‘Never Going to Let This Happen Again': Incoming Columbia Gas President Offers Safety Assurances 6 Months After Merrimack Valley Disaster

'Our primary goal now is to make our customers feel comfortable in their homes and trust us again that we will deliver safe and reliable service'

It’s been six months since the Merrimack Valley disaster, and for the first time we are hearing from the incoming president of Columbia Gas.

“We are never going to let this happen again,” Mark Kempic said.

Kempic is currently the company’s chief operating officer and is set to take over the top spot on May 1. He sat down with NBC10 Boston from the company’s Lawrence operations center on Friday.

Columbia Gas says they’ve replaced about 45 miles of pipeline, replaced appliances in hundreds of homes and businesses, and restored gas service to the area.

This spring they plan to replace about 900 heating appliances in homes and they say they’re putting over-pressurization detection devices on all of their state-wide systems. The company says all of it has cost them more than $1 billion.

Kempic says rate hikes aren’t being considered right now.

“At this point we haven’t even considered recovery of any of these dollars. Any rate concerns are far, far down the road,” he said. “Our primary goal now is to make our customers feel comfortable in their homes and trust us again that we will deliver safe and reliable service.”

The incoming president is also defending the company’s claims process, telling us they’ve completed 96-percent of claims and paid out $90 million. In recent days some small businesses have said they have not received the full amount they were expecting from Columbia Gas.

“We do everything we can to get customers back into the place they would have been if not for the September 13 incident,” said Kempic.

The NTSB is continuing their investigation into the explosions that left one dead and injured more than two dozen. A preliminary report cited over-pressurization as a cause. In December, the NBC10 Boston Investigators talked with former long-time Columbia Gas employee Bart Maderios, who said he warned top management in the months before the explosions that policy and staff changes could lead to catastrophe.

Kempic said he couldn’t comment on any issue that’s being investigated, but he does say the culture at the company has changed since the explosions.

“What we are trying to do is to encourage employees to continue to speak up and to work with the communities and to involve the communities to a greater degree than in the past,” Kempic said.

On Saturday, members of the community will get to ask questions of their own.

Kempic and other Columbia Gas leaders will hold meetings in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover at the following locations:

Andover                                                                                          Saturday, March 9                                                                                  9:00 - 11:00 a.m.                                                                                Doherty Middle School                                                                                  50 Bartlet Street Andover, MA 01810

Lawrence                                                                                        Saturday, March 9                                                                                12:00 - 2:00 p.m.                                                                                Lawrence High School                                                                                  70-71 N Parish Road Lawrence, MA 01843

North Andover                                                                                        Saturday, March 9                                                                                  3:00 - 5:00 p.m.                                                                                      North Andover Senior Center                                                                      120 R Main Street North Andover, MA 01845

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