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Communities Impacted by Gas Explosions, Fires Reach Settlement With Columbia Gas

The settlement is to compensate the three communities for road restoration and for municipal claims and costs

The three Massachusetts communities impacted by the gas explosions and fires last September in the Merrimack Valley have reached a settlement with Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource Inc.

City officials from Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, as well as the utility, are scheduled to detail the settlement on Tuesday at noon at the Andover Public Safety Building.

The settlement is to compensate the three communities for road restoration and municipal claims and costs associated with the Sept. 13 incident. The disaster was caused by over-pressurization in a natural gas pipeline.

Approximately 8,600 natural gas customers were affected by the gas emergency.

Almost eight months after that devastating day, the memories are still fresh.

"It was Armageddon," said Andover resident Jackie Geraci. "My street was blocked off. I said to the cop, 'Can I get my mom?' He said, 'Pull over there, get your mom and get out of town.'"

In the weeks and months that followed, homes and businesses recouped as much money as they could from Columbia Gas for everything from ruined appliances to lost revenue.

Now, it's the government's turn.

"I mean, I think it's critical," said Lynn Kennedy of Andover. "This was obviously an expensive accident."

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday his administration has been "very aggressive" in pushing the company and towns to settle.

The settlement will reimburse the three municipalities for all sorts of costs, including overtime.

"I live near where the fire department is and these guys went nonstop," said Lawrence resident Marianne Blackstone.

The fire and explosions were responsible for one death, injuring around 25 others and damaging or destroying dozens of businesses.

Fifty miles of roadways in Merrimack Valley were dug up to replace gas mains, and Columbia Gas says all three communities will be paid back for the enormous expenses that came with all the work.

"I can't even imagine the price tag on that," said Geraci. "Their purse strings aren't endless."

The exact terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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