AG Concerned About Lack of Progress in Merrimack Valley Gas Restoration

As the weather gets colder, thousands of households in Merrimack Valley remain without heat after September's gas fires and explosions and restoration behind schedule, Massachusetts authorities are concerned the utility responsible will miss its November deadline — one newspaper reported Wednesday that residents may not have heat for months.

Columbia Gas has aimed to have gas service fully restored to impacted residents by Nov. 19. In an Oct. 19 letter to the utility, the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey addressed concerns over a lack of progress as winter draws closer.

"In total, Columbia Gas is reporting that only 407 meters are 'house ready.' The company still has seven thousand more meters to make 'house ready' and must install appliances in nearly ten thousand homes," Friday's letter read. "Unless the company significantly increases the resources applied to the block-by-block repair process, thousands of homes will be left with no heat amidst winter temperatures. Without mitigation, the damage from frozen pipes will be enormous."

Columbia Gas' daily briefing from Wednesday gave a snapshot of their lack of progress. From Oct. 20-24, Columbia Gas reported that 781 homes were "scheduled house ready." Only 315 were converted to "actual house ready," with the utility reaching 40 percent of its goal in that span.

Altogether, Columbia Gas reports 754 homes are ready, just 9.7 percent of its target of 7,772.

"Since the explosions weeks ago, our staff has been working with hundreds of impacted residents to help in the recovery," Chloe Gotsis, a spokesperson for Healey, told NBC10 Boston Wednesday. "With temperatures dropping, we are concerned that families are having trouble accessing alternate housing and about the company's capacity to meet its restoration timeline. Our office will be meeting with Columbia Gas executives to discuss these issues."

The Eagle Tribune reported Wednesday that Columbia Gas was likely to miss its deadline, with full restoration possibly coming as late as March. NBC10 Boston asked Columbia Gas to comment on the Eagle Tribune's projection. Chief Recovery Officer Joe Albanese did not directly address the paper's deadline concerns, instead pointing to pipeline construction being ahead of schedule.

"This is an incredibly complex logistical undertaking, and new challenges emerge daily that we work through with all of our partners," Albanese wrote. "With the construction on the pipelines ahead of schedule — 86 percent of the work is done — we are now shifting resources and bringing on additional support to increase the productivity and pace of the home installation process."

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