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Recovery from explosion is slow and uneven

Date: 10/18/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – While the city may have reached a settlement with Columbia Gas for the expenses caused by the gas explosion on Nov. 23, 2012 that destroyed and damaged buildings near the intersection of Chestnut and Worthington streets, not all property owners have been made whole as yet.

For some businesses, repairs have been made, while other building owners are still in negotiations with Columbia Gas or their insurance carrier to secure necessary funds to make repairs.

The city announced on Oct. 3 that Columbia Gas would pay $650,000 to compensate for property damage, call back costs for inured personnel and other expenses. In addition, the company provided a $200,000 grant to be used to create an urban renewal plan for the area affected by the blast.

At the press conference Fire Commissioner Joseph Contant said there are still first responders injured in the blast that have yet recovered enough to return to work.

Sheila Doiron, director of Communications and Community Relations at Columbia Gas, said told Reminder Publications, “The majority of the claims have been settled.”

She explained that those that are still outstanding have yet to provide all of the necessary documentation or still determining the nature of the loss.

Tom Andrew, the owner of Trye Track, the business across the street from the Scores gentlemen’s club where the gas leak was located had high marks for Columbia Gas.

“They did a wonderful job. I have nothing negative to say,” he said.

Andrew added, though, the neighborhood still “reminds me of Lebanon; it’s a catastrophe.”

Andrew said his garage sustained “severe structural damage” and demolition was discussed at one point.

“It could have fallen down,” he said.

He was closed for less than three months while repairs were being made which he called “a minor miracle.”

He said he witnessed “every bit” of the repair worked and “there were no short cuts.”

Skip Lessard, who owns a building at 191 Chestnut St., has a different story. He said he is “not even close” to finishing repairs to his building and is continuing talks with his insurance provider.

“There has been some progress, but it’s been slow,” he said.

He said an initial offer from Columbia Gas was “just absurd.”

Lessard said one of the problems is the kind of damage caused by an explosion, which is substantially different than a fire or flood. A building goes through a concussion caused by the blast and then a vacuum.

In his case the damage has cost him in losing tenants. To restore his building he has borrowed funds and exhausted his building’s bank account.

He explained the insurance company will cover specific kinds of damage and he hopes what gaps there are in the restoration of his building will then be filled by a settlement from Columbia Gas.

Issues he has faced include whether or not the broken windows and blinds will match the existing ones.

Waiting for decisions to be made has cost his business.

“Four months is forever if you have plywood on your windows,” Lessard said.

Ethel Lee, the property manager for the apartments and condominiums at 385 Worthington St., said a public adjuster was hired to guide the building’s owners through the process and to advocate on their behalf.

“It’s been a long haul for the McIntosh [Building] because of its historic nature and severe damage,” she said.

Although some of the tenants have returned to the building, which is covered in scaffolding, there are still 18 displaced people, she said.

The exterior of the building must be secured, which means replacing windows and then interior repairs will be completed, Lee explained. She said an estimate of next summer has been given for when the repairs are completed and the tenants can return.

“When the hit happened, it [the building] took it very hard,” she said.