Columbia Gas set to feel senators heat

Columbia Gas set to feel senators\ heat

Columbia Gas executives leave US Senate hearing after testimony

Family members of the 18-year-old who was killed in Septembers Merrimack Valley gas disaster spoke of their hope that his death would not be for nothing at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Monday morning.

Lucianny Rondon read a statement at the beginning of the hearing convened in Lawrence by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to review the response to the Sept. 13 explosions that killed her brother, Leonel Rondon, and injured dozens of others.

We will not let this loss be without meaning, she told the members of congress and the audience gathered in the  South Lawrence East Middle School gymnasium. The grief we feel is unbearable, but we know Leonel would want us to stay strong. We will stand with the community on his behalf.   

In the most detailed accounting to date of the catastrophe, the National Transportation Safety Board identified a series of missteps by the utility at the planning stages for a gas main replacement project in South Lawrence. The agency recommended “urgent” steps to increase oversight within the company and at the state level.

Sister of teen killed in gas explosions wants justice for her brother

Rondon spoke of her 18-year-old brothers  warm heart and how he helped those in their Lawrence neighborhood, carrying groceries and shoveling snow for older residents.

She said Leonel “even as a young boy, was so kind to others. He shoveled the snow for our neighbors. He carried groceries for the older people in our neighborhood. We will not have the joy of seeing the wonderful man we know he would have become. I stand in front of you in his honor. I will never have my brother back.”

This senseless tragedy is the beginning of many things that my family and I will never do with Leonel again, Rondon said. My mother will never make him his favorite meal of shrimp and tostones again. My daughter Rihanny will never dance with her Uncle Leonel to the music he created just for her. Our little brother Leonardi will never go to the movies with Leonel again.

Lucianny Rondon, sister of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, delivered her impassioned remarks during testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which held a special hearing in Lawrence to review the Sept. 13 blasts that claimed Rondon’s life..

The teen, who was celebrating getting his drivers license the day he was killed, will never be forgotten, she said.

Federal regulators have said Columbia Gas of Massachusetts failed to relocate an underground pressure sensor from an abandoned pipe during construction work in Lawrence in September, triggering a gush of gas into the local network that erupted into explosions and fires.

We will not have the joy of seeing the wonderful man we know he would have become. I stand in front of you in his honor, Rondon said. I will never have my brother back. But we hope there will be justice for him and the community. Nobody should ever go through what my family has gone through ever again.

Earlier this month, the NTSB singled out a Columbia Gas engineer with “limited knowledge” for errors in drafting work plans for a Lawrence construction site, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the Sept. 13 natural gas explosions.

An emotional account from the sister of 18 yr. old Leonel Rondon. He was killed in the #MerrimackValley gas disaster when a chimney fell on top of a car he was sitting in. #7News pic.twitter.com/rBKYV1ySM2

“We will never forget him,” Lucianny Rondon said. “We will not let this loss be without meaning. The grief we feel is unbearable but we know Leonel would want us to stay strong. We will stand with the community on his behalf.”

Executives with Columbia Gas and its parent company, NiSource, left a Lawrence U.S. Senate Committee early after testifying about their response to a series of September explosions that damaged homes, injured dozens and killed at least one person in the Merrimack Valley. 

Leonel Rondon, a student at Phoenix Charter Academy in Lawrence, died after a chimney from a house that exploded toppled onto the vehicle he was sitting in at a friend’s house on Chickering Road.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant and NiSource CEO Joe Hamrock, who fielded questions from Massachusetts lawmakers during the first part of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees hearing, did not remain in attendance for a panel discussion with local leaders, public safety officials and residents impacted by the Sept. 13 incident. 

However, she said, “we hope there will be justice for him and the community. Nobody should ever go through what my family has gone through ever again. Thank you.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, noted Hamrock and Bryants absences when seeking to ask the executives additional follow up questions.

The senator told reporters following the hearing that she believed “Columbia Gas and NiSource high-tailed it out of here because they dont want to hear from the people of the Merrimack Valley.”

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, added that lawmakers had to bring Columbia Gas executives to Lawrence “in order to make sure that they were held accountable to people in the Merrimack Valley.”

“But, you can see that they left as quickly as they could. You could see that theyre trying their best to minimize their responsibility — minimize their liability,” he told reporters. “Minimize what they are going to be called upon to do for this community, so Columbia Gas and NiSource are here marginally because the United States Senate has made them come here.”

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, meanwhile, apologized to local officials and residents who attended the morning event for company executivess early exit from the hearing. 

She criticized the “shortcomings” in Columbia Gas response to the September explosions and fires that ravaged parts of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

NiSource spokesman Dean Lieberman said Hamrock and Bryant “returned to the Command Operations Center in Lawrence and held a series of meetings on a variety of topics.”

“Multiple Columbia Gas representatives remained in the gymnasium including claims adjusters to help customers resolve issues,” he said in a statement. “I would also note that Joe and Steve have heard directly from hundreds of affected customers — from six town hall meetings to distributing Thanksgiving meals — and will continue to engage with customers.”


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