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Judge Hears Arguments In $143 Million Columbia Gas Explosions Settlement Offer

SALEM (CBS/AP) — A judge is considering final approval of a $143 million settlement in a lawsuit brought against Columbia Gas for the 2018 Merrimack Valley explosions.

A judge gave preliminary approval to the deal in October. A final approval hearing began Thursday morning in Essex Superior Court in Salem as a judge heard arguments for and against the proposed agreement. No decision was made Thursday.

Back in October, Superior Court Judge James Lang wrote that the settlement "appears to be fair, reasonable, adequate and sufficient."

The proposal to distribute proceeds from the settlement against Columbia Gas of Massachusetts calls for six categories of lump sum payouts, ranging from up to $50 for a "nominal" disruption to up to $15,000 for a "major" disruption.

More than 11,000 claims have been filed, most of them for the lump sum payouts. Some of the money will be issued to victims based on a point system depending on how the were impacted. Another portion will go to itemized claims or extraordinary circumstances. The remaining money is for legal fees.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera spoke out against the settlement in court Thursday. He believes the lawyers in the case are getting too much money in the settlement and the victims are not getting enough.

"Twenty three point five million dollars to attorneys who didn't suffer a day, who didn't have to take cold showers, who didn't have to be rushed out of their house in the middle of the night in the dark," he said. "That's too much money."

The Sept. 13, 2018 disaster in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, killed a young man, injured dozens of other people and destroyed or damaged several homes and businesses. It was blamed on over-pressurized gas lines.

Dean and Mona Thornhill, who spent the day in court, said they spent 464 days away from their home following the gas explosions. They do not favor the settlement.

"We'd love it to be over, however, we'd like to be treated fairly too," said Dean Thornhill of North Andover.

Mary Mlodzianowski said she watched her neighbor's home burn down and wants to see the settlement approved.

"The closure for me would be if this could all go away and be done. I just want things to be done," she said.

This settlement is separate from the announcement Wednesday that Columbia Gas will pay a record $53 million fine for violating federal safety standards. Columbia Gas also agreed to sell its business in Massachusetts to Eversource.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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