October 16, 2012

Natural gas pipeline fight headed to court

Firms battling to supply natural gas to Augusta region

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The battle over who gets a deal to bring a natural gas pipeline to Augusta and potentially the Kennebec Valley region is headed for court.

Maine Natural Gas initially won a state project to bring a pipeline to state property in Augusta that was capable of being expanded to serve much of the region, but that award was overturned last month in an appeal by Summit Natural Gas of Maine.

Now, Maine Natural Gas has filed a lawsuit, or petition for judicial review, claiming Summit missed a 15-day deadline when it filed its appeal -- apparently by one day. The lawsuit is filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The company is asking the court to vacate the appeals panel decision, reinstate the state Bureau of General Services' decision to award the project to Maine Natural Gas and refer the matter to the Bureau of General Services to determine whether the appeal hearing should have been held.

State law regarding administrative procedures and the competitive bid process say that an appeal must be filed in writing with the Bureau of General Services within 15 days of notification of the contract award.

The lawsuit filed by Maine Natural Gas says the state notified all bidders on June 19 that Maine Natural Gas's proposal won the chance to bring a natural gas pipeline from an existing pipeline in Windsor into Augusta to serve state property.

Summit's appeal of the state's decision was filed July 5, which is 16 days after June 19.

Maine Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Central Maine Power parent company Iberdrola USA, says in its filing that the Bureau of General Services "failed to make a proper and correct determination as to the timeliness of the Summit filing. The appeal committee lacked jurisdiction or authority to hear the petition."

In a prepared statement, Summit officials said that the company is "confident that the panel's decision will stand up in court given the decisive nature of their initial ruling."

"Summit continues to move forward with its plan to invest over $150 million, with hundreds of jobs, to bring natural gas service to tens of thousands of businesses and residents throughout the Kennebec Valley," its statement said.

Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which oversees the Bureau of General Services, said she could not comment on the issue because it involves pending litigation.

She said no decision has been made as to whether the state will issue a new request for proposals to bring natural gas to the region.

Dan Hucko, a spokesman for Iberdrola, said Maine Natural Gas remains committed to bringing natural gas here. He wouldn't elaborate on whether that commitment would continue if Summit's appeal stands and the state issues a new request for proposals.

"I won't speculate on what the state will do, but I'll reiterate that Maine Natural Gas has every intention of providing natural gas service to residents and businesses in Augusta and the Kennebec Valley," Hucko said.

Last month a state appeals panel threw out the Bureau of General Services' selection of Maine Natural Gas because it found the bid process used by the bureau to be "flawed, unfair and illegal."

Brunswick-based Maine Natural Gas had proposed a $19.3 million project that would have employed about 46 people. It would have served state property in the Augusta area and company officials said it would have been expanded to serve businesses and residents elsewhere in the Kennebec Valley if doing so was economically feasible.

Summit Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Summit Utilities Inc., proposed a $150 million project employing 435 people, reaching communities throughout the Kennebec Valley as far north as Madison.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

kedwards@centralmaine.com

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