Columbia Gas has pledged another $10 million to the Merrimack Valley to compensate for the 2018 gas disaster, this time in the form of grants to nonprofits in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.
The money is on top of the $56 million the company was ordered to give to Merrimack Valley residents and businesses under a deal brokered by state Attorney General Maura Healey and is in addition to $47 million class action lawsuit settlement for victims of the disaster.
The money, which will be doled out over five years at $2 million per year, will be managed by the Essex County Community Foundation, or ECCF, an organization based in Danvers.
Carol Lavoie Schuster, vice president for Grants, Nonprofit and Donor Services at ECCF, said the money will have a huge impact on nonprofits and their clients the three communities.
Nonprofit groups that apply and get through the approval process stand to gain $25,000 to $250,000 in annual grants, she said.
“This is a significant amount of money for organizations that are smaller in size,” she said. “This kind of grant goes a long way.”
The grant process opened last Thursday and will remain open until Dec. 4, according to Lavoie Schuster. Winners will be announced in March, she said.
To be eligible, the nonprofits must offer programs in Lawrence, Andover or North Andover.
The charitable foundation for NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, announced the $10 million donation last Thursday.
On Sept. 13, 2018, overpressurized gas lines operated by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts forced natural gas into homes and businesses across the region. The result was a series of explosions and fires that caused the death of one young man, scores of injuries and thousands of evacuations.
Businesses were shut down for months while many people were forced to live in trailers supplied by the government or in their homes with no use of any gas appliances.
As part of the $56 million settlement with the state, Columbia Gas agreed to sell its Massachusetts assets to Eversource Energy, and the company will no longer be doing business in the state as of November.
“Even though NiSource may not be operating in Massachusetts in the future, it is still important to us to continue to stand with and support the communities of Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover,” said Joe Hamrock, CEO and president of NiSource.
The ECCF will have additional oversight in administering the grants from an advisory committee including local civic and business leaders, representatives of local charitable organizations, and representatives from NiSource and Eversource Energy.
Schuster said the grant committee will be looking at five main areas of concentration for the grants, including basic needs such as food, shelter and heating; economic and workforce development; emergency assistance and disaster preparedness; STEM and energy education; and, finally, environmental stewardship.
"These grants are designed to support social infrastructure, to help assist people,” she said, noting that money won’t be going directly into the hands of residents or businesses, but will be used to help people expand their businesses to create jobs, for example.
The grants will also be available to municipalities working in partnership with nonprofits.
Beth Francis, CEO of Essex County Community Foundation, said the grants will help many people.
“The areas of focus for funding are critical needs in the Merrimack Valley and this kind of long-term giving can help our region’s nonprofits deliver on strong outcomes for thousands of people,” she said.
For more information, and to submit an application, visit www.eccf.org/fundformerrimackvalley.