As spring arrives, it’s time for the usual post-winter clean up and repairs. Potholes needs patching. Leaves and debris in the yard need clearing. And, in parts of the Merrimack Valley, there are still scars from last fall’s gas disaster.
Scattered here and there are buildings and houses still boarded from the Sept. 13 fires. More common are the long ribbons of temporary asphalt in the communities primarily affected — Lawrence, Andover and North Andover — where local officials are still negotiating with Columbia Gas over who will pay to repave the streets where emergency utility work was rushed.
Then there are other cases where cities and towns are choosing to make repairs now, and ask questions later.
As is apparent by the construction equipment recently spotted working on the South Common and at the Sullivan Park tennis and basketball courts off Salem Turnpike in Lawrence, the city is beginning the restoration of parks used as makeshift villages during the gas disaster.
Travel trailers were temporarily staged in both areas to house residents displaced from houses and apartments, in most cases, because of a prolonged loss of gas heat. The vast majority had returned home by early December. Since the makeshift encampments were not sufficiently warm to hold up to winter, families still without heat or a place to stay by then were moved into hotels.
While the removal of the trailers was a sight to celebrate at the end of the fall, they left behind damage — chewed up turf and asphalt courts that were cracked into pieces. Repairing the two sites will cost $2.8 million. Rather than wait for Columbia Gas and its insurers to come with a check, Mayor Daniel Rivera and city officials decided to begin the work and send the bill later.
“We couldn’t wait for Columbia Gas to get their act together,” Rivera told reporter Jill Harmacinski. “What do they care? They don’t live here.”
Rivera said he fully expects the utility to pay for the work. But with the weather getting warmer, the city’s baseball and basketball players needed places to play. They’ll soon have it with a new ball field, tennis courts and basketball courts.
Also, Rivera told Harmacinski, there are plans to erect a monument on the South Common that memorializes the gas disaster so that “everyone remembers what happened here.”
Though probably loathe to participate in such a memorial, Columbia Gas should pay for that, too.