Early on in negotiations among Columbia Gas and the three communities impacted by the Sept. 13 gas disaster, there is disagreement about the extent of road repairs the utility will provide.

An over-pressurized gas line on Sept. 13 caused dozens of fires and explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover that killed one person, injured others and cut off gas service to 8,600 customers. Service has been restored to most of those customers but the recovery will continue into 2019 and beyond. The effort includes repairing the more than 70 miles of road in the three communities that Columbia Gas had to dig up to replace its gas lines.

Lawrence, North Andover and Andover estimate the work needed to repair their roads could cost more than $220 million and take up to four years.

Officials met with representatives from Columbia Gas this week to begin discussing the next phase of restoration work, including restoring roads, sidewalks, curbs, and traffic lights.

Municipal leaders from the three communities said they expect the job to be comprehensive and thorough, including curb-to-curb repaving and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act throughout.

But Columbia Gas is basing its initial estimates on Department of Public Utilities requirements for road restoration following utility work that are less extensive than what the communities want.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said he was told by city officials at the negotiations with Columbia Gas there were discrepancies between what the municipalities expected and what the company offered in initial discussions.

"We have to make sure that Columbia Gas isn't confusing their philanthropic generosity with justice," Rivera said. 

"They shouldn't confuse this with a negotiation in the corporate space," he said. "This is not a negotiation of 'maybe we'll meet in the middle.' They have a responsibility, whatever the number is, to do it ... Where the law calls for sidewalk mediation and ADA compliance, they have to meet that. We have to meet it, so they have to meet it. We didn't ask for any of this."

Since the Sept. 13 explosions and fires, the three municipalities conducted an inventory of all that needs to be repaired. They each hired an engineering firm, Environmental Partners Group, to compile reports that estimate the construction budgets for road and sidewalk restoration.

According to the reports, 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 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.

For Lawrence, the firm estimated costs from a low of $97.2 million to a high of $124.4 million.

For Andover, the firm estimated costs from $33.7 million to $57.2 million.

For North Andover, the firm estimated costs from $28.7 million to $39.9 million.

In the Department of Public Utilities' orders, the agency requires Columbia Gas reach an agreement with the communities on the restoration plan, which will be subject to "investigation and prudence review" by the department.

Columbia Gas, in an email response to questions from The Eagle-Tribune, said the company's road repair estimate was prepared in accordance with DPU requirements, which do not require curb-to-curb restoration for roads older than five years.

"Columbia Gas prepared its estimate on a street by street basis and determined and included those areas where curb to curb paving would be appropriate," according to the email.

As of Friday, no agreement had been reached. Columbia Gas did not provide a dollar amount for its construction estimate.

"These discussions are ongoing and include discussion of a voluntary enhanced paving plan that goes above the DPU standards," the gas company said in the email. 

Although the DPU orders require all work be complete by Oct. 31, 2019, a later deadline would be allowed without penalty, if it is agreed upon by the communities and Columbia Gas.

Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said he expects the roadwork to be a three- to four-year job.

"It's about balancing the magnitude of the work with the community's tolerance given the potential disruption this work will cause," Flanagan said.

North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor noted the initial conversations with Columbia Gas regarding road repair work are just the beginning, and reaffirmed local officials' stance that restoration must be up-to-code and comprehensive.

"If they go into a basement to replace a boiler ... but when they're in there they find asbestos or galvanized pipe, it was a requirement of the commonwealth that they meet code," he said. "Why would the roads be any different?"

He said it will take more conversations at the table before an agreement is reached.

"If we come out of this with nice roads that aren't handicap accessible, that's not a success," Maylor said.

A Columbia Gas spokesperson said the utility has committed to ADA compliance in areas disturbed by its gas repair work and accounted for those costs in its estimate.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to clarify that Columbia Gas says it has committed to ADA compliance in its road reconstruction work.

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