LAWRENCE — Columbia Gas' presence in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover over the past 11 months is seen in hundreds of kitchens and driveways, on sidewalks and behind detour signs blocking torn up roads.
As the Sept. 13 anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas disaster nears, the company responsible for the explosive damage across three communities last year has "substantially" completed its second phase of repairs, President Mark Kempic said while addressing the media Thursday.
Kempic said Columbia Gas workers have paved more than 150 driveways, sidewalks and private streets, as well as four state roads. There have been 870 projects involving poured concrete, according to the company's tally. More than 3,500 properties have been aesthetically improved with seeding, in addition to landscaping and greenery.
The company has also replaced heating and gas appliances for thousands of customers impacted by the disaster resulting from an over-pressurized gas line.
"This fulfills Columbia Gas’ commitment to replace by Sept. 15, 2019, those affected appliances and equipment in customers’ homes which were only repaired in fall of 2018," according to a statement from Columbia Gas on Thursday.
Kempic made clear while addressing the media that "while we've done a lot of work, we have a lot to do," he said. "We're here for the long-term."
The Lawrence Customer Care Center for in-person support will remain open until September 2020. A customer care line, which is used to call in issues related to appliances installed or repaired through Columbia Gas, will be up and running until May 2020.
The company is providing free insulation to homes in the three communities impacted through the end of 2019, to help curb heating bills.
"We're going to continue to work with the communities impacted; rebuilding trust in those communities," Kempic said.
Similarly, Mayor Daniel Rivera said in a statement that "long after Columbia Gas has repaired the last house, we will still be here picking up the pieces to make our community whole again."
There are 21 homes being worked on, of the hundreds severely damaged last year.
Kempic said 10 of the sites are on hold because of birds living in chimneys that cannot be disturbed.
Rivera said he trusts chief recovery officer for the state Joe Albanese and Commodore Builders that Columbia Gas is being truthful about its progress.
"But, in the spirit of trust but verify, members of the Lawrence Health and Human services division will be making house calls and phone calls to check the status of all those affected in phase two," Rivera's statement said.
Rivera has been outspoken that Columbia Gas should lose its license, which he reiterated this week.
"Coming up on the anniversary of the Columbia Gas disaster, our hope is that claims will be paid, and that neither Columbia Gas nor class action attorneys profit before the people and businesses affected are made whole. I continue to advocate for Columbia Gas to lose their license. It’s the only way I feel we can ensure the whole system statewide is safe," he said.
Kempic on Thursday addressed new safety measures being implemented in Lawrence and across the state.
Columbia Gas is "in the process of installing pressurization protection devices on its low-pressure systems, accelerated the implementation of a Safety Management System, and enhanced its emergency preparedness, mapping systems and damage prevention policies, among other safety-focused initiatives."