BOSTON (AP) — Roughly 175,000 residents and business owners would benefit from a $143 million class action settlement from last September's natural gas explosions in Massachusetts, according to a legal brief.
The proposal to distribute proceeds from the settlement against utility company Columbia Gas of Massachusetts calls for six categories of lump sum payouts, ranging from up to $50 for a "nominal" disruption to up to $15,000 for a "major" disruption.
All residents, property owners and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover are eligible, even those not serviced by Columbia Gas, according to the proposal filed Wednesday in Essex County Superior Court in Salem.
Nearly $28 million — or about 20% of the total settlement — would go to the lawyers for their legal fees and expenses, and Heffler Claims Group would review claims and distribute funds from the settlement.
The plan also lays out a strategy for informing people of the settlement process, including community meetings and notices in print, television, radio and social media. The lawyers propose giving people up to 90 days to seek file claims.
The proposal is subject to a judge's approval, and a court hearing is slated for Oct. 7.
Columbia Gas, which has spent about $1 billion in recovery and restoration efforts, said Thursday it supports the proposal.
"We welcome the ongoing steps to gain court approval of the class action settlement and look forward to the upcoming hearing," spokesman Dean Lieberman said in a statement. "The company continues to fulfill its commitments to affected residents and businesses, and the court approval process is an important element of that."
The $143 million class action settlement is separate from an $80 million payout Columbia Gas made directly to the governments of the three Merrimack Valley communities. It's also separate from the settlements the company reached with two Lawrence families, including that of the lone person killed in the blasts, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon.
The Sept. 13, 2018 disaster injured dozens of other people and destroyed or damaged about 100 structures. Thousands of residents and businesses were also left without natural gas service for heat or hot water, in some cases for months.
Earlier this week , the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Columbia Gas poorly planned a routine pipeline replacement project in Lawrence, causing natural gas overpressurization that led to the explosions and fires in homes and businesses.
The safety agency also said the utility inadequately responded to the disaster. It recommended a number of measures state and federal officials could take to improve natural gas system safety.