Citing Gas Explosions, Haverhill Continues Ban on Gas-Related Street Openings

United Steelworkers Local 1202 Negotiating Committee member Keith Rice said the ban supports public safety. (WHAV News photograph.)

Those seeking new or updated natural gas service in Haverhill must still await approval from city councilors as that body decided Tuesday night to continue its ban.

Councilors voted to continue its moratorium, enacted originally in July to support locked-out National Grid workers, despite misgivings from City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr.

“Your action is to support the union, not public safety and health,” Cox said in response to a question from councilors.

For the ban to remain in place, he recommended the city better explain its rationale, widen its reasoning to cover all street opening requests and put the moratorium into an ordinance rather than a resolution. Cox also acknowledged receiving a letter from National Grid, alleging the City Council does not have authority to enact a ban.

Councilors, particularly Melinda E. Barrett, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and Timothy Jordan, said they intended two months ago to protect public safety by preventing less experienced National Grid scabs from doing substandard work. Barrett noted outside work by National Grid isn’t subject to city inspection under state law. Barrett alluded to the Columbia Gas disaster that caused fires and expositions in three communities to emphasize her point

“There is a concern of safety, especially gas—what the electricians say, ‘electrical isn’t a hobby.’ Gas is definitely not a hobby. Bad things have happened, very recently,” she said.

Fire Chief William F. Laliberty said builders are switiching to propane to get around the ban. (WHAV News photograph.)

Keith Rice, speaking for United Steelworkers Local 1202, backed up councilors supporting the continued ban. “This moratorium, enacted by the City Council and endorsed strongly by many other cities and towns, is and always was about public safety.”

Rice said state law gives cities and towns “almost universal rights to limits the doings of a corporation when they feel public safety is an issue.”

Fire Chief William F. Laliberty said he is concerned about the many request he is receiving from builders seeking propane permits to get around the ban. He explained above-ground propane tanks also carry risks.

Councilors voted 7-1 to continue the ban while sending it to its Administration and Finance Committee for further review. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua abstained and Councilor Michael S. McGonagle was absent.