Summit Natural Gas of Maine said Wednesday it will reimburse customers in central and southern Maine who paid thousands of dollars in deposits for natural gas conversions to Dave Ireland Builders, a Howland-based company that closed last week.

It’s not clear how many customers were affected by the company’s closure, but the number was estimated at “less than 100” by the attorney for the owner of the company. Many live in the southern Maine towns of Yarmouth, Falmouth and Cumberland, where dozens of residents say they lost deposits between $1,500 and $3,500, but residents in Gardiner, Hallowell and Waterville also reported losing deposits on natural gas conversion work that was never done.

Summit said it didn’t know how many customers lost money to Dave Ireland Builders LLC because the company is an independent contractor.

Dave Ireland Jr., owner and president of the company, partially blamed the company’s sudden closing on Summit. He said in a statement released by his attorney Wednesday that Summit’s delays installing service lines and lack of payments from Summit for air sealing work done earlier this year led to his closing.

Ireland also blamed the closing on struggles keeping up with boiler installations in a Cumberland subdivision and “substantial business costs” attributed to service calls from customers saying Summit wasn’t returning their phone calls.

Ireland said in the statement that his first priority is to return the deposits to his customers.

However, Ireland was responsible for his own business failings, Summit said in an emailed response to questions.

Although Summit included the company on its list of vendors and marketed the company’s services, Summit says it wasn’t affiliated with Dave Ireland Builders. The company was among the list of independent contractors made available by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and approved by the Better Business Bureau and Efficiency Maine, Summit said in a release Monday.

But Summit plans to reimburse its customers who lost deposits to Dave Ireland Builders to allow them to move forward with their conversions, it said Wednesday.

Michael Duguay, director of business development at Summit Natural Gas of Maine, said in a statement Wednesday that the company feels bad for what its customers are going through and wants to assure them the business supports them in their decisions to switch to natural gas.

“We do not want to put our customers in an uncomfortable financial situation, especially during the holiday season. We feel strongly that this is the right thing to do,” Duguay said.

Duguay and a spokesman for Summit didn’t respond to questions about Ireland’s claims. Both voice mailboxes for Dave Ireland Builders’ phone numbers were full, and Ireland’s attorney, Thomas Brown of Eaton Peabody, said Ireland wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday.

John Shaw, of Gardiner, who paid a $4,700 deposit to Dave Ireland Builders, said he was glad to hear Summit plans to reimburse him and other customers, but that the ordeal won’t be over until the customers get their money back.

Shaw, 63, signed a contract with Dave Ireland Builders in September for the company to replace boilers at Shaw’s home and rental property in Gardiner. He said it makes sense for Summit to reimburse the customers because Summit won’t be able to sell natural gas to people without the conversions.

“I think that’s great if they can stand behind their process,” Shaw said.

Impacted customers are asked to visit Summit’s website or call the company at 621-8000 to begin the reimbursement process, which will be handled by a third-party intermediary.

According to Summit’s website, customers will need to provide proof of contract with Summit for natural gas service, proof of contract or quote for conversion services from Dave Ireland Builders and proof that a deposit was made to Dave Ireland Builders for a conversion.

Customers will be required to sign release of claims and assignment of rights agreements after their paperwork is approved and will receive either reimbursement checks or transfers of the funds once their claims are processed.

Geri Doyle, a real estate agent in Gardiner, paid Dave Ireland Builders a $2,200 deposit in September to replace her furnace, but the work wasn’t scheduled to be done until Dec. 1. She said she’s thrilled that Summit will be reimbursing her the deposit because she expected the money to be lost after hearing the business closed last week.

“That’s just a beautiful gift because it really does take all the pain out of it, because even if you have to wait a little longer to get a furnace, we don’t have to come up with extra, extra money,” Doyle said.

In Hallowell, John Bastey gave $2,200 to Dave Ireland Builders to convert three boilers in the apartment building he owns and lives in. Bastey, 69, had his installation date pushed back three times, once because Summit hadn’t hooked gas up to his street yet, he said.

Soon after the news broke this week that the company had shut down, Bastey said Natural Gas Conversion Company, a subsidiary of Summit, called him to set up a time to come look at his boilers.

Because of the quick response by Summit, Bastey said he thought a reimbursement was a possibility.

As of Wednesday morning the Office of the Maine Attorney General had been contacted by around 50 customers complaining they had paid deposits to Dave Ireland Builders for natural gas conversions, according to the spokesman for the office.

Attorney General Janet Mills said Tuesday that Ireland has been in contact with her office. She said her office would try to resolve the complaints informally, but could take action against the company for unfair trade practices.

The spokesman for her office didn’t respond to a question about whether Summit’s announcement has any effect on the investigation. State offices closed at 1 p.m. Tuesday because of a snowstorm.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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