Columbia Gas $80M Settlement for Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster a ‘Good Deal,’ Says Rivera

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 photograph for WHAV News)

Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource Inc. Tuesday announced plans to pay Lawrence, Andover and North Andover an $80 million settlement eight months after a gas-related fire disaster rocked the Merrimack Valley communities Sept. 13.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera joined Andover Town Manager Andrew P. Flanagan and North Andover’s former Town Manager Andrew W. Maylor for the press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the settlement Rivera heralded as a “good deal.”

“This settlement represents the best efforts of the municipalities to get the most dollars from Columbia Gas,” Rivera said. “We all wish the number was higher, but if you take into account the time value in money, and take the cost of lengthy litigation into account, this is a good deal. This provides much-needed money to pay the bills that would otherwise fall to taxpayers to support the restoration and settle claims.”

Through the agreement, $57 million is earmarked for road repairs, $10 million for expense reimbursement and $12.8 million for claims and losses incurred by the municipalities, officials said.

Tuesday’s settlement marks a “significant milestone” in the ongoing restoration efforts, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Mark Kempic said in a statement.

“We recognize the tremendous impact the September event had on these communities and the larger-scale, more complicated work conditions than typically occur in relation to routine pipeline replacement work. For these reasons, we have been willing to go above and beyond to address the municipalities’ needs including fulfilling the request to repave curb-to-curb,” he said. “Columbia Gas remains committed to restoring these communities to where they were before this tragic event.”

The National Transportation Safety Board determined an over-pressurized gas line was behind the September gas disaster that led to the death of 18-year-old Lawrence man Leonel Rondon and left 21 others injured.

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