One of the lead contractors on Central Maine Power Co.’s massive transmission line upgrade has gone to court seeking at least $43 million from the utility for what it says are work changes that cost extra time and money.

In a lawsuit filed recently in U.S. District Court in Portland, Hawkeye LLC of Hauppauge, N.Y., charges that CMP failed to deliver needed material on time and in sequence, namely wood and steel poles. The delays made Hawkeye unable to obtain permits and site access to stay on schedule, the company says.

“Due to CMP’s failure to comply with its contractual obligations, Hawkeye’s work on the project has been significantly delayed and disrupted, and, as a result, its cost to perform the work has substantially increased,” the company said in its complaint.

The complaint also says that Hawkeye has the right to stop working on the project if costs for time and material exceed 1 percent of the contract price without payment. Hawkeye says its out-of pocket costs have significantly exceeded that benchmark. It is asking the court to rule on whether the contract gives the company the right to suspend work, pending a resolution of the dispute.

Hawkeye remains on the job and expects to finish its work by year’s end, said Mike Collier, director of investor relations at Houston-based Willbros Group, a global energy contractor and the parent company of Hawkeye. Collier declined to comment about the legal action.

“We have a disagreement and we’re trying to get a resolution of that,” he said.

A spokesman for CMP said Monday that the overall project is progressing on time and remains on budget.

“Hawkeye’s work is a small piece of the project, but it’s important and they’re doing good work for us,” said John Carroll.

Carroll acknowledged that any increase in the cost of the project could have an impact on ratepayers, but he said it would be very small and spread across all utility customers in New England. He also declined to answer specific questions about Hawkeye’s charges.

“At this point, we’re preparing an answer to the claim,” he said. “This is a complex project, and we think we’ve acted properly.”

The legal action is an unwelcome side note to CMP’s celebration last Friday marking the halfway point in building the $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Project. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage attended a media event hosted by CMP in Lewiston, where a new substation was built. On Monday, CMP began moving a 286-ton autotransformer from Wells to a substation in Kennebunk.

One of the largest construction jobs in Maine’s history, the project has directly put more than 2,700 people to work and created spinoff business throughout the economy. The five-year effort is upgrading 452 miles of the transmission grid between Orrington and the New Hampshire border.

But not everything has gone smoothly, based on the complaint by Hawkeye. The company is installing poles in the southern section of the project, which covers York and Cumberland counties.

According to the complaint, Hawkeye is required to place portable timber platforms known as mats in the power line corridor to support heavy equipment traveling in or over wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. Hawkeye had planned to proceed with “matting” and pole installation “from north to south, in an orderly, sequential and efficient manner.”

But because of the delays in getting material from CMP, Hawkeye has needed to work in an inefficient, piecemeal manner. That resulted in the company needing to place far more mats than it had estimated, which added to equipment and labor costs.

During the project, Hawkeye submitted numerous work-order change requests to CMP, but according to the complaint, CMP refused to issue the changes to compensate the company. One submission, for delays through Aug. 12, 2012, totaled nearly $16 million.

“To date, CMP has failed and refused to fairly compensate Hawkeye for the delays and disruptions caused by CMP and for additional work directed by CMP,” the complaint says.

Hawkeye is requesting that the court enter a judgment against CMP for an amount to be determined at trial, but currently estimated to be at least $43 million.

Hawkeye also says it has furnished labor, services, equipment and materials with a value in excess of $45 million. It says CMP has paid, or agreed to pay, less than $25.3 million.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]

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