Columbia Gas officials said they are almost finished with the work to restore service to thousands of homes in the Merrimack Valley that went weeks without heat or hot water following the Sept. 13 gas disasters.
Joe Albanese, the retired Navy captain appointed to lead the recovery effort, said more than 95 percent of affected customers have been reconnected, or “relit,” and that the recovery effort is now focused on a few hundred customers who had been using their own contractors to repair systems instead of using those provided by the utility.
During one point of the recovery program, Columbia had urged homeowners and businesses to consider hiring their own contractors.
The option was referred to as self-mitigation, and with the company-led effort moving at a slow pace, was considered a speedier and more efficient way to have service restored.
Now, though, Albanese encouraged residents to take advantage of the Columbia contractors who remain in the area, before crews begin to depart as the operation winds down.
“We have ample resources immediately available, qualified and ready to assist in the Merrimack Valley,” he said, adding, “We have made significant progress and are approaching our goal of fully restoring gas service to affected residences and businesses.”
Albanese said Columbia representatives have contacted these remaining customers over the past two weeks to “help accelerate their independent work,” and have assigned project managers to each case.
“We believe that in many cases, gas service will be restored more quickly if the customers utilize Columbia Gas resources rather than continue independently,” Albanese said.
“As we work toward full restoration, we are not leaving any customer behind, and we want to make sure those self-mitigating customers know the resources of the recovery effort are here to help them get over the finish line.”
He encouraged anyone without service to contact Columbia Gas representatives. They can be reached at 1-866-388-3239.
The utility is also hosting a series of open houses across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover Saturday.
Albanese and Columbia Gas are still targeting Dec. 16 for completely all service restoration, to allow residents to return home by Christmas.
More than 8,000 residents had left their homes and used alternative housing provided by Columbia Gas, including hotels rooms and trailers — though some chose to wait out the cold weather in their homes. Roughly 800 remained in alternative housing as of Thursday morning.
The gas disasters, involving more than 120 fires and explosions, were caused by over-pressurization of the system because of a mistake involving a pressure sensor during construction project.
One person was killed, two dozen injured, and thousands of residents were forced to evacuate the area.
The restoration process included the replacement of roughly 43 miles of underground pipeline, and the safe reconnection of homes and businesses to the gas system.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.