Two Weeks After Fires, Explosions, AG Healey Says Gas Co. Failed to ‘Provide Safe Gas Service’

Attorney General Maura Healey (File photograph.)

Gov. Charlie Baker, third from left, was among the first to criticize Columbia Gas. Here, he joined local leaders from Andover, Lawrence and North Andover during a press conference after the explosions and fires across the Merrimack Valley. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News)

For the first time in the two weeks since gas-related fires and explosions ravaged three Merrimack Valley communities, state Attorney General Maura Healey says Columbia Gas failed to “provide safe gas service.”

In a Thursday letter to Columbia Gas President Stephen H. Bryant, Healey said she will “use all the tools of my office to ensure that Columbia Gas restores gas service in a safe and expeditious manner.”

Her strongest previous action came earlier this week when she demanded the gas company “preserve documents for a potential state investigation.” In the days immediately following the death of an 18-year-old Lawrence man and devastation in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Healey’s office advised resident to keep receipts and take other steps to ensure future reimbursement.

Thursday’s letter demands Columbia Gas to replace pipes “in a safe manner and that the new pipes will result in a safe gas distribution service going forward,” ensure the company notifies residents of next steps—possibly by text messaging, develop a plan to reimburse customers for electricity costs used to power space heaters and hot plates, help customers find housing and confirm and ensure “customers will not pay for any part of this disaster through the regulatory ratemaking process,” among other demands.

Meanwhile, a group representing various trade unions said its members are “gearing up and heading to Merrimack Valley to intervene in what was the most devastating man-made disaster the region has seen in decades.”

The Building and Construction Trades Council, including Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12, Pipefitters Local 537 and IBEW Local 103 electricians, are organizing, in its words, “to stabilize the situation, performing critical repair work to home residences and businesses throughout the area.”

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the crisis in Merrimack Valley, and we’re eager to help however we can,” said Lou Antonellis, Business Manager, IBEW Local 103.

Under an aggressive plan announced by Gov. Charles Baker, full restoration of services is expected to be completed by approximately Nov. 19.