Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is offering free repairs to property owners in the Merrimack Valley whose appliances were replaced or temporarily fixed during the high-speed restoration effort following the September disaster, and some customers with older equipment will be provided with new appliances.
The program announced Tuesday is a follow-up to the utility’s huge campaign in early winter to restore gas service to thousands of homes in the Lawrence area before the onset of cold weather. At the time, Columbia had dropped a more ambitious effort to replace every gas-fueled appliance and instead opted to repair existing equipment to get service restored more quickly.
The utility said the offer for repair service is open to residential property owners until May 1, 2020, and will cover all natural gas appliances and equipment, internal piping, and labor; business owners will have until one year after the initial repair to take up the replacement offer.
“We designed the equipment repair plan to be as convenient as possible for our customers by having them call us directly to get the equipment support they need, at no cost, during the coverage period,” Mark Kempic, chief operating officer of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “We remain committed to providing long-term service and support to our affected customers in the Greater Lawrence Area. We encourage customers to reach out to us to assist them with solving any equipment issues that may arise.”
Affected customers can contact the company at 1-866-388-3239 to request replacement service.
In a statement, the utility said it also is still planning to replace boilers and furnaces its workers had repaired as a temporary means of restoring gas and hot water. That work will take place in the spring and be scheduled at the customer’s convenience.
The Sept. 13 disaster was triggered by a huge overpressure in the Lawrence-area’s local gas pipes, causing dozens of fires and explosions and led to the death of one man and injuries to dozens of others, and deprived thousands of people in three municipalities of gas for months. Hundreds were forced to relocate to temporary housing during the three-month outage.
The triggering event was a construction project Columbia had underway in the area, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which faulted a company engineer with “limited knowledge” for not checking to ensure all necessary pressure devices were included in the utility work. The agency continues to investigate the catastrophe.
The utility shut off gas service in parts of Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover in order repair the extensive damage, and service was mostly restored in December. Earlier this month, lawmakers criticized Columbia Gas for initially requiring customers who continued to receive gas during the period to pay their back bills in one lump sum.
The story has been updated to provide more information about the repair coverage that Columbia Gas is also providing to Merrimack Valley customers.