Irene M. O’Brien Honored After Nearly Two Decades of Service as North Andover Senior Center Executive Director

After nearly two decades of service as executive director of the North Andover Senior Center, Irene M. O’Brien will this year be retiring.

O’Brien, who previously served the Towns of Salisbury, Newbury, and Groveland, was recently celebrated for her service during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration hosted by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) at the Senior Center.

DiZoglio, fellow Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) and State Representatives Christina A. Minicucci (D-North Andover) and Tram Nguyen (R-Andover) presented O’Brien with proclamations from the Legislature in honor of her service and accomplishments.

“In her role as executive director, Irene has been a tireless leader and advocate, helping countless older adults in the community by identifying their health, economic and social needs and working with them to improve their quality of life,” said DiZoglio. “She will be greatly missed but we wish her all the best in her retirement!”

DiZoglio, Perry Call on Baker for More Vaccines to the City of Methuen

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) and Methuen Mayor Neil Perry are calling on the Baker Administration to allocate additional COVID-19 vaccines to the City of Methuen.

Their request comes on the heels of the City of Methuen being designated a “red” community by the state Department of Public Health, meaning it is among the municipalities with the highest COVID-19 rates in the Commonwealth.

“While we appreciate the Administration recently, finally providing the City of Methuen with some vaccines, the allocation needs to be significantly ramped up now, at a time when the community needs it most,” said DiZoglio. “We are continuing to see the bulk of vaccines go to the mass vaccination sites, which are inaccessible to many residents, especially among our most vulnerable populations. People should be able to turn conveniently to their local municipal provider to receive this critical vaccine. I strongly urge the Administration to allocate additional vaccines to the City of Methuen as soon as possible.”

“While I’m grateful that we have been able to get 600 vaccine doses the last several weeks, it’s important to note that Methuen is once again this week designated as a red or high-risk community,” said Perry. “That, combined with the announcement yesterday of near-term eligibility dates for remaining citizens, makes it imperative that we are able to increase the supply to match the demand, We need the pace of vaccine distribution increased to enable every resident of our community to get vaccinated – because at our current pace, it would take more than a year – and that is simply unacceptable.”

State Delegation Calls for Severe Weather Emergency Declaration in Salisbury

The state legislative delegation is requesting the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) declares a Severe Weather Emergency Declaration in the Town of Salisbury.

In a letter to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen A. Theoharides, dated February 23, State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) calls for both an emergency declaration and the providing of the Town of Salisbury with sand for dune nourishment. The letter was co-signed by State Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) and State Representatives Jim Kelcourse (R-Amesbury) and Lenny Mirra (R-Georgetown).

The call for an emergency declaration comes amidst severe sand dune erosion at Salisbury Beach, the result of increasingly harsh and more frequent storms along the coast.

“Residents who live in Salisbury, particularly on North End Boulevard, are in a dire situation,” said DiZoglio. “The sand dunes in that area are rapidly being eroded. This must be addressed as soon as possible. We can use the example of what is happening in the Reservation Terrace area of the City of Newburyport as a reference of why immediate action must be taken. Residents there are seeing major flooding of their homes and destruction of their property. If we do not act quickly, we are going to see history repeat itself in Salisbury.”

“The recent coastal storms have caused extensive damage to homes on Salisbury Beach and have compromised our protective dunes,” said Bill Greilich, president of the Salisbury Beach Betterment Association. “This erosion is putting homes and public recreation areas at immediate risk of significant, irreversible harm and is a clear illustration of the challenges our beach property owners and community face. An emergency response is urgently required along with long-term strategic planning. The Salisbury Beach Betterment Association (SBBA) is grateful for the work that Sens. Diana DiZoglio and Bruce Tarr and Rep. Jim Kelcourse have been doing on behalf of Salisbury Beach and is hopeful that this Emergency Declaration is approved as soon as possible.”

“Over the years I have personally experienced many storms at Salisbury Beach including the Blizzard of ’78, No Name Storm of 1991, Nor’easters in 2008, 2013 and 2018, and now these two in December 2020 and February 2021,” said Tom Saab, president of Salisbury Beach Citizens for Change. “We continually work together to rebuild dunes and make every effort to protect our properties. However, what we must have is for the state to cooperate by declaring an emergency as they have done in the past and then assist us by providing us with sand. We, as homeowners, will then provide and pay for the contractors and equipment to do the work needed from that point on. Without an emergency declaration from the state, it becomes much more difficult and sometimes impossible for property owners to rebuild dunes and protect their properties from further damage that will surely come from future storms. The key to protecting beachfront properties, once again, is an emergency declaration from the state.”

DiZoglio Calls for State Audit into Massachusetts Vaccine Distribution

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is continuing to call on Governor Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) to address concerns and answer questions around Massachusetts’ rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Should the Governor’s Administration not comply, DiZoglio has requested State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump conduct an audit to obtain answers.

In a letter to Bump dated February 18, DiZoglio notes the concerns she has heard from residents around transparency and accountability in the vaccine rollout process. Among the areas DiZoglio is seeking answers on is the selection of vendors the Governor’s Administration has tasked with distributing the vaccine.

According to DiZoglio, when her office inquired the state Department of Public Health whether there was a Request for Proposal (RFP) process involved, their response was “since vaccination distribution is a federal process, we do not have a role in that.”

“My question wasn’t about allocation to the state,” said DiZoglio. “It was about allocation within the state. We still need answers from the Governor. All of the vendors appear to be private companies. The public deserves to know the Administration’s rationale for selecting these vendors and how much taxpayer money is going to these companies. This applies to the venues and pharmacies the Administration is working alongside as well – what is their rationale for selecting certain sites over others and how much funding are they receiving? Moreover, is there a supplier diversity component being implemented?”

DiZoglio’s effort comes in advance of this Thursday’s first oversight hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

“I am tremendously grateful for the formation of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management and its capable leadership’s commitment to probing the Administration’s plans through oversight hearings, and believe the Auditor’s office, with the many resources it has, is uniquely qualified to push for and help us obtain these particular answers more swiftly, working alongside the Legislature‘s efforts to provide much needed, continued oversight,” said DiZoglio.

DiZoglio Vaccine Pre-Registration Bill Gets Boost After Federal Lawmakers Call on Governor to Establish System

Massachusetts’ federal legislative delegation is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) to launch a pre-registration system for the COVID-19 vaccine, a push that comes on the heels of State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen)’s filing of SD709, An Act relative to COVID-19 vaccination pre-registration.

In a letter penned by U.S. Representative Katherine Clark and co-signed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Representatives Lori Trahan, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Jim McGovern, Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating and Jake Auchincloss, the lawmakers express their concerns over the state’s vaccine rollout and lack of the sort of pre-registration system that has been launched in other U.S. states, such as Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia.

“We remain deeply concerned that the absence of a centralized pre-registration system for vaccine appointments has contributed to a slow and inequitable deployment of vaccines in Massachusetts, a trend that will only be exacerbated by increased demand as appointments open up to future eligibility groups,” wrote the lawmakers. “We therefore implore you to act with the requisite urgency to develop and implement a centralized, accessible system for all Massachusetts residents to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccinations, confirm eligibility details, and receive notification when an appointment becomes available at a convenient location.”

“Our federal delegation led by Congresswoman Clark has hit the nail on the head,” said DiZoglio. “A centralized, accessible system would provide our communities the ability to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccinations, confirm eligibility details, and receive notification when an appointment becomes available at a convenient location. I am so grateful to our federal legislative delegation for throwing their weight behind the call to establish a pre-registration system in Massachusetts. Our voices are only going to continue to get louder until the Governor acts. If he won’t budge, it is our responsibility to take up this measure and lead in the Senate by passing this legislation immediately.”

Massachusetts Sewage (CSO) Notification Bill Signed into Law

Under legislation recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott), a statewide sewage discharge notification system will be established to alert residents when such discharges make public rivers and beaches unsafe.

An Act promoting awareness of sewage pollution in public waters, sponsored by Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and co-sponsored by Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) alongside House sponsors Representatives Denise Provost (D-Somerville) and Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen), was introduced in response to pollution issues that for decades have plagued the Commonwealth’s public waters, namely discharge from combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

A recent report released by the nonprofit Environment America found that “each year in the U.S., swimmers in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds suffer from an estimated 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness.” It also found that “an analysis of fecal indicator bacteria sampling data from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico reveals that 386 beaches – nearly one of every eight surveyed – were potentially unsafe on at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place last year.”

“As many know, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work as a region to highlight this issue – to the point of kayaking the entire 117-mile-long length of the Merrimack River to help raise awareness,” said DiZoglio, following her remarks at the legislation’s bill signing ceremony. “This legislation is long overdue to keep the public informed about sewage overflows into our beloved Merrimack River and all waterways across the Commonwealth. It is just one step and we have much more work to do but we must celebrate this significant step in the right direction that was able to be accomplished through teamwork. Thank you to all residents and advocates who have been pushing for years for this. Your persistence and determination made this happen. Thanks to Governor Baker for signing this important bill into law.”

DiZoglio Calls on Baker to Improve Vaccine Accessibility in the City of Methuen

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling on the Baker Administration to bolster vaccine availability and accessibility in the City of Methuen.

In a letter, sent to Governor Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on February 15, DiZoglio outlined the concerns she has heard from Methuen residents around lack of access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, the City of Methuen received 100 doses of the vaccine. It was then informed it would receive no doses from the state this week. According to DiZoglio, her office was advised by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) that the low dose number was the result of a federal vaccine shortage. However, the state continues to distribute significant numbers of doses to pharmacies across Massachusetts.

“The City put in great work and time to establish a vaccine distribution center, per the request of your Administration, that accommodates social distancing and long lines,” said DiZoglio in the letter. “Pharmacies do not have such space to ensure social distancing. The allocation makes no sense.”

DiZoglio argues the federal supply issue raised by DPH is not the issue – rather it is about “effective allocation between vaccine providers.”

“People, especially in the current vaccination group, should be able to conveniently turn to their local municipal provider,” said DiZoglio. “The mass vaccine sites that have been established can be physically difficult to get to and maneuver.”

In her letter, DiZoglio also raised questions and concerns over which specific vaccines have gone out and to whom. The vaccine produced by Pfizer requires a different type of freezer refrigeration than the vaccine by Moderna and its parts must be reconstituted prior to inoculation.

“Municipalities can store the Moderna vaccine but are generally unequipped to store the Pfizer, which hospitals and pharmacies are better equipped to store,” said DiZoglio. “To the extent allocations are made, the state must take this into account. It is critical that we know how much of each vaccine is going out and to whom.”

On February 12, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School gave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an ‘F’ grade for its rollout, based on a ranking among all 50 states on key metrics, including vaccines distributed as a share of the adult population and as a share of the doses available to be delivered in the state.

“The City of Methuen is not alone in facing these significant challenges,” said DiZoglio. “Cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley and across the Commonwealth have expressed frustration over the vaccine rollout, with legislators offering countless letters to the Governor’s Administration, many of which I have either written or signed on to. Our most vulnerable residents have been incredibly patient. It is beyond past time the Administration finally gets with the program, as so many other states have been able to do and provides our communities with the support they desperately need.”

DiZoglio Bill Calls for a COVID-19 Preregistration System in Massachusetts

Under a new bill filed by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be required to provide for pre-registration regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Senate Docket 709, An Act relative to COVID-19 vaccination preregistration, tasks the state’s Department of Public Health with establishing a centralized system for residents to pre-register. Vaccines would be distributed to persons based on which phase they fall under.

DiZoglio’s bill comes on the heels of rampant frustration among Massachusetts residents with the state’s rollout of the vaccine, in particular the Commonwealth’s vaccine website, which has left many spending hours in search of an appointment, only to hit a dead end.

Should the bill be signed into law, it will join several U.S. states, including Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia, that have produced a vaccine preregistration tool for residents to utilize. Moreover, several municipalities in Massachusetts, including the Towns of Cohasset and Hingham, have proceeded with similar preregistration systems at the local level.

“We need to get ahead of this pandemic instead of continuing to chase after it,” said DiZoglio. “The vaccine rollout has been less than ideal but we can ensure that the frustration experienced by the first group of eligible recipients is not replicated during subsequent phases of the vaccine distribution plan. We can do that by giving all Massachusetts residents the opportunity to establish eligibility and preregister for the vaccine instead of spending time and energy trying to schedule appointments whose availability is determined by the vaccine supply chain. A centralized state-level preregistration system would provide residents a way to effectively hold their space in line and alert them to available appointments as their vaccination eligibility phase opens.”

DiZoglio Calls on Baker Administration for Accessible and Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling on the Baker Administration for clearer communication and increased information as residents across Massachusetts struggle to obtain access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter, dated January 27 and sent to Governor Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, DiZoglio noted she has heard from many residents who expressed concerns around the rollout of the vaccine.

“Our communities need to know where, when and how they can receive this vaccine,” said DiZoglio in the letter. “That is simply not the case right now.”

DiZoglio noted particular concern around the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website, which residents have described to her as a “dead end” in their efforts to obtain an appointment. Moreover, much to the frustration of residents without internet access, the Commonwealth does not presently offer a phone line that can be called to make a vaccine appointment. DiZoglio called on the Administration to establish such a hotline as soon as possible.

Also raised by DiZoglio were concerns around who is receiving the vaccine first.

“I have heard from many in my community who are rightfully perplexed and frustrated by the Administration’s prioritizing of young, healthy medical researchers – most of who are working remotely – over at-risk seniors, who have been waiting patiently on the sidelines for the vaccine,” said DiZoglio. “Seniors in other New England states – Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – have been receiving the vaccine while researchers, many of who have nothing to do with COVID-19 or patient care at all, are ahead of the line in Massachusetts.”

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts ranks 37th in the nation in administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Merrimack Valley Lawmakers Secure Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Measures in Energy Bill

A major climate policy bill approved by the Legislature contains significant provisions to address natural gas safety, thanks in large part to efforts in the Senate by the Merrimack Valley delegation.

The actions respond to the tragic 2018 Merrimack Valley explosions which took the life of Leonel Rondon, an 18 year old who died after a chimney from a house explosion collapsed on the car he was in. The gas explosions resulted in a string of injuries from fires, and other disruptions after Columbia Gas over-pressurized natural gas lines. Tens of thousands of North Andover, Lawrence and Andover residents were displaced from their homes and places of work.

Elements of An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy addressing natural gas safety include:

• Requiring the Department of Public Utilities to issue new regulations relative to training and certifying utility contractors;
• Instructing the Department of Public Utilities to set standards for maintaining gas distribution maps and records;
• Directing gas companies to report “disruptions in the provision of electronic data” as a service quality metric;
• Adding whistleblower protections for utility employees who report violations of law by their employers;
• Increasing penalties for failure to restore service after emergencies;
• Raising the cap on civil penalties for gas pipeline safety violations, allowing for fines in excess of those set by federal law;
• Requiring all written complaints regarding gas service to be investigated and responded to in a timely manner, and directing the DPU to establish a publicly-accessible database of such complaints; and
• Strengthening gas company plans to address aging and leaking infrastructure, by setting interim targets for reducing gas leak rates and authorizing the DPU to levy fines for non-compliance.

“I am so grateful that among other important measures, this bill increases penalties for failure to restore service after emergencies; requires new regulations around training and certifying utility contractors; extends whistleblower protections to utility employees who report violations by their employers, and creates a database in which all written complaints around gas service will be made public,” said Senator Diana DiZoglio (D – Methuen). “There remains much work to be done but these are nonetheless key steps in our efforts to prevent future incidents.”

“The tragedy, hardship, suffering and economic damage that North Andover, Lawrence, and Andover have endured because of the gas explosions of September 2018 compel us to take effective action to prevent such events from ever happening again,” said Senator Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester). He added that “we must not fail to learn from what has happened and do everything possible to make our natural gas system safer. Our legislative members from the House and the Senate have worked in a bipartisan and focused way to achieve that goal.”

“This crucial legislation will hold public utility companies accountable, strengthen safety standards, and help prevent natural gas disasters in the future,” said Senator Barry Finegold (D – Andover). “The Columbia Gas explosions devastated our community. A young man lost his life, families spent months homeless, and many suffered significant financial hardships. I look forward to continuing to work with local, state, and federal officials to increase regulatory oversight of the natural gas industry and help the Merrimack Valley recover from the Columbia Gas tragedy.”

The federal National Transportation Safety Board last year, in a 73-page report, stated “weak engineering management that did not adequately plan, review, sequence, and oversee the construction project” was a factor that disrupted the gas distribution system.

Members of the Merrimack Valley delegation called for oversight hearings of Columbia Gas immediately following the incident. At a 2019 hearing of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, the lawmakers stressed the important role the Legislature should play with state regulators to make sure these and similar operations are safe, effective and efficient.

The members stressed that while the bill contains important measures to increase safety, they will be seeking additional measures for that purpose in the new legislative session. With the support of the House of Representatives and final passage in the Senate, the bill now moves to the desk of Governor Baker for his consideration.