WATERVILLE — Roughly two-thirds of residential natural gas connections installed by Summit Natural Gas of Maine last year in Waterville, Fairfield and Madison failed a visual inspection and had to be replaced, according to a the most recent report submitted by the company.

Out of the 384 electro-fusion tees inspected in the three towns, 256 failed a visual inspection, according to the report, an almost 67 percent failure rate. Electrofusion tees attach service lines for individual customers to the main gas distribution line. Installing tees incorrectly can lead to a gas leak.

The way the tees were installed violated rules about proper installation procedures, and staff members from the Public Utilities Commission’s gas safety wing are waiting for Summit to complete replacement work before finalizing a review and recommending possible sanctions, said Harry Lanphear, the commission’s executive director.

“From the company’s view, the inspections are complete,” Lanphear said.

In an email Friday afternoon, Summit spokeswoman Tammy Poissonnier said the company expects to complete all the replacements by fall. She also said that “we are in the process of replacing some tees in other municipalities within our service territory.” No details on what other communities were effected were given.

When it submitted its report on July 7, Summit reported it had replaced 184 of the improperly installed tees, leaving the rest to replace.

“Once that is complete, we will move forward with our final report,” Lanphear said on Friday. “Ultimately, it is the commissioners’ decision on how to proceed.”

The high failure rate was not a surprise to the utility commission.

“Out understanding is that some of the contractors Summit used were doing this work incorrectly,” Lanphear said. “Because of that, the numbers were really not that surprising.”

The inspection program started last December, when the natural gas company reported that an electrofusion tee had blown off a main line on Lawrence Street in Fairfield after gas was added to the line. Another tee was found leaking gas in Waterville a day later.

Poissonnier said a tool was used improperly during installation.

She said when installing an electrofusion tapping tee, part of the pipe has to be scraped away to get access to the clean plastic underneath and secure a solid fusion.

“Some contractors were using an approved tool, but did not remove the correct amount of material,” she said. “This resulted in a fusion that may weaken over time.

“While there is no immediate issue with these tees, Summit proactively made these replacements to ensure the long-term integrity of our system.”

The tee failures were found after Summit was cited by the utility commission for using unqualified employees from TetraTech, a construction company with offices in Portland, who installed electrofusion tees after one of the tees blew off an 8-inch main line near the commission offices in Hallowell. The tee failures in the Waterville area were linked to CCB Inc., a Westbrook-based construction firm. Summit said in April that it no longer is working with CCB and contracted with ETTI, a utility construction firm, to replace the tees.

After Summit reported the December tee accidents, the commission staff required the company to conduct a safety inspection program on all the tees CCB had installed in Waterville, Fairfield and Madison. The program included digging up every tee and visually checking to make sure it was installed correctly. Tees that failed the inspection were replaced.

Summit started the inspection and replacement program in April. Customers were warned that gas service might be shut off temporarily while tees were replaced.

According to its report, Summit intended to inspect 430 tees in the three communities but elected not to inspect 46 of them. The vast majority of the tees that weren’t inspected, 30, were explained as a “foreman pass” in its report. Poissonnier said in her email Friday afternoon that the 46 “did not need to be inspected because they were installed by crews who followed the proper procedures.”

Lanphear said the bulk of the tees are “a situation where the company feels that the foreman in charge of certain services has never had an issue doing this work and this foreman’s work is perfectly acceptable.”

“The company has elected not to look at them.”

The company’s decision not to inspect the tees will be considered in the commission’s review, Lanphear added.

The remaining 16 tees were not inspected because they were either not connected to a customer or had been incorrectly coded and weren’t scheduled to be installed until 2015, Lanphear added.

When news of the tee issue came out last spring, Summit said that it had increased greatly the numbers of inspections and quality control measures to prevent future problems. The utilities commission also conducts random checks on pipeline installation to verify work done by Summit and its contractors.

The commission doesn’t think the electrofusion tee problem expanded to Summit’s service area in the Portland suburbs in Cumberland County, Lanphear said.

Summit already is facing a $30,000 fine for the incorrectly installed tees in Hallowell recommended by the utility commission’s gas safety manager Gary Kenny. Lanphear said the Waterville electrofusion tee issue is related to the Hallowell case.

Poissonier on Friday said in her email the company “cannot provide additional comments about the contractor or legal issues.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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