BOSTON, MA — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today sent a letter to Columbia Gas demanding answers about the company’s plans for the safe and expeditious restoration of gas and fair compensation for affected residents in the Merrimack Valley following the devastating fires and explosions earlier this month.
“In the wake of this tragedy, I have heard from many residents and businesses who have suffered significant losses yet remain in the dark about Columbia Gas’ claims process and the plans for restoring gas service,” said AG Healey. “I am demanding information from Columbia Gas about their specific plans because these people need and deserve answers and clarity as they rebuild their lives and communities.”
In her letter, AG Healey notes that the failure of the Columbia Gas distribution system resulted in death, serious injury, the loss of homes and small businesses, and disruption of gas services for heating, hot water and cooking for thousands of residents in the company’s Merrimack Valley territory.
As the state’s ratepayer advocate and chief law enforcement officer, AG Healey is committed to ensuring that Columbia Gas lays out their plan for implementing the recovery process, including gas restoration and compensation for those affected, and that ratepayers do not bear any of the costs associated with those efforts.
The letter requests a meeting with Columbia Gas executives next week to discuss how they plan to implement the recovery effort, specifically:
- Ensuring that pipes are replaced in a safe manner and that the new pipes will result in a safe gas distribution service going forward.
- Ensuring the safety of all its Massachusetts territories while working on recovery efforts in its Merrimack Valley territory.
- Making sure that customers are receiving timely and complete information regarding the company’s restoration plan, including considering a text-messaging or similar real-time communications system (with an opt-out provision) that would reach all affected customers.
- Developing a plan for paying the electric bills of its customers who are forced to rely on electric space heaters and hot plates.
- Accommodating customers who choose to make alternative housing arrangements.
- Clarifying how the company intends to pay customers for losses incurred related to this disaster.
- Providing the AG’s Office with copies of the company’s internal claims procedure and any claims form it intends to use.
- Ensuring affected customers can easily obtain alternative heating sources for their homes and, if they choose, permanently transition to energy efficient, clean technologies without any additional costs.
- Addressing how work will be completed if a property owner is not present to authorize repairs.
- Clarifying in a written statement its plan to not bill affected customers for any gas service until service is restored.
- Confirming and ensuring that customers will not pay for any part of this disaster through the regulatory ratemaking process.
Earlier this week, AG Healey sent Columbia Gas and NiSource orders to preserve documents for a potential state investigation.
AG Healey has also issued two advisories offering guidance and resources in her office to support Merrimack Valley residents and businesses recovering from this tragedy. The AG’s Office issued an advisory about giving wisely to charities and knowing your consumer rights and this week announced a new hotline for residents and business owners with questions and concerns to connect with specialists in the office. The AG’s Office also provided guidance about legal representation and home improvement scams. The AG’s Office has been and will continue to send staff to assist individuals at the claims center in Lawrence.
For more information or assistance, contact the Attorney General’s dedicated hotline for Merrimack Valley residents at (617) 573-5370. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Consumers can also obtain guidance and resources at the AG’s dedicated webpage at mass.gov/ago/merrimackvalley.
(NOTE: The above press release is from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.)
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