FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
December 17, 2018
Department of Public Utilities Announces Update on Monitoring of Recovery Work in Merrimack Valley
BOSTON – The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) today issued a new order to require Columbia Gas MA to enter into an agreement with Massachusetts-based Nitsch Engineering to monitor the company’s management of the remaining restoration and recovery work in Merrimack Valley in the wake of the September 13 gas explosions. With the restoration and recovery efforts now substantially complete, Joe Albanese has completed his role as the Chief Recovery Officer for the operation and the next phase of the effort will be managed by Columbia Gas under the third party oversight of Nitsch Engineering.
Today’s order requires Columbia Gas to take measures to ensure that adequate heat and hot water and gas appliances are provided to all affected properties, repave all affected streets, roadways, sidewalks and other areas in accordance with applicable DPU standards and precedents, consult with the affected communities and discuss plans for restoring affected hard or soft surfaces, and replace all gas boilers and furnaces and other gas-fired equipment at affected residences.
“The months following the disaster in the Merrimack Valley have been an incredibly difficult and trying time for the residents of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, and our Administration is deeply grateful to Joe Albanese for leading the complex coordinated effort to return all affected residents safely to their homes,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We are proud to announce that Nitsch Engineering will begin their work monitoring Columbia Gas’ management of the next phase of the recovery effort alongside state and local officials to finish the task of rebuilding our communities and making residents whole.”
All restoration work beginning in 2019 is required to be completed no later than October 31, 2019, unless an earlier or later date is agreed to with any of the affected communities, and Columbia Gas will be required to maintain quantitative measures, which must be verified by officials of the affected communities, to track the company’s progress in completing all of the remaining work. Columbia Gas’ failure to adhere to any of the requirements in today’s order may result in penalties of up to $1 million per violation.
“With this Order, the Department of Public Utilities continues its commitment to holding Columbia Gas accountable to complete all remaining restoration work in a timely, safe and thorough manner,” said Department of Public Utilities Chair Angela O’Connor. “The Department will continue to carefully monitor the utilities’ recovery efforts while working to ensure the safety of the Commonwealth’s entire natural gas distribution system and operations.”
Nitsch Engineering will provide an oversight team to monitor the remaining work required to achieve full restoration and recovery following the September 13 gas explosions. Nitsch Engineering will assist in developing quantitative measures to measure Columbia Gas’ progress, provide recommendations to Columbia Gas for addressing any delays or other deficiencies, monitor compliance with any agreements reached with affected communities regarding the scope and standards for restoration work, and work with Columbia Gas to keep the Commonwealth and stakeholders informed as to milestones and progress in completing the remaining restoration work.
Nitsch Engineering, a Massachusetts company with offices in Boston, Worcester, and Lawrence specializes in providing civil engineering, land surveying, transportation engineering, structural engineering, green infrastructure, planning, and GIS services. Nitsch is the largest women-owned civil engineering firm in Massachusetts, and has provided technical expertise for clients in both the private and public sectors.
In an effort to promote public safety following the incident in the Merrimack Valley, the Baker-Polito Administration has filed legislation that would require all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer. The Baker-Polito Administration and the Northeast Gas Association also recently announced that all natural gas companies in MA will adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards.
Additionally, the Department of Public Utilities ordered both Columbia Gas and National Grid to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, across the companies’ entire service territory. The Department of Public Utilities announced the selection of Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc. to conduct an independent statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of natural gas companies in the Commonwealth. The review is intended to assess, out of an abundance of caution, the current safety of pipeline infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth.
Next week, residents in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover still without gas service following the Sept. 13 gas crisis are receiving a third stipend gift in the amount of $575 from Essex County Community Foundation’s Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund.