The Boston City Council today approved a hearing to look at how prepared a city with one of the country's oldest natural-gas networks is to prevent a Merrimack-Valley disaster from happening here - and how to deal with one should it happen.
Councilors said they will have little choice but to look at whether National Grid's months-long lockout of workers is affecting public safety, by slowing down required repair and modernization work.
Councilor Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, downtown) said he had a specific list of questions related to the lockout, including whether it has forced National Grid to slow down on "mandated programs" and whether it would affect inspections of 400 "pressure regulation stations" as well as valves and meters - and what the company's emergency-response plans have changed with the absence of the locked-out workers. He said he is also concerned whether the replacement workers are getting anywhere near the same level of training as the union workers - who, he said, "deserve better than what National Grid did to them."
Councilors Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) and Ayanna Pressley (at large) said they don't want to create panic, but that the dozens of fires and thousands of evacuated residents - and at least one death - in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, mean they need reassurance that every possible measure is being taken to keep Boston residents and businesses safe.
"We cannot simply afford to wait any longer," O'Malley said. O'Malley, who has long sought to get National Grid to speed up the repair of leaks in its Boston system, said his hearing would provide a forum for elected officials, city emergency officials from BPD, BFD and EMS and the utility companies - which would include Eversource, which serves part of Hyde Park - a chance to come to agreement on necessary steps.