LAWRENCE (CBS) – Mayor Dan Rivera urged the Justice Department to give the majority of the $53 million fine Columbia Gas will pay as part of a plea deal to Lawrence residents and other victims of the Merrimack Valley explosions.
U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announced Wednesday that the company will pay a $53 million fine and be forced to sell its business in the state. The fine and any profit from the sale will go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund.READ MORE: "Time for the village to step up": Volunteers help ease nationwide baby formula shortage
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Columbia Gas was found to be responsible for the explosions and fires that killed 18-year-old Leonel Rondon in Lawrence. Several homes and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were also destroyed or damaged during the over pressurization incident on September 13, 2018.
“No amount of money could ever bring back young Leonel or fully put back together our lives,” Rivera said during a Wednesday press conference. “But every dime counts. So I would encourage the U.S. Attorney and the federal government to find a way for that $53 million fine and whatever proceeds come from the sale to go directly to the victims of the gas explosions all across the communities.”
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Rivera said Columbia Gas being forced to leave Massachusetts is a key part of the plea agreement.
“It will be a great day in the Merrimack Valley and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when Columbia Gas in Massachusetts no longer exists,” he said.
The Lawrence mayor said the impact from the Merrimack Valley explosions has been psychological for residents in addition to having to deal with property damage.
“I don’t think anybody feels safe using gas anymore,” Rivera said. “Maybe part of it was we were lulled into a sense of complacency with it. It’s not 100 percent safe to use. People are always going to be fearful. What we know we can definitely feel safer about is they know there will be a reckoning if something like that happens.”
Rivera said the punishment against Columbia Gas was not met with celebration in Lawrence.MORE NEWS: Bail hearing postponed for Nathan Carman, charged in mom's death at sea
“There’s no joy here. We wish it never happened,” said Rivera. “Today what we feel is that this is just another step into make us a little bit more whole.”