AUGUSTA — Natural gas companies plan another big summer of installing pipe in Augusta and elsewhere in the Kennebec Valley as soon as the snow-covered, frozen ground finally thaws.

Competitors Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas plan to focus on expanding the backbone transmission lines their contractors installed along major routes last year. This year, they will install smaller lines to extend onto other streets and into residential neighborhoods.

“What happened this past year is different than what will be happening now,” said Michael Duguay, director of business development for Augusta-based Summit Natural Gas of Maine. “From here on out our focus will now go to residential.”

In the coming construction season, Summit plans to put in 85 miles of distribution pipe in the Kennebec Valley between Augusta and Madison. The firm estimates this season’s work will put Summit pipe in front of roughly 4,500 homes and 700 businesses.

Brunswick-based Maine Natural Gas plans to put pipe in front of more than 500 businesses and homes, most of them in Augusta, this season.

“We plan to keep building pipe in Augusta wherever it is economically feasible,” said Dan Hucko, spokesman for Maine Natural Gas parent company Iberdrola USA, a Spain-based company that also owns Central Maine Power Co.

While roadside digging and other construction work for the pipelines still is going to be disruptive, it’ll be so in a different way, officials said.

Much of it will be quicker, for one thing, with it taking as few as two or three days to put in a section of the smaller pipe coming off the larger main line, compared to the weeks it took to install some portions of the larger line underground.

Duguay said Summit hopes to have crews back to work installing pipe in mid-April, or as soon as the ground thaws.

Maine Natural Gas has had crews doing installations through the winter and just last week connected the Bank of Maine Ice Vault, Spare Time Bowling and The Ground Round, all grouped together on Whitten Road in Hallowell.

Hucko said pipeline construction crews will start back up when the frost is out of the roads.

Maine Natural Gas’ backbone pipeline, completed last November, runs for 21.4 miles from Windsor through Augusta to MaineGeneral Medical Center.

He said Maine Natural Gas has signed up 236 customers in the Augusta area, with 134 already connected and heating with gas. Of those 134, 47 are residential, including some multi-family buildings, and 87 are commercial properties.

Summit has 100 miles of pipe in the Kennebec Valley, 68 of it steel transmission line from East Pittston to Madison, and 38 miles of plastic distribution lines in eight communities – one mile in Randolph, two miles in Hallowell, four in Gardiner, 15 in Augusta, six in Waterville, six in Fairfield and four in Madison.

In an interview with the Kennebec Journal last week, Duguay said Summit now will be more cautious about publicly announcing when it will bring its pipeline to different areas. Several newspaper stories have highlighted missed deadlines, particularly regarding service at Augusta’s Cony High School, government buildings in Augusta and Madison Paper, the firm’s Madison anchor customer.

He said it’s difficult to know how long it will take to run pipeline because, unlike power lines, workers can’t see what obstacles they may face underground.

“This has been a really difficult project,” Duguay said. “Some days you get 20 feet of production. Some days you get 200 feet.”

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

kedwards@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @kedwardskj