On the evening of Sept. 13, while our first responders and personnel from all town departments were reacting to the gas explosions, our finance teams were quickly mobilized: their mission was to begin an immediate, comprehensive, and accurate accounting of Andover’s costs associated with the gas disaster.
This accounting effort continued in the months that followed. A careful counting tallied the costs as police and fire personnel kept us safe, public works maintained our strained infrastructure, the Senior Center warmed and fed our residents, our inspectors cleared homes and businesses for reopening, town officials operated an information center, and town staff organized makeshift showers.
I am deeply appreciative of Andover’s strength and resilience. Thanks to these qualities, we have and will continue to recover. Now, we must ensure that we are made whole. The settlement agreement with Columbia Gas provides up to $20,816,250 to do just that. This agreement provides the resources to offset expenses associated with the recovery, make targeted investments within the impacted areas and in public spaces that supported the recovery, and support preparedness for future emergencies.
Over the last several months, my leadership team has carefully identified spending priorities that allow us to recover and prepare for future emergencies. Approximately $14 million will restore 19 miles of damaged roads and sidewalks. About $1.6 million will reimburse the town for deficit spending. Another $2.2 million will fund future inspectional services and “after-action review” expenses. The remaining funds will enhance the Senior Center, which is the town’s de facto shelter; replace trees that imperil electrical wires; install showers at Pomps Pond so that we are never again dependent on expensive and disruptive shower trailers; and improve pedestrian and vehicular connectivity downtown and at the intersection of Routes 133 and 28, where serious congestion followed the gas explosions.
The $500,000 investment in this intersection will leverage approximately $7,000,000 in state funding to rebuild this important junction.
While a community as complex as ours could no doubt spend the settlement funds in a myriad ways, the plan submitted to Town Meeting has been unanimously approved by the Select Board and the Finance Committee and represents the most responsible use of funds. I ask for your support on June 19 to help Andover become stronger than it was before Sept. 13.
Andrew P. Flanagan