Gas Explosion Renewal Fund Focused Online Forum | Local news


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LAWRENCE – Fifty people attended a Zoom meeting on Saturday to discuss the status of the $ 41 million in unblocked funds pledged to residents of Lawrence to support their ongoing recovery from the 2018 Columbia Gas explosions.

One of the outcomes of the meeting is that Attorney General Maura Healy’s office, who oversees the Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund, plans to simplify a survey that would have been too complicated for many Lawrence residents to interpret and answer correctly in order to state to determine their needs.

All presentations during the meeting were translated into Spanish immediately after being presented in English.

Three years have passed since the Columbia Gas crash rocked the Merrimack Valley, razing several homes, starting fires in 40 others, killing one and leaving 8,600 families in the dark and cold, officials say from the Merrimack Valley Project, which hosted the meeting.

They said the brunt of the crash was borne by Lawrence’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom were immigrants who, unlike their wealthier neighbors in Andover and northern Andover, had neither the means, neither the skills, nor the mastery of the language, to cope with this disruption. to their lives. Three years later, the community continues to suffer from this terrible event, they said.

Elizabeth Mahony, who represented Attorney General Maura Healey’s office at the meeting, said $ 15.2 million of the $ 56 million settlement that was reached with Columbia parent company NiSource was used to pay the overdue gas bills of 17,000 customers.

She said an advisory committee made up of community members will decide how the remaining $ 41 million will be spent.

Mahony said $ 21 million will go towards increasing access to efficient and clean energy for low- and moderate-income residential and multi-unit housing; $ 3.5 million will be spent on energy efficiency and heat pumps for market-priced housing and $ 3 million on energy efficiency in affordable public housing.

“Another goal is to improve the housing stock in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, where residents have been excluded from the energy efficiency program because it can be difficult to navigate,” she said. declared.

She noted that the LMI Residential Buildings Excellence Grant launched in April is for large projects of more than six housing units, where developers or building managers submit plans and designs to qualify for a funding.

A residential program for low and moderate incomes will focus on individual housing units, landlord situations and individual landlords.

A building excellence program will be funded to the tune of $ 5 million and will require rent stabilization.

“We don’t want to invest in construction to force low-income residents,” Mahony said.

To further enrich the three communities, $ 6 million will go to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover for projects such as solar panels on schools.

She said $ 4 million will be used to pay for an electric thermal heating unit to service multi-unit buildings with residential and commercial tenants, and a $ 2 million small business community fund will support energy efficiency and clean energy.

Ana Javier, longtime leader of the Merrimack Valley Project, told Mahony that Lawrence was very poor, lacked resources and had language barriers.

She said the survey the state is asking people to respond to is complicated for many in Lawrence and asked for it to be streamlined in the hopes that more people in the community will respond.

The results of the survey will be used by the advisory committee to shape new programs.

Mahony said she would consider revising the investigation.

“We also want to improve communication with everyone involved,” said Mahony. “We know that communities are suffering and in need, but we want to take the time to do it right. “

To access and participate in the current version of the survey, go to mass.gov/doer/MVsurvey.

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