U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, urged Columbia Gas officials Thursday to provide information on the number of residents who remain displaced and homes deemed uninhabitable following last month’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions.
The senators, who said they have received inconsistent or incomplete data since the Sept. 13 explosions, pressed Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant for details on how many homes sustained “damage beyond repair” and how many “may require major repairs before residents can return to them.”
They further, “for the sake of transparency,” requested information on how many residents remain displaced and what assistance Columbia Gas has been providing or plans to offer to those individuals.
“Over the past several weeks, we have received inconsistent and incomplete estimates of how many homes remain uninhabitable and little-to-no information as to what, if any, assistance Columbia Gas gas offered impacted residents with repairing their uninhabitable homes,” they wrote in a joint letter, noting that they “received drastically different estimates on at least three occasions.”
Warren and Markey, for example, offered that a week after the explosions, Columbia Gas estimated 73 homes were uninhabitable. Days later, company representatives put that number at 123, they said.
The senators, meanwhile, said that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported it was only aware of 15 structures that were seriously destroyed and unsafe for habitation and 19 that suffered damage limiting their full use.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation further estimated that Columbia Gas’ distribution system “damaged 131 structures, including at least 5 homes that were destroyed,” they noted.
Stressing that they are “deeply concerned about the effects that extended displacement will have on the Merrimack Valley residents who were told their homes are uninhabitable,” Warren and Markey asked how Columbia Gas plans to help affected residents if the company is unable to “provide swift and accurate information regarding the number of damaged residences.”
They asked Columbia Gas to respond by Nov. 1 with information on how many residences in the Merrimack Valley have been found to be uninhabitable, the number of individuals who lived in these homes before Sept. 13, and how many are currently receiving temporary housing assistance from the company.
The Democrats, among other things, also requested details on whether Columbia Gas designed and deployed a standardized process for determining which residences were uninhabitable following the gas explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Adover, as well as how the company defines “uninhabitable home.
The NTSB report, released last week, detailed the Sept. 13 explosions and fires caused by over-pressurization of a Columbia Gas distribution system.
It suggested that a crew working to replace a gas line in Lawrence neglected to remove the pressure sensors from the old line — an error that is believed to have triggered a flood of high pressure through the system, resulting in fires and explosions, which damaged homes, injured dozens and killed at least one person.
The report noted that the board’s investigation remains ongoing.