The state wants to hear from residents and businesspeople impacted by the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley. 

Feedback through an online survey is now needed so state officials can develop and implement energy efficiency programs in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, which were directly affected by the gas disaster.

Survey questions ask what commmunity the resident or business person is from, but otherwise the survey is anonymous. Versions are available online in English and Spanish. 

"We want the residents to drive this bus as much as we can. The decisions will be rooted in the priorities of the communities," said Elizabeth Mahony, assistant Attorney General in the energy division and energy policy advisory for Attorney General Maura Healey. 

Nate Forster, chief of Healey's energy and telecommunications division, echoed similar sentiments. The survey results will be used by a settlement advisory committee to shape new programs. 

"We really see ourselves as caretakers. It's not our money. It's the Merrimack Valley's money. We want it spent the way folks in the Merrimack Valley want it spent," said Forster. 

Last summer, Columbia Gas, the natural gas provider at the time of the disaster, reached a $56 million agreement with the state for its role in the gas explosions and fires. 

As a result of the fires and explosions caused by overpressurized pipelines operated by Columbia Gas, Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed, three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, and damages are estimated at $1 billion.

About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate and the severity of the damage depended on the age of appliances. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The $56 million was earmarked for debt relief for gas bills for thousands of low-income gas customers, as well as to enable clean energy and energy efficient efforts in homes and buildings in the three communities. 

Eversource now owns Columbia Gas as part of the agreement, which resolved Healey's investigation into Columbia Gas for violations of state consumer protection laws, The state's Department of Public Utilities was simultaneously investigating Columbia Gas's pipeline safety compliance and emergency response to the disaster. 

According to the terms of the settlement reached last summer, $41.2 million will be devoted to the Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund, which will be overseen by the attorney general and the state's Department of Energy Resources. 

Of the $41.2 million, $25.5 million will be dedicated to the programs for low-and moderate-income residents driven by community feedback. The programs "will be implemented through partnerships with community organizations to fund: housing repairs and energy efficient upgrades, targeted outreach and engagement with landlords and renters, and workforce development to engage local residents in the clean energy economy," according to information on the programs provided by state officials. 

Mahony said she and other officials are well aware of the "community fatigue" surrounding the gas disaster. But she urged locals to participate in taking the survey so cost-saving programs can be implemented in the communities that "so suffered to help them save on their utility bills in the future." 

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill. 

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