On Eve of Gas Disaster Anniversary, Columbia to Check 700 Abandoned Lines for Compliance

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas-related fire disaster that killed a Lawrence teen and injured 22 others, Columbia Gas announced plans to inspect approximately 700 abandoned lines for compliance. Mark Kempic, president and chief operating officer of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said Thursday that the company will begin checking lines abandoned last September as the latest step in ongoing recovery efforts in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. “We recognize that our customers have been through a difficult year as we conducted the recovery and restoration work in these communities. We understand that additional work may frustrate them, and we apologize,” Kempic said in a statement. The decision to check lines was made after Columbia identified “instances of noncompliance” with state regulations related to service line abandonment.

Department of Public Health Wants Information on Vaping-Related Illnesses

As federal officials investigate a multi-state outbreak of lung illnesses associated with the use of e-cigarette products, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel temporarily added possible cases of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses to the list of conditions clinicians are required to report to the state. The State House News Service reports Bharel told the Public Health Council on Wednesday that she was using her regulatory authority to mandate that vaping-related illnesses be reported to the department for the next 12 months. Gathering that information will allow the department to provide case counts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, help public health officials understand the magnitude of the situation in Massachusetts, and shape what steps the state takes next, Bharel said. More than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with e-cigarette products had been reported to the CDC from 33 states—a list that does not include Massachusetts—and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Five deaths have been confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon.

Groveland Police Investigating Wednesday Hit-and-Run at Nicole’s Variety

Groveland Police are currently investigating a Wednesday morning hit-and-run accident that took place just before 7:30 a.m. at Nicole’s Mini Food Store and Keno, Chief Jeffrey Gillen told WHAV in a statement. Officers were called to the strip mall on School Street at 7:22 a.m. for a reported accident and found that a vehicle had struck a wooden pillar in front of the convenience store, knocking it down. The car fled the scene, according to Gillen. No businesses in the plaza sustained any damage and all, including Nicole’s, were able to open on time and normally, Gillen said. Anyone with information on the accident is asked to call Groveland Police at 978-521-1212.

Pentucket Regional School System Appoints Three New Elementary School Assistant Principals

School’s in session for three new elementary school assistant principals in the Pentucket Regional School district, Superintendent Justin Bartholomew said Monday. In an effort to restructure the elementary schools that serve Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury, Bartholomew decided to introduce 19-year physical education and wellness teacher Jim Day as Dr. Elmer S. Bagnall Elementary School’s first assistant principal, among others. Day most recently served as Bagnall’s school support coordinator. Stephanie Dembro, a former third grade teacher in Melrose, is the new assistant principal at both the Dr. Frederick N. Sweetsir and Helen R. Donaghue Elementary Schools in Merrimac. Katie Provost has been named assistant principal at the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School in West Newbury.

Essex County Sheriff’s Office Adding K-9 to Team Through Grant from NFL’s Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows a thing or two about making sure an NFL team is comprised of the right players—and to that end, he’s making sure the Essex County Sheriff’s Office has the essential personnel to make their K-9 team a success. On Sunday during a break from the Steelers-Patriots game at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium, the Ohio native awarded Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger’s agency the first 2019 grant from his Giving Back Fund, handing over a $9,000 check to purchase a dog to bolster Coppinger’s K-9 division. Calling the donation a “nice surprise,” Coppinger tells WHAV the funds come at just the right time, as the agency has three newly appointed K-9 officers starting at the Boston Police K-9 training academy later this month in their effort to get the Sheriff’s Office K-9 division back from 13 teams to Coppinger’s preferred 14. “Timing-wise, the grant is great. It’s a welcome donation we can really use,” he told WHAV.

Gateway City Residents Priced Out of Commuter Rail: Report

As policymakers eye ways to get more people on public transit to ease traffic, a new study says many potential riders can’t afford to get on board the state’s 400-mile commuter rail network. According to the State House News Service, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth report urges policymakers to make a more equitable commuter rail fare framework “priority number one,” describing a shift away from strict distance-based fares as vital to ensuring that future development in gateway cities, mostly located far from Boston, produces equitable outcomes and does not displace low-income households. In many Massachusetts cities, low-income riders are effectively priced out of using commuter rail, unable to afford, for instance, the $12.25 fare for a one-way ride to Boston from Worcester. The MBTA, run by the Baker administration, sets fares for the commuter rail system, which is operated by Keolis under a contract with the transit authority. Researchers said fare discounts implemented by U.S. transit agencies have been limited to bus and subway systems.

Specifically, the 14-page report urges the state to consider experimenting with means-tested fares, lowering fares for reverse commuters, reducing fares for off-peak travel, and developing a standard definition of transportation equity and applying it consistently to all planning and policy studies.

Methuen Democratic Committee Pancake Breakfast, Straw Poll Is Friday

Methuen’s Democratic City Committee hosts its annual pancake breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 9-11 a.m. at the Senior Activity Center, 77 Lowell St., with all residents invited to attend for $20 per person. Attendees are also eligible to vote in straw polls for the races of Methuen mayor, Central District City Council, West District City Council and At-Large City Council. For more information, contact Jim at [email protected]

Groveland Elevates EEE Risk to ‘Moderate’ as Precautionary Measure Amid Regional Mosquito Scare

The town of Groveland is proactively raising their risk for the mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) from “low” to “moderate,” Finance and Personnel Director Denise Dembkoski said Wednesday. The elevation comes due in part to the prior years’ risk, regional activity related to EEE and current weather patterns, she said. No mosquitos have tested positive for the virus so far this year in Groveland. “We’re seeing a rise in EEE risk regionally, and we’re encouraging residents to take steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes as we head into fall,” Dembkoski said in a statement to WHAV. “That includes wearing mosquito repellent, draining standing water near your home, and limiting time spent outdoors at dusk.”

No spraying is scheduled to take place in the town, though Groveland plans to work with the Northern Massachusetts Mosquito Control District to do so should they recommend it take place.