Some Massachusetts lawmakers have requested additional information from the utility at the center of last year's gas explosions in Merrimack Valley amid new reports of delays in the claims process.
U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, and Representatives Seth Moulton and Lori Trahan, on Thursday, sent a letter to Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource asking for additional information about the claims process established for those devastated by the explosions Sept. 13, 2018.
The explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover killed one person, injured about two dozen, damaged more than 100 structures and left thousands without heat or hot water for weeks.
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The lawmakers' letter comes after reports that the utility is failing to provide "timely and complete assistance."
"It has been six months since the explosions caused thousands of families to evacuate their homes for days or weeks, damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, left many businesses with considerable financial losses, and tragically took a young man's life," wrote the Massachusetts lawmakers. "But there are new reports that the financial compensation Columbia Gas is providing for affected businesses 'doesn't come close to covering their losses,' and that some 'haven't been paid at all, despite filing their claims months ago.'"
According to lawmakers, since customers started making claims, Columbia Gas has not made a full public accounting of their claims intake, evaluation and payment process and have failed to provide detailed information about the claims they are receiving, approving and denying.
As of March 7, Columbia Gas said they received 24,878 claims — 24,049 of which they report as closed. They have paid out $94.8 million.
Lawmakers want Columbia Gas to provide information on the process and want the utility to fully reimburse and pay customers for losses related to the incident by March 29.
Columbia Gas issued the following statement to NBC10 Boston:
"The congressional delegation has been in regular communication with Columbia Gas over the response to the September incident including the claims process. Their staff is briefed regularly, often in person, and they are provided updates on all activity. We appreciate their attention on behalf of their constituents. We do not agree that our claims to date 'do not come close to covering (individual and business) losses.' In fact, they state the effort to date; 24,049 of 24,878 claims closed and listed as inactive, for a total to date of 94.8 million dollars paid.
"A claim is only closed and listed as inactive if the customer closes it or indicates they have no further issues pending. It should also be noted that if a customer's claim has been closed and listed as inactive, the option to reopen the claim or ask Columbia Gas to review the information exists. We additionally have an escalated claims process in place should customers feel that the assigned adjuster isn’t able to help them. Customers seeking additional help can email Columbia Gas at MerrimackEscalations@nisource.com, call 1-800-590-5571, or contact their assigned claims adjuster.
"In addition to direct claims, Columbia has spent $757 million to replace appliances in homes and businesses, $220 million in pipe replacement and $350 million in other expenses, including $10 million for a Disaster Relief Fund and $10 million for a Business Recovery Fund.
"Details of individual claims are not public and cannot be shared, but we have an established process for responding to inquires from elected officials, and pledge to continue to do so."