WATERVILLE — Projected dates for when a pipeline will start delivering natural gas to area businesses and municipalities have changed, but officials from Summit Natural Gas of Maine say the $350 million project is still on track to reduce area heating costs in the next few months.

The company has contracts to deliver natural gas to about 500 area businesses in 17 communities in the Kennebec Valley, and it hopes its pipelines will deliver natural gas to Augusta and Hallowell in the next two weeks, said Mike Minkos, president of Summit Natural Gas, on Tuesday.

By early January, a regulator station in Randolph should be completed and service can begin to Gardiner; and by mid- to late January, the company anticipated it will be delivering to Waterville and communities to the north, Minkos said.

This is the second time officials from the company have said delays have caused them to push back projected dates for delivery of natural gas.

“It’s very difficult to explain the magnitude of a project like this. It’s a big undertaking, and it is not unusual to have problems or delays caused by the weather and other issues,” Minkos said.

The company has signed up more 1,400 customers, according to the company’s website, and expects to serve 15,000.

On Tuesday, officials from Summit as well as local and state leaders gathered at Thomas College, which this week announced a contract with the gas company to supply the college campus with natural gas.

The original schedule for the pipeline called for its completion in early November. In late November, a dispute with now-departed contractor Schmid Pipeline Construction Inc. of Mayville, Wis., caused some delays in Norridgewock and Randolph.

On Tuesday, Minkos said drilling is scheduled to resume in both locations this week.

Originally, the company had projected delivery of natural gas by Nov. 1 to Madison Paper Industries in Madison as well as several municipal and school buildings in Augusta and Gardiner.

In Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11, officials had hoped to have natural gas from the pipeline by now at three schools in Gardiner, although the school district has not completed installation of natural gas burners that will be used in the new heating system, Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said. She said the district is expecting to have the burners installed and natural gas flowing by Jan. 1.

In Augusta, Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, didn’t return a call for comment on Tuesday about when the city expected natural gas might be available to the Augusta City Center, Capital Area Technical Center and Buker Community Center. The Augusta School Department also did not return a call for comment on when gas might be available for Cony High School.

Summit officials said they expect to deliver natural gas to Augusta by the end of the month, although contracts between the city and Summit originally called for delivery to begin Nov.1.

In Waterville, an Inland Hospital spokeswoman earlier this month said the organization originally had expected to receive natural gas by mid-December, and other businesses north to Madison said they have been planning to receive natural gas in 2014 and expect there will be no further delays.

In the last 12 months, Summit has completed 100 miles of natural gas infrastructure, including 68 miles of steel transmission pipeline and 32 miles of distribution pipelines in Augusta, Fairfield, Gardiner, Hallowell, Madison, Randolph and Waterville, Minkos said.

“We’re here to give you gas, and we’re getting very close. The market is tremendous and natural gas is being welcomed here in the Kennebec Valley with great resolve,” Minkos said. He said the company has negotiated more than 1,500 contracts to supply natural gas, including a recent contract with Thomas College. The college announced earlier this week that natural gas would be part of a campuswide expansion plan that includes new investments in clean energy.

The estimated savings that can be generated by converting the campus to natural gas also will allow the college to keep tuition costs down for future students, said Laurie Lachance, president of Thomas College.

“We’re very proud to partner with Summit because we recognize that by partnering, we provide an opportunity not just to ourselves, to bring our costs down, but to the central Maine region,” she said.

Among the gas company’s other customers are some large area employers, including Huhtamaki Inc. in Waterville, Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan.

On Tuesday, Mike Earnest, president and chief operating officer of Colorado-based Summit Utilities, the parent company of Summit Natural Gas of Maine, also said the company is working on expanding distribution lines to areas of southern Maine including Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth in 2014, an investment of $110 million. Work also will continue in 2014 to install more than 1,500 miles of distribution lines to residents, he said.

Among those in attendance Tuesday was Gov. Paul LePage, who said the $350 million project will benefit Maine people by lowering the cost of energy and is one way the state is investing in infrastructure.

“With natural gas, our state’s economy is poised to take off. Right outside this window, you see Thomas College, a university, doing an infrastructure project. We are poised to be a prosperous state,” LePage said.

Other local and municipal officials in attendance Tuesday said they also were looking forward to the distribution of natural gas.

Sen. Rodney Whittemore, of Skowhegan, said the distribution of natural gas would bring prosperity to the area for municipalities, consumers and businesses.

“One of our major stumbling blocks in attracting new businesses in the area is the high cost of energy. I think natural gas will be a major attraction for new business, as well as a savings opportunity for existent business,” he said.

Norridgewock Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said she has been in communication with Summit officials about delays in drilling in Noridgewock. The intersection of U.S. Route 201A and Skowhegan Road is the site of one of 12 drilling sites along the pipeline’s main transmission line from Pittsfield to Madison. Drilling was delayed in late November when a dispute arose with contractor Schmid Pipeline Construction, the details of which Summit has not released.

“We have been monitoring the traffic piece and making sure everything runs safely and smoothly. I can see their frustration and have faith that the natural gas is coming,” Flewelling said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368[email protected]

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