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.”

Minkos declined to answer questions about what caused the construction delay, or details of the work, or the contractors performing it.

“Our construction schedule has been impacted by elements that are not uncommon in a project of this magnitude, such as later than expected start, weather delays and unexpected construction complications,” Minkos said by email late Monday.

He said phase one of Summit’s Kennebec Valley project is “99 percent complete,” and the firm expects to have natural gas available in Augusta by mid-December, Gardiner by the end of December, and Fairfield, Waterville and Madison by mid-January of next year.

In Madison, Russ Drechsel, president and chief executive officer of Madison Paper Industries, said the company is not using natural gas even though they were expected to be connected by Nov. 1. They remain on their existing fuel sources of compressed natural gas and oil.

The company has been meeting with Summit officials weekly to discuss the project, but Drechsel said he did not want to comment further on why it hasn’t received natural gas or the specifics of negotiations with Summit.

“I would prefer being on the natural gas pipeline,” Drechsel said. “The cleaner burning, the reliability, the efficiency of it is just so much better. We are anxiously awaiting.”

Minkos said Summit is committed to meeting the obligations outlined in its contract with Madison Paper and “In January, we look forward to starting a long-term relationship with UPM Madison and bringing natural gas to the region.”

The riverside stretch of Route 27 through Randolph, which has numerous potholes and a zig-zagging swath of somewhat uneven pavement in the area where crews have been working to install pipe, is awaiting a new coat of pavement once work there is complete.

Bob Henderson, chairman of the selectmen in Randolph, said Summit officials have been good about keeping town officials up to date on the project. He said he was aware there had been a “changing of the guard” as new construction crews came onto the site. He said he was told Schmid had moved on, and a new firm, which he knew only as DOC, was brought in to finish up the work, which he thinks should wrap up soon.

When it does, Henderson said company officials told the town Route 27 — known locally as Water Street — would be repaved. He said he’s gotten “a couple calls, nothing drastic” from residents concerned about the project and condition of the road.

“They said they’re going to get that paved. The hot top plant stayed open so they can get to that,” Henderson said. “They’re waiting for the weather to settle down so they can get it paved. The pipes are all tied in. Hopefully they’ll be done soon.”

Minkos said Summit is working to complete construction in the Randolph area as soon as possible and would work with the Department of Transportation to make sure the roads are repaired.

Regional School Unit 11, according to Jon Stonier, director of operations, plans to convert its middle and high schools in Gardiner, as well as Laura E. Richards elementary school, also in Gardiner, to natural gas as soon as possible.

However, Stonier said all of the burners at the schools aren’t yet ready for gas to start flowing anyway, so a bit more of a wait won’t cause the district major issues heating those buildings.

Stonier said the district plans to keep one oil burner in each building, with one gas burner in each when gas is available.

He said Summit officials told him Monday the company had finished connecting the pipeline together and just needed to finish up a regulator station in Randolph before being able to turn on the gas.

He said the district’s contract with Summit doesn’t have a deadline, but officials told him gas could be flowing by Dec. 15.

“We’re happy with the 15th. We couldn’t get our burners in before then anyway,” Stonier said. “If we can get hooked up by the 15th, we’re hoping to save about $75,000 in fuel costs.”

St. Pierre said the main Summit pipeline in Augusta is complete, including pipes up to city buildings that will use it. But without the connection in Randolph being completed to link to an existing Maritimes and Northeast pipeline in Windsor, there’s no way to get gas to Augusta.

At least, not in Summit’s pipeline.

Competitor Maine Natural Gas’ pipeline into Augusta started flowing gas Oct. 24 to MaineGeneral’s new Alfond Center for Health in north Augusta.

Dan Hucko, spokesman for Maine Natural Gas’ parent company, Iberdrola USA, which also owns Central Maine Power, said the company expects to start delivering gas to several state facilities in Augusta as soon as the state buildings are ready to take it.

Hucko said Maine Natural Gas’ main pipeline is complete, and the company is currently installing spur lines and connecting customers in the Augusta area. He said the firm has signed-up more than 250 state, commercial and residential customers in the Augusta area. He expects some residential customers to be connected by the end of December.

As anticipated dates for natural gas arrive in other places, some anchor businesses are preparing for possible delays, while others have said they are unconcerned about potential setbacks.

At Inland Hospital in Waterville, natural gas is scheduled to arrive mid-December, but the hospital is expecting there may be delays and is prepared to heat facilities in case delays do arise, said spokeswoman Sara Dyer. Over the next few weeks the hospital is converting oil burners to be able to burn both natural gas and oil, she said.

The hospital is investing $200,000 in the conversion project, but once the project is in place, they expect to save $150,000 annually on fuel costs, said Dyer.

At Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan, spokeswoman Joanna Rieke said there have been no delays in connecting the paper mill to natural gas. The original projected May 2014 date for when the mill will be on natural gas remains in place, she said.

At Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, a spokeswoman said the hospital is expecting to have natural gas by next summer and there are no concerns about delays.

Keith Edwards – 621-5647 [email protected] Rachel Ohm – 612-2368 [email protected]

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