources.

On Wednesday, Governor Baker announced an additional $2 million for the Merrimack Valley Small Business Emergency Loan Fund available to businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover affected by the gas disaster that is offered with no payments and no interest for the first 6 months. He also announced a disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration approving Massachusetts for its Economic Injury Disaster Loans available to businesses and private nonprofits in the affected region.

Media Contact

Scott Ferson

Customer Numbers

Affected Customer Helpline

Property Claims Helpline

Gas Emergency

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