AUGUSTA — City councilors selected Summit Natural Gas of Maine  — the only bidder remaining — to provide gas to heat city and school buildings Thursday.

Councilors voted unanimously to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to enter into an agreement with Summit Natural Gas of Maine, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Summit Utilities, with the final terms to be negotiated and approved by Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney.

The city initially had two bidders for the project, Summit and Maine Natural Gas, both of which are installing pipelines to supply customers in the Augusta area. Brunswick-based Maine Natural Gas announced Tuesday it was withdrawing its bid to out of frustration with the city’s bid process.

There is some urgency in getting gas to city property, notably Cony High School and Capital Area Technical Center, which share a building. The oil-fueled heating system in the city is being removed and a new gas-burning system will be installed by October.

The new system needs gas, Bridgeo said.

He said the alternatives to heating with gas, such as potentially using propane to run the new system until gas is available, would cost more and could also pose safety issues.

The school budget includes more than $100,000 in savings from switching Cony and CATC from oil to gas by the time heating is needed this year.

Consultants hired by the city to analyze the bids from Summit and Maine Natural Gas said they were assured by both companies that the  pipelines would reach the Cony and CATC campus by the cold months.

Public Works Director Lesley Jones said she would coordinate plans with Summit officials to repave Pierce Drive, the potholed, crumbling entrance to the Cony and CATC campus, to try to avoid the firm ripping up new pavement to install its pipeline to the school.

Mayor William Stokes noted the city’s selection of Summit is only to provide fuel to city and school buildings. Residents and businesses in the city who want natural gas can still choose either Summit or Maine Natural Gas.

“We’re not directing anyone to do business with any particular provider, that is up to residents and businesses if they choose to do so,” Stokes said.

Maine Natural Gas officials said the city violated its own rules and the terms of its request for proposals from the gas companies by posting the bids online, then allowing Summit to change its proposal and lower the price it offered to the city.

Dan Hucko, a spokesman for Maine Natural Gas parent company Iberdrola USA, said Tuesday Summit used the online bid documents to see what Maine Natural Gas had proposed to charge the city, then lowered its rates to just below Maine Natural’s rates. Summit’s initial proposal rates to the city were higher than MNG’s.

Stokes said the bids were posted on the city’s website because city councilors had made it clear they wanted the selection process of a firm to provide natural gas to be as open to the public as possible, because of the significance of the arrival of gas to the area and the public interest it has generated.

Keith Edwards  — 621-5647
[email protected]

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