To the editor:
We as members of the state legislative delegation representing the city of Lawrence, as well as Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, are writing to express our dissatisfaction with the current class action settlement with Columbia Gas.
Though we agree with the general sentiment of the settlement and strongly believe that the residents in our community should be compensated for the hardships they endured, recent events involving Columbia Gas demonstrate that residents continue to suffer, especially in the city of Lawrence.
We are particularly concerned about the residents and businesses in South Lawrence who have now experienced multiple gas-related emergencies over the past year.
In light of recent events, including the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities putting a moratorium on Columbia Gas’ work throughout the xommonwealth and last week’s National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, we believe that the settlement terms should be updated to account for the additional hardships that residents have faced.
Our experience on the ground, as both residents and representatives of the affected city and towns, has provided us with insight into how the communities have recovered. While many have been made whole through Columbia’s recovery effort and claims process, there are residents and small business owners who never fully recovered from the 2018 explosion, only to be evacuated from their homes again last week due to a gas leak.
Last year, many lived in hotels and mobile trailers for months while their homes were uninhabitable, and small businesses lost their customer base by being closed for multiple seasons. Most recently, families were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night, spent an entire day in a makeshift shelter, and many once again stayed in a hotel while they were unable to return to their homes. Restaurants and bodegas lost produce and refrigerated goods, and some were once again closed for days while gas service was restored.
As we write this, Columbia Gas is in the process of reinspecting 700 service lines that the company abandoned or replaced during last year’s work. Clearly, this work is ongoing and last year’s crisis is still being felt in our communities.
Given these facts, we believe that any business that was affected twice, both by last year’s explosions and the most recent leak, should receive a minimum of $5,000 via the settlement. Similarly, we believe that any resident who was affected by both leaks should receive a minimum of $1,000.
Given the burden that has been placed on first responders, we also believe that $20 million from the settlement should be used to improve public safety infrastructure in our communities.
In light of these recent developments and a second gas-related incident, we believe that Columbia Gas should contribute more to the settlement to cover these costs, or that the total amount reserved for attorneys’ fees be reduced so that it can go towards fairly compensating residents and public safety infrastructure.
We look forward to seeing improved settlement terms that reflect the lived reality of our constituents.
State Sen. Barry Finegold, Andover
State Rep. Marco Devers, Lawrence
State Rep. Christina Minicucci, North Andover
State Rep. Frank Moran, Lawrence
Mayor Daniel Rivera, Lawrence