GARDINER — The city has joined Augusta and Kennebec County in a combined effort to secure a deal bringing natural gas to municipal, school, county and court buildings.

Councilors voted unanimously Wednesday night to take part in the request for proposals after previously supporting the idea.

Gardiner is trying to attract proposals with a more definitive timeline and price than previously given by the two natural gas companies competing for customers in central Maine.

Representatives from Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas told councilors and school district officials at a December council meeting that a natural gas pipeline could reach Gardiner by 2014 at the earliest.

“Our joining this (request for proposals) merely gives us more information, price information, which we don’t have right now,” Councilor Robert Logan Johnston said.

One member of the public, Dick Guerette, of Winthrop, spoke against the bidding effort.

Guerette, who owns Williams Fuel Co. in Gardiner and Winthrop Fuel Co., warned councilors that the natural gas companies exaggerate the savings of switching and that the costs of natural gas inevitably will rise.

Some councilors said they were worried about being too reliant on Augusta accepting a deal because the request for proposal will ask for the price of installing natural gas pipeline to the cities individually, in addition to a package deal.

Augusta city councilors previously expressed concern that Augusta ratepayers could end up subsidizing Gardiner if it costs more to install distribution pipes farther south.

Morelli said the request is structured to allow any party to opt out.

The request will also ask for what tax-increment financing or other municipal subsides would be needed by the companies.

The request is expected to be sent out today, and the companies will have 45 days to respond, according to a March 4 memo from City Manager William Bridgeo.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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