Lawrence Mayor Rivera Slams Columbia Gas as State of Emergency Declared

Gov. Charlie Baker, third from left, joined local leaders from Andover, Lawrence and North Andover during a press conference in the wake of the September 2018 explosions and fires across the Merrimack Valley. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

Gov. Charlie Baker (third from left) joined local leaders from Andover, Lawrence and North Andover during a press conference in the wake of Thursday's explosions and fires across the Merrimack Valley. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News)

As thousands of Lawrence residents approach the 24-hour mark displaced and without power, Mayor Dan Rivera is fighting for answers from Columbia Gas.

In a press conference Friday afternoon alongside Governor Charlie Baker, Rivera didn’t mince words when it came to advocating for his city—and demanding action from the utility company.

“I don’t want everyone to think the Mayor’s gone off the reservation, but we were asked by Columbia Gas to do two things: Evacuate and shut off the power. (We asked) ‘Are you sure?’ And they said yes. Those are the last two accurate things we’ve gotten from Columbia Gas. The rest has been obfuscation,” Rivera seethed from the Lawrence-based command center near Showcase Cinemas.

In Rivera’s opinion, Columbia Gas is “hiding the problem” as the communities of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover struggle to rebuild. He implored the utility company to host a public meeting to address the media, and alleviate concerns of neighbors who “watched their homes blow up next to them.”

“We had a responsibility to let the utility do what it’s supposed to do. We were asking for a heavy lift,” acknowledged Rivera. “We weren’t asking them to hit it out of the park, but we were expecting them to swing the bat. I feel like the Governor gave them that opportunity and they wasted it."

Following Rivera’s strong words for Columbia Gas, Baker announced that his office has taken the executive authority to implement a state of emergency across the affected Merrimack Valley communities. Baker is bringing in Eversource to assist with relief and rebuilding efforts.

Baker was admittedly more measured in his response to Columbia Gas officials. “I wouldn’t say anyone’s been ignoring us, but there were a series of commitments of what was going to happen and there have been major issues in our mind about (Columbia) leadership to deliver for the people of Massachusetts. In the midst of the disaster, we felt it was appropriate to give people a plan and the follow through just wasn’t there,” said Baker.

Stay with 97.9 WHAV FM throughout the weekend for more on this developing story and find out ways to give back to neighbors in need at WHAV.net.