The state’s four congressional delegates sent a letter Monday to the Small Business Administration seeking federal assistance for businesses affected by the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Niki Tsongas, all Democrats, sent the letter in support of a request the state already made seeking federal aid through the administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
The program offers low-interest loans that can be used to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, and inventory and business assets that were damaged in a declared disaster. The loans are based on the borrower’s credit and are offered for terms of up to 30 years.
The letter describes the “significant economic hardship” businesses have faced in the weeks after the Sept. 13 disaster, when natural gas explosions sparked more than 70 fires across Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.
On Monday morning, Columbia Gas said 37.2 miles of main line gas pipe — 83 percent of the total replacement — have been laid. About 3,500 service lines to homes and other buildings have also been replaced, 3,328 of which are now gas ready, the company said. The replacement target is 6,100 service lines, according to a report released by Columbia Gas.
“Approximately 151 construction crews were deployed across the system on Oct. 21 and 212 crews are expected on Oct. 22 to work on mains and service lines,” the company said in a prepared statement.
Nearly 1,000 businesses have been affected by the crisis, according to the legislators’ letter. Many are struggling with “direct and indirect costs, including employee payroll, and lost tax revenue,” they stated.
Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, said seeking help from the SBA is “fantastic” because the administration is “empowered” to help small businesses.
“We look forward to working with them and we hope that the legislators are successful (in securing aid),” Bevilacqua said. “There’s probably no more appropriate agency than the SBA to assist small businesses.”
The loans would “work to bridge the loss of revenue and help stabilize the local economy” and would “greatly impact the revitalization of the region and help business meet operating expenses,” the legislators wrote in the letter.
A similar program was launched by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera in September. At a press conference in Lawrence, the two men announced a $1 million loan fund for businesses affected by the gas disaster. The loans, which can be requested for up to $50,000, will be interest-free for six months, Baker said.
“This is unprecedented. That’s the issue that I hope the legislators stress,” Bevilacqua said. “We’re very concerned about the well-being of these small businesses.”
Follow Kiera Blessing on Twitter @kierablessing and Jill Harmacinski @EagleTribJill.