ANDOVER -- Hours after the National Transportation Safety Board said Columbia Gas was not prepared to handle the disaster that happened on Sept. 13, 2018, and had no maps of the gas system available for first responders, the Select Board approved a request from the gas utility to conduct additional gas main work.

The board approved three petitions for the work, each in a 5-0 vote.

The work

The work will include the replacement of 2,300 feet of cast iron and bare steel gas main on Hidden Road, Gardner Avenue and Forbes Street.

It will also include the installation of 40 feet of plastic pipe gas main from the existing main on Charlotte Drive.

Replacement of 2,800 feet of cast iron and bare steel gas main on High Plain Road, and 1,000 feet on Virginia and Shirley roads, was also approved. The work on High Plain, Virginia and Shirley roads would replace the low-pressure gas main with plastic high pressure.

Representatives said the replacement on Hidden Road might not be completed until the next paving season in 2020 because of the two-week delay in approval from the board at the last meeting.

They said about 64 residents' homes or businesses would be impacted.

While the work is being done, gas service could be out in homes for up to eight hours. Residents and businesses would be able to coordinate the eight-hour time frame with Columbia Gas workers.

Safety presentation

Tuesday night was the second time, however, representatives came before the board regarding the topic. Two weeks ago, when the company initially sought approval for the work, they were asked to come back and provide a safety plan before the board took a vote.

“I expect before I vote on any of these, that I will see a detailed presentation on the safety procedures that have been put in place since Sept. 13," said Select Board member Christian Huntress. "This was no small incident. This was a big deal to this community."

That safety presentation came Tuesday night.

According to the presentation, the installation of regulators at each home will shut off gas and prevent any over-pressurization.

Shut-off valves are also now located outside rather than in basements, allowing for easier access if a shut-off is needed.

Excess flow valves on the service lines will also shut off gas automatically if a line is unintentionally struck by digging equipment. 

"I've had some difficulties with this the last few weeks," said Chairwoman Laura Gregory. "Frankly, I lost my faith last September in Columbia Gas, and my priority is public safety. I am being told that these petitions that are before us benefit public safety, and so I am feeling a lot of friction between 'We need to get rid of these old systems to keep these safe, as well as frankly, can we trust Columbia Gas to do things properly.'"

Fire Chief Michael Mansfield and Public Works Director Chris Cronin stated their approval and comfort with all three petitions before the board members cast their votes.

Representatives said they hope the work will begin in the next couple weeks.

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