As Massachusetts grapples with the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases, U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren are asking for more information on how the Canadian company behind the the controversial Weymouth compressor station is protecting its construction workers and the community amid the global pandemic.
The two Democrats wrote a letter to Enbridge President and Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco on Friday, requesting the company provide, by April 25, copies of its pandemic plan, plans for all on-site contractors, and documentation on how Enbridge intends to make sure the measures are followed.
“Given the highly contagious nature of this disease, public health experts have recommended social distancing measures that keep physical interactions to a minimum — a near-impossibility on a construction site,” the senators wrote. “Although compressor stations have been deemed essential services, thus allowing construction to continue, it is still important to take all possible steps to protect the workers and surrounding community members. Additionally, if site workers are traveling to Weymouth from other projects in other states, that could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus both inside and outside Massachusetts.”
The compressor station, which will sit on the banks of the Fore River, is needed to boost capacity on natural gas pipeline systems as part of the Atlantic Bridge Project.
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration asked Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, an Enbridge subsidiary, to address allegations that over 30 employees at the site were working in close proximity and lacked protective equipment and sanitation supplies.
Allegations also included that employees picked up food orders from off-site restaurants “endangering food preparers and the community,” according to the OSHA letter. Many workers at the site reside outside Massachusetts and have frequently traveled back and forth to the state since December, the letter says, among other allegations.
Markey and Warren referenced those concerns in their letter.
“As Massachusetts continues to operate under a broad stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, we are concerned that ongoing construction could expose work crews and members of the surrounding community to coronavirus-related health and safety risks,” the Senators wrote.
Max Bergeron, an Enbridge spokesman, told Boston.com in an email Monday the company follows local, federal, and international public health guidance and has put in place additional precautions to safe guard employees and the public as it monitors the situation.
“Additional precautionary measures continue to be implemented to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, including daily screening of those entering the work site, adhering to social distancing practices, excusing attendance for those who may be at risk, reinforcing the importance of hygiene and preventative measures, maintaining availability of a hand washing station, and continuously cleaning common areas in the project site,” Bergeron said. “For activities which require collaboration in closer proximity to be performed safely, we conduct an assessment and implement proper precautionary measures.”
In its response to OSHA last month, Enbridge said it investigated the allegations and believes them to be “groundless.”
A coronavirus action plan was put in place on March 11, and includes measures such as minimizing “activities where groups of workers congregate,” maintaining social distancing, sanitizing tools and equipment controls, and reviewing contractors’ pandemic response plans to ensure they follow Enbridge’s plans.
“Regarding the above-noted complaint, we appreciate the inquiry and trust that our response provided herein resolves the subject complaint insofar as appropriate actions have been, and will continue to be, taken during construction of the Compressor Station,” Richard Talerico, regional lead of safety for Enbridge, wrote to OSHA on March 23.
The project, which received final approvals last year, has faced strong local backlash from opponents who say the station is located in too densely populated an area for such a project and will contribute to air pollution, among other environmental hazards.
Opposition group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station led a drive-by protest of nearly 50 vehicles Monday. Participants displayed signs from their windows and honked as they passed the construction site.