The utility blamed for the gas explosions that rocked three Massachusetts communities last year has agreed to pay $143 million to settle all class action lawsuits related to the disaster.
Columbia Gas and its parent company, NiSource Inc., announced the settlement Monday morning. The plaintiffs includes thousands of Andover, North Andover and Lawrence residents and businesses impacted by the disaster.
“What happened last September was tragic, and we will always be mindful of its impact on our customers and everyone in the communities we serve, including those represented by this settlement,” Joe Hamrock, CEO and President of NiSource, said in a statement. “Today marks another important step forward, as we continue to fulfill our commitment to residents and businesses. We are pleased that we have reached a resolution so swiftly, and we thank the mediator, as well as all involved who helped us achieve this result.”
Many in the Merrimack Valley are wondering if it will be enough after everything is split up, though.
"I think they need to pay us more damages, you know, because we lost a lot..." said Faith Cui, who is barely making ends meet.
Cui doesn't think the settlement announcement is necessarily great news. She lost her trust in the gas company after she says she did not get properly compensated for everything she lost.
Anthony Silva says ongoing construction still has his numbers down and doubts they can ever recoup what they've lost.
"Out here was ground zero and after the impact of the disaster, our streets were blocked for five or six weeks, completely shutting down our business and we are never going to recoup that," Silva said.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera acknowledged the settlement amount is deceiving.
"I can understand why this is a good deal for Columbia Gas because they get to close up all those cases and be done with it," he said. "I don't know if this is gonna be a good deal at the end of the day for people or for businesses especially after the attorneys take their cut."
While a court decides how the money will be split up based on claims from all those affected, people are trying to make ends meet and keep their doors open.
"Dealing with the gas company has not been easy and getting the fair share back has not been adequate so we will take it from there," Silva said.
The Sept. 13 explosions displaced about 8,000 people, killed one man and injured nearly two dozen others. Thousands of customers were left without gas service, including heat and hot water, during the winter months.
Fifty miles of underground gas mains were replaced in the Merrimack Valley following the tragedy. The explosions were blamed on over-pressurized natural gas lines.
Crews took months to fix the damaged pipelines as thousands of families were to face cold winter months with no gas or hot water. As a temporary fix, the National Guard delivered hot plates and space heaters to displaced residents. Gift cards provided by Columbia Gas were also given to community members so they could buy groceries.
Following the series of explosions, the three communities came together as food banks opened to cater to displaced residents, an MSPCA shelter opened its doors to pets and volunteers offered their time to help at a claims center.
The settlement is part of the $1 billion in funds dedicated to address the disaster relief. Columbia Gas says it is continuing to process claims made in connection to the explosions.