By: Tom Duggan – Nov. 15, 2018
North Andover resident Rachel Moffat says she was “horrified” last month to find that workers for Columbia Gas wrote an ethnic slur (the “N” word) on one of the pipes installed in her basement.
“I noticed it on October 20th” she told the Valley Patriot in an exclusive interview this morning.
“I had initially gone to the area of my basement to take a video of a gas leak that was detected by a Columbia Gas contractor because on Friday the 19th the day before, they detected a gas leak and I insisted that they take me down there to see.”
“I took a video, told them to show me where the leak was that day. The man showed me where it was and I took a video of that, you can hear him on the video saying ‘See it’s bubbling”.
Moffat says that’s when she noticed the “N” word scrawled on one of the piped installed by Columbia Gas or one of their contractors.
“The next morning I went down to the basement to show them again where gas leak was and I wanted them to see that it’s right under my living room. I was concentrating on seeing the gas leak. I didn’t notice the writing on the pipe at first, but when I looked at the video afterwards I noticed it. I can’t believe they would leave that in my home knowing I was making a video of the gas leak in the basement.”
Moffat says she then checked the video she had made the day before when the Columbia Gas worker was there and says she had unknowingly captured the “N” word on her pipes.
“You can see that they actually wrote that word on my pipes the day before when we looked at the video the day before. It really upset me. They knew I was videotaping, they knew all eyes were on that area why would they do that?”
“It also really upset my mother too, I had to leave work and come home because she was so upset. I had a bunch of workers here and I made them all leave, she was so upset.”
Moffat says she finally called to complain and everyone she talked to at Columbia Gas blamed someone else for the incident.
“They never once said they were sorry. They tried to blame plumbers, the demo crew, it was a different story every time I talked to them. As far as I’m concerned they are all representing Columbia Gas at this point. They are all contracting through them. All these people are subcontractors.”
“My mother grew up in a horrible time of racism in this country and she was mortified that people were treated like that in the past. To think someone would write that on my home is horrifying. She still doesn’t understand this.”
“I’m still upset, still shocked, I’m beside myself. I work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and we go through 16 hours of diversity training. I couldn’t believe what I saw, your home is the one place that is your kingdom, and they just come and go as they please. They have taken control of my life. I don’t know how these people are vetted or even if they are vetted at all. I have had over 2 dozen men in my home. They come in, they know I’m alone, they know I’m single. I don’t know who any of these people are invading my privacy.”
“Nobody is watching them. It’s like, where is everyone? Where are the bosses? Where are the politicians who are governing these people? Who are making the decisions? Where are the people in charge?”
STRING OF BLUNDERS
Moffat says that she has been “mortified” by the events of the September 13th gas explosions in the valley and the way she has been treated by Columbia Gas in the aftermath.
“It’s been one horrible thing after another with Columbia Gas.”
“This is just one more thing in a sting of horrible events,” she continued.
Moffat says her problems started before the gas explosions this year, citing that Columbia Gas had installed new pipes on her street last year and she believes the gas leak from that pipe installation made her sick.
“The leak was right under my living room. I had reported multiple phone calls last winter after they put in new gas pipes on the street. Every time I call to say ‘I smell gas’ they kept blowing me off. They came and looked around and said they couldn’t get a reading but they weren’t looking at the right place.
Moffat says she started getting sick last fall right after they put int he new gas line and went to the doctors.
“Before all this I would get up in the morning and make my coffee, sit in my chair in the living room and watch some TV before getting ready for work. But after they installed the new lines on my street I would get up, make my coffee, and before my coffee was done I’d be falling back to sleep. I felt like I was drugged. My doctor had me on an anti-depressant. I was smelling gas all the time. They would come out, check the stove and furnace and say ‘it’s nothing!’ and acted like I was crazy. And that was after half dozen phone calls. They said sometimes in the cold it gives off a mist it’s not the kind of gas that will hurt you. They just weren’t looking in the right area. When they finally found it, it was in the cellar near the window in front of my home just 6 inches under my living room right under my recliner.”
Since the gas explosions this year, Moffat says that she no longer sleeps in her bed and is terrified something is going to happen now that her gas has been turned back on.
“I work 2 jobs and I can’t even sleep in my bed anymore ever since the gas came back on. I sleep in my recliner near the door because I’m afraid something is going to go wrong again. I have nightmares almost every night. I was poisoned, I was inhaling noxious fumes.”
TURNED MY LIFE UPSIDE DOWN
“I’m out thousands of dollars and I have to fight for every penny. I can’t pay my bills because all my money is tied up trying to get through all of this. I can’t believe they treat people this way. Not one person on my street lives the same lifestyle but they are treating us all like a cookie cutter.”
“For 32 days I could’n t wash or dry my clothes, everything was in the basement. I told the adjuster that I had been told we were going to be made whole and we were going to be able to live the lifestyle we are accustomed to. I went to TJ Max to buy clothes and they denied [reimbursing us] all of that a week later. For 32 days, clothes piled up in the basement and when they drained the hot water heater and broke the washing machine they ruined all my clothing.”
“Thousands of dollars of ruined bedding and clothing, and they are giving me a hard time about reimbursing me for that? It’s been one nightmare after another. It’s getting to be ridiculous. I have to plan a week in advance to figure what I’m going to wear because it takes two days to dry jeans on the line.”
Moffat explained that as a nurse she comes across all kinds of bacteria and doesn’t want to wash her clothes at a laundromat because she doesn’t want any cross contamination, but that Columbia gas told her she was being unreasonable.
“I don’t want some poor mother using the same washing machine that I used for my work clothes for her baby’s blanket. I’m in the medical field I’m trying to be cautions and they are telling me I’m being unreasonable.”
“They act like they are doing us a favor with their dog and pony show, they have no idea what our lives are like and what our lives were like before.
Moffat says she is suspicious of Columbia Gas offering a free Thanksgiving meal.
“They are offering a turkey TV dinner so we won’t go out to dinner and send them the bill. So, we are supposed to go get the food and by the time you get it home it’s cold and there’s no way to heat it up.”
SUING COLUMBIA GAS
Patrick Haines, a partner at Napoli Shaolnik who is representing Mofffat said he hears stories like this all the time from those affected by the Columbia Gas disaster but has never seen anything like the N word being scrawled on someones basement before.
“This is just an example of what we are seeing in the community,” Haines said.
“This is one story out of a thousand. When we talk to people over and over in the three communities affected, the stories are harrowing. It’s lack of supervision on this case. There’s nobody on the scene from Columbia Gas to control the work being done and supervise the people ding it. There seems to be no accountability for what’s going on. There seems to be no plan or coordination when talking about Columbia Gas and how they are working with these crews. They are just doing the work unsupervised, where is the Columbia Gas people who are supposed to be watching these guys? That’s why we are seeing so much inconsistency in service restoration where some people are getting taken care of and others are not because there’s no supervision.”
Moffat says that if Columbia Gas had been willing to reimburse for everything they said they were going to reimburse her for she wouldn’t even be talking to a lawyer. Now, she is suing the company.
“They are not reimbursing us for the countless hours of time we spend running around doing things that inconvenience us from this change to our whole lifestyle. They aren’t willing to compensate us for the mental exhaustion and going out of our way to try and keep our work and home routines while also running around trying to deal with all of this,” Moffat said.
The Valley Patriot reached out to Stephen Bryant, the president and COO of Columbia Gas of MA in an email this morning about the issue but did not receive a response prior to publishing the story.
We did however receive an email from Columbia Gas spokesman Dean Lieberman after posting the story Thursday morning. His email reads as follows:
“We are deeply disturbed by this situation. This type of behavior is unacceptable, highly offensive and violates our Code of Business Conduct, which all company employees and contractors must abide by. Once we were alerted to this situation, we reached out to the homeowner and personally apologized. We are a company made up of a diverse work force and committed to upholding values that respect diversity in our company and the communities we serve. While we know the crews that were in the house at the time, we were not able to identify the individual(s) responsible. We continue to reinforce our Code of Business Conduct with our employees and contractors.”
~ Dean Lieberman, Columbia Gas spokesman