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Columbia Gas Won't Raise Rates, But Questions Remain On Timetable For Repairs

A worker with Columbia Gas pries the manhole cover open as they work to make sure there are no gas leaks at the corner of Parker and Salem streets in Lawrence. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
A worker with Columbia Gas pries the manhole cover open as they work to make sure there are no gas leaks at the corner of Parker and Salem streets in Lawrence. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

The company at the center of last week's gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley said it has withdrawn a state-approved $33 million rate hike that was supposed to go into effect for customers in November.

The explosions and subsequent fires, which killed one person and injured about 25 others, displaced thousands from their homes.

Columbia Gas says it's forgoing the revenue increase to focus efforts on supporting customers in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence who were affected and "re-establishing trust" in the company.

The utility has promised to upgrade all 48 miles of its aging pipelines in the area, but it is not clear who will pay. The company has said it could do so in "weeks," but The Boston Globe reports that several industry experts called this plan "unrealistic and potentially dangerous."

Columbia has some of the oldest gas pipes in the nation — hundreds of miles put in more than a century ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is heading the inquiry into the explosions, has said investigators are partly focused on pressure sensors that were connected to a Columbia Gas pipeline being taken out of service shortly before the blasts.

Those who own businesses in the affected neighborhoods are looking for answers as to when gas will be restored and what help they could get in the interim.

And Joe Bevilacqua, who heads the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, says owners worry if they don't support employees through this crisis, the workers could begin looking for other jobs.

"With a tight labor force right now a quality employee is very, very valuable, very important to a company," he said.

In addition, Bevilacqua says local banks and credit unions are thinking about giving affected customers more time to make their monthly payments on loans and mortgages.

With reporting from WBUR's Bruce Gellerman and Paul Connearney, and The Associated Press

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