Through an innovative partnership, Ropes & Gray and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) have launched an effort to provide free legal assistance to small businesses affected by the Columbia Gas explosion in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The September 2018 explosion not only devastated individuals and families in this predominantly minority community, but tore apart the City’s economic infrastructure as well. The unique pro bono partnership, announced today, seeks to repair that damage and revitalize the local and regional small business community.
Following the explosions, attributed to over-pressurization of Columbia Gas’s pipeline system, hundreds of small minority and immigrant-owned businesses suffered devastating losses. It is estimated that 150,000 people, 10,000 businesses, and 130 buildings were impacted. Many small business owners are still attempting to recover from these losses. These businesses include a multi-lingual daycare; a convenience store; and an ethnic grocery store.
“Our clients are small businesses that do not have the working capital to recover from a catastrophe of this nature,” explained Priya Lane, Director of BizGrow, LCR’s economic justice project. “Not only have they sustained structural damage, but there is ongoing construction surrounding the buildings which dramatically reduces their ongoing ability to maintain regular clients and attract new ones.” Ms. Lane added that January 9, 2020 is the deadline to submit claims related to the proposed Columbia Gas settlement, which means that many businesses are scrambling to submit their claims. “These businesses are in desperate need of someone to help them cut through the legal thicket and get back on track,” she said.
“Our legal team is working with numerous small businesses to prepare claims already,” said Elizabeth Reza, the Ropes & Gray asset management partner leading the project. Ms. Reza noted that many businesses assisted by the project employ community residents as well, creating enormous ripple effects. “Helping get the small business community back on track is an essential part of recovery, particularly for communities of color, and we are proud to be a part of that effort.”
To learn more, or if you are an affected business owner, please contact Priya Lane at Plane@lawyersforcivilrights.org.
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