December 2, 2013

Summit Natural Gas misses deadline for Cony, Augusta buildings

An apparent work stoppage following a dispute with a contractor stalls progress.

By Keith Edwards And Rachel Ohm
Staff Writers

AUGUSTA — Delays in the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Windsor to Madison, via Augusta, have forced officials to find other ways to heat some prominent public buildings.

Cony High School and the attached Capital Area Technical Center buildings in Augusta are being heated by propane so far this heating season, despite a contract with Summit Natural Gas of Maine that specified those buildings and others would have gas by Nov. 1.

With work slowed by an apparent temporary work stoppage following a dispute between Summit and a since-departed contractor on the $350 million project, the arrival of natural gas in central Maine via Summit’s pipeline has been delayed, and not just to Augusta.

Officials at Madison Paper Industries said they, too, had expected to have gas flowing from Summit to the mill by Nov. 1.

And Regional School Unit 11 officials had also hoped to be using gas from the pipeline by now at three schools in Gardiner, although some work remains to be done there for the schools’ heating systems to be able to run on natural gas.

The main heating systems at Cony and Capital Area Technical Center were not only ready for natural gas to arrive by now, they were built to run on it. The old, oil-burning main heating system was removed over the summer. And anticipated savings from the conversion were built into the school budget for the current year.

So when gas wasn’t flowing by Nov. 1 to the Cony and CATC campus, Augusta City Center, or Buker Community Center, the city switched those buildings over to run on propane. City officials plan to bill Summit for both the cost of installing propane tanks at the three sites and the difference in cost between heating with natural gas and costlier propane. Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said that’s what the contract between the city and Summit calls for.

“I needed to have a heating source,” St. Pierre said. “The contract with Summit called for them to cover the cost of bringing in propane, hooking it up, and the price differential for propane versus gas.”

Mike Minkos, president of Summit Natural Gas of Maine, said the firm would reimburse the city for those costs.

St. Pierre said Summit officials indicated the delay was due at least in part to Summit having a dispute with a now-former contractor on the job, Schmid Pipeline Construction Inc., of Mayville, Wisc., which was doing work on the project in Norridgewock and Randolph.

He said Summit officials said that contractor had been replaced, work was continuing on the pipeline, and gas should be flowing on or soon after Dec. 15.

Construction on the Summit pipeline in downtown Norridgewock was put on hold last week, and all equipment and personnel who had been working there, drilling for the pipeline, were gone, Summit officials confirmed last week. Officials said they expected a new drilling crew to be on the site this week.

Jim Lord, of Dirigo Engineering, who has been overseeing construction along the pipeline for the state Department of Transportation, said Schmid is no longer on the project, but he did not know why. He said he didn’t know anything about the relationship between Summit and Schmid, but said he knew of no major problems with construction while Schmid was on the site.

“There were challenges over the summer, but they would make adjustments,” Lord said. “It was a lot of work thrust into a small area in a short amount of time, and it created some hiccups that everybody worked through. You’re talking about a significant gas project coming to central Maine, where there are no contractors that have the experience with steel gas pipe, so they had to bring in contractors from away, and there was a learning curve there as well as those people learned the local rules. I think everyone involved worked very hard, but it was a lot to take on in a short amount of time.”

(Continued on page 2)

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