Columbia Gas, towns disagree on road repairs 

RYAN HUTTON/ Staff file photo Technicians work in a trench at the intersection of Osgood and Salem streets in Lawrence in October, part of work to replace miles of gas lines following the Sept. 13 Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

In a letter sent Friday to the heads of Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource, Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren pressure the gas companies to provide details about their plans for restoring 70 miles of roads in the three communities affected by the gas disaster in September.

"We write to remind you of your commitment to making the communities affected by the September 13 gas explosions fully financially whole — a commitment that must at least include repairing damaged roads and sidewalks to the communities' satisfaction," the letter from the Massachusetts Democrats reads.

The letter comes in the wake of reporting from The Eagle-Tribune, in which the newspaper detailed the requests for repairs from Lawrence, North Andover and Andover — repairs estimated to cost from $160 million to $222 million for the three communities combined.

According to estimates compiled by the three communities, obtained by The Eagle-Tribune, all traveled ways where any excavation took place within the road or sidewalks would be addressed.

In Lawrence, 34 miles of road were impacted; in Andover, 20.5 miles of road were affected; in North Andover, 15.8 miles of road were impacted.

Environmental Partners, an engineering firm contracted to compile the road reports for the communities, provided two scenarios for reconstruction:

One option includes full-depth reclamation of all roadways and sidewalk construction, with cement concrete and granite curbing where sidewalks currently exist. This option — grinding all asphalt and base materials down to the road bed, then compacting it and topping it with a fresh asphalt layer — is more expensive.

The second option includes mill and overlay — replacing the top 2 inches of asphalt — along 80 percent of the roadways, and full-depth reclamation along the remaining 20 percent, with sidewalk reconstruction with cement concrete and granite curbing along 80 percent of existing sidewalks, and asphalt sidewalks with granite curbing along the remaining 20 percent. This option is cheaper.

Among the concerns expressed by leaders of the three affected communities was whether Columbia Gas would restore sidewalks damaged by its repair work to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Columbia Gas has said it will commit to compliance with the ADA in areas disturbed by its gas repair work, and accounted for those costs in its estimate. It has not provided a dollar amount for its construction estimate.

In response to the senators' letter, Columbia Gas spokesperson Scott Ferson told The Eagle-Tribune the company will "ensure compliance with the Department of Public Utilities' order and we are working with the communities on the best approach to do that while recognizing the unique circumstances of this large-scale paving project."

"Conversations with local leaders are ongoing and have focused on project scope, including curb to curb replacement and ADA requirements, and include discussion of a voluntary enhanced paving plan that goes above the DPU standards," said Ferson.

In the letter, Markey and Warren requested information about Columbia Gas' plans for restoration as soon as possible.

"Please provide the detailed plans for comprehensive restoration to us and to the leaders of North Andover, Andover, and Lawrence once they are made available."

This story is developing. See the complete story in the Saturday edition of The Eagle-Tribune and online at eagletribune.com.