Mayors testify in support of legislation that would improve gas safety in Bay State

BOSTON (WHDH) - Fourteen months after a series of gas-fueled explosions and fires rocked the Merrimack Valley, the New England Gas Workers Alliance, along with prominent Bay State mayors, flocked to Beacon Hill on Tuesday to testify in support of legislation that would improve gas safety in Massachusetts.

For some who live in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, the horrid memories of Sept. 13, 2018, still bring them to tears.

“Our city, our kids, our youth. They’re still traumatized,” Lawrence resident Ana Javier told lawmakers.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators pinned the blame for the disaster on Columbia Gas, citing their poorly planned pipeline replacement project and inadequate response to dozens of fires that were sparked by excessive pressure in natural gas lines.

On Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimony on several bills focused on oversight and safety.

“No one has been fined. Not one fine has been levied against Columbia Gas,” Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said. “Not one person has lost their job at Columbia Gas.”

Rivera, along with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, spoke in favor of a bill that would make smaller gas leaks just as important as larger ones. It would also impose fines to ensure proper repairs are made.

“Our legislation would impose a fine schedule and a repair timeframe on natural gas providers based on the total volume of all gas leaks,” Walsh said.

Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed and dozens of other people were injured in the disaster. Rondon was sitting in a car outside 35 Chickering Road when a chimney from a house explosion fell onto the vehicle.

Some Bay State lawmakers agreed that its time to upgrade the gas safety system, especially near schools.

“The reality is gas companies have not kept up with the maintenance and when they do, it’s done in a vacuum and without sufficient oversight and accountability,” Massachusetts Rep. Christina Minicucci said.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has since launched a separate investigation. They have the authority to fine Columbia Gas.

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