LAWRENCE (CBS) – Columbia Gas will miss the November 19 deadline for complete gas restoration in the Merrimack Valley, Governor Charlie Baker said Friday. The new deadline has been set for sometime between December 2 and December 16.
At a news conference in Lawrence, Baker said 1,400 more people will be brought in to move the gas restoration along. Those jobs will included plumbers, electricians and contractors.
Joe Albanese, who has been in charge of the restoration project, said the main pipeline repair is two-and-a-half weeks ahead of schedule, but the "house ready repairs" process is taking longer than expected, so they will not make the original Nov. 19 deadline. As a result, it's been moved past Thanksgiving into the first half of December, although Albanese predicted that most impacted residents will have heat and hot water before then.
"As the temperatures drop, we recognize there's an incredible sense of urgency to get people back in their homes with heat and hot water as soon as possible. We are racing against the winter," Albanese said.
Columbia Gas is saying all 45 miles of gas pipeline will be replaced by next week. The problem is relighting all the customers, house to house.
So Columbia Gas is employing what it is calling a "rapid relight strategy," making temporary repairs to boilers and houses that are gas ready, to get the heat and hot water going. Restoration crews then plan to come back after the winter to replace those appliances as they have pledged. To do this, they're tripling the personnel to get the work done.
Baker said for thousands of residents, their world "has been turned upside down."
"This process, for a variety of reasons, has been painful, frustrating and inconvenient," Baker said. "All of us have heard tough stories from you on delays, poor communication and the headaches that have infiltrated your day-to-day life, whether your commute from a hotel is long or you're trying desperately to try and get your business back up and running. This recovery mission is all about helping you get back to normal in your home and to be made whole and for the cost of inconvenience you are enduring through no fault of your own."
Tony Pena's home in Lawrence is gas ready, but there is no connection yet to his heating units.
"It's very frustrating, not having heat, you know, not having hot water. It's crazy," Pena said.
Stephanie Abarta has been spending some time at a hotel, but with a one-year-old daughter and dog that needs to stay at home, she's anxious.
She doesn't have confidence in the new deadline.
"Not really, just because they said that they were going to have everything done before Thanksgiving, and now it's a new deadline, later," Abarta said.
Several homes and businesses still have no natural gas service, 43 days after the utility accidentally over-pressurized a gas line, causing explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. A young man was killed when a home blew up and a chimney crushed his car.
Many families have been provided with cooktops and space heaters while others moved into a temporary trailer park in Lawrence while Columbia Gas replaces 45 miles of the main pipeline.
The utility has been accused of failing to provide enough convenient housing and running a dysfunctional claims process.
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