AUGUSTA — The state gave contradictory and ambiguous direction to companies hoping to win a contract to supply natural gas service in central Maine and the scoring system used by a review team was unfair.

That’s what the losing bidder argues in documents filed with the state.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine Inc. filed a request Friday for a stay with the state Bureau of General Services. The company wants the state to hold off on working with winning bidder — Maine Natural Gas Corp. — on a new pipeline and distribution project until an appeal has been considered.

A formal appeal is expected to be filed later this week.

“The failure to grant a stay will result in a serious competitive disadvantage and a lost business opportunity for Summit to compete with respect to a natural gas pipeline for the Kennebec Valley and a contract to deliver natural gas to the state,” wrote Summit attorneys Brett Witham and James Cohen.

Last month, the state selected Maine Natural Gas, a Brunswick-based subsidiary of Central Maine Power Co. parent company Iberdrola USA, to build a pipeline system in the Augusta area. The company said it would spend $19.3 million and create about 40 jobs over the next two years.

It would first serve state property on both sides of the Kennebec River in Augusta, with the potential to expand to residential users.

When it bid on the job, Summit said it would invest more than $150 million with service to 15,000 customers within four years, and more than 430 jobs created directly as a result of its more ambitious project to install a gas line from the Augusta area to Madison.

Dan Hucko, an Iberdrola spokesman, said they are still analyzing the request for a stay, but that Summit should have raised questions about the process before a contract was awarded, not after the fact.

“Summit’s delaying tactics continue to jeopardize the timely delivery of natural gas service to the customers in Augusta and the rest of the Kennebec Valley,” he wrote in an email Monday. “It’s also important to note that (Maine Natural Gas) will self-finance this project and is not asking for TIFs or any other form of government incentives.”

Hucko was referring to tax breaks that 10 of 12 communities in central Maine have agreed to if Summit’s project moved forward.

In the request for a stay, Summit argues that it believes it can win the appeal because:

* the request for proposals was “contradictory on its face and fatally ambiguous with regard to scope”;

* the winning bidder didn’t meet all the requirements because it failed to say it would provide service to the Gardiner area;

* fair scoring for jobs was impossible because the proposals were widely divergent;

* scoring for cost savings was impossible, also because the proposals were very different.

Summit attorneys also point out an executive order signed May 1 by Gov. Paul LePage that requires state requests for proposals worth more than $100,000 to include scoring criteria that considers a project’s expected impact on the state economy. They say the state Bureau of General Services failed to abide the order when it awarded more points to Maine Natural Gas for creating fewer jobs than Summit.

“Had the state properly measured economic impact, there would be no alternative but to rate Summit higher than MNG,” the attorneys wrote. “That this did not happen appears to be a clear abuse of discretion and a direct violation of the governor’s executive order.”

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, declined to comment Monday.

Alan Henry, director of special projects for the Bureau of General Services, said it’s not unusual for large projects to be appealed.

“If there’s millions of dollars, somebody’s going to appeal,” he said. “The bigger-sized contracts tend to get appealed as a matter of principle.”

Henry said he had not read the request for a stay, and did not want to comment on Summit’s assertions that the request for proposals was poorly written.

And while Summit expressed concerns about the emphasis on job creation, that portion of the bid only accounted for 5 percent of the points awarded. The scoring breakdown was 35 percent for cost savings; 25 percent for experience, references, and capacity; 25 percent technical proposal; 10 percent fiscal stability; 5 percent job creation/economic impact.

Last week, Augusta Mayor William Stokes wrote to the governor to ask him to intervene in the process, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the entire region to benefit.”

The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments also weighed in, calling the decision to go with Maine Natural Gas “a major blow to the prospect of having natural gas widely available in the region.” The council spent more than a year working out the tax break deals with central Maine communities to help finance the Summit project.

Susan Cover — 621-5643

[email protected]