Summit Natural Gas of Maine said Wednesday it will reimburse more than 100 people who lost deposits to now-defunct Dave Ireland Builders LLC for work that was never completed.

Although the utility maintains it has no official relationship with David C. Ireland Jr., Summit said in an emailed statement that it hopes the reimbursements will help customers “move forward with their lives and their conversions as soon as possible.”

Ireland, however, blamed Summit for the closing of his business and issued a statement enumerating how Summit allegedly failed to live up to its promises to him.

Ireland said Summit’s delayed installation schedule, changes in how it reimbursed him for air-sealing work, and problems with boiler installations in one Cumberland neighborhood forced him to wait to line up customers. He also said he ran up high service costs because customers were calling his business for help after Summit refused to return their calls.

Ireland, whose business was based in Howland, laid off employees and shut down operations last week.

“I want to apologize to my customers for having to abruptly shut down my business,” Ireland wrote. “My first priority is to take care of those homeowners and get their deposits back to them as soon as possible.”

When he was told that Summit planned to repay Ireland’s customers, Thomas Brown, Ireland’s attorney, said he advised his client to prepare to hand over information about who is owed what, if the gas company requests it.

“I think his reaction is what mine was, that it’s good they’re getting paid,” Brown said. “But the proof will be in the pudding.”

A Summit spokesman responded to a request for comment with an email saying the company would not address Ireland’s allegations.

To receive a refund from Summit, customers must provide proof that they have already signed up for natural gas service, proof of a contract or quote from Ireland, and proof of payment to him. If Summit approves the paperwork, customers will have to sign a release of claims, according to Summit’s website.

“We feel badly for what our customers are going through and want to make sure they know we support them in their decision to switch to natural gas,” Mike Duguay, director of business development at Summit, said in the written statement.

Through Brown, Ireland declined to be interviewed by the Portland Press Herald for the third straight day.

Among customers and community members, reaction to Summit’s decision was swift.

Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane sent a brief email to some residents and reporters about the development.

“AWESOME NEWS!!!!!” Shane wrote.

Peter Sillin, who paid about $2,500 to Ireland, said he was relieved to know that he would get his money back.

“A gas company, perhaps more than lots of other companies, requires customers to have confidence in their ability to be reliable and safe,” said Sillin, who lives in Yarmouth. “Going through an experience like this gives rise to questions about whether they have their customers’ best interests ahead of their own monetary interests.”

Now, he said, Summit has “switched the story line.”

“I think it’s important and necessary that they’ve done it, and at the same time I’m pleased that they’ve done it, too,” Sillin said.

The announcement came after public officials in Cumberland, home to many of the people who had paid deposits to Ireland, strongly urged Duguay at a public meeting Monday night to “make it right” with Summit’s customers.

Summit did not say how much money it plans to disburse or how it would locate affected customers and distribute the funds. Town officials had estimated that 100 to 200 homeowners, mostly in Cumberland, gave deposits to Ireland for home heating conversion work that was never done.

Brown, Ireland’s attorney, said Summit originally contacted Ireland with the promise of plentiful work converting homes to natural gas.

“He was doing well, was fairly healthy, and as I understand it, he got in bed with Summit, which looked very promising, and assurances were made and (Ireland) doesn’t feel they were kept,” Brown said.

He said he was not aware of any written agreement between Summit and Ireland.

“I’m not aware that there was a formal written contract, as opposed to a good old-fashioned handshake assurance,” Brown said.

Summit maintains that it had no formal relationship with Ireland, despite reports that Summit employees promoted Ireland’s business in marketing materials and referred Summit customers to Ireland.

Ireland told WCSH-TV on Tuesday that he took steps to try to keep his business afloat.

“I’ve liquidated assets – personal assets – to try to keep things going based on promises that Summit Natural Gas was telling me about customers and service lines,” Ireland said.

He said in his written statement that he planned to repay the deposits. A spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said Ireland has been in contact with the office’s investigators.

Whether Summit could have been held liable for recommending Ireland is unclear, according to two legal experts.

Mitch Tannenbaum, general counsel for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, said Summit’s dealings with contractors do not fall within the purview of utility regulators.

Summit has no legal or regulatory responsibility to respond to public concerns about any possible dealings with Ireland, Tannenbaum said.

But a Boston University law professor said that if Summit knew Ireland’s business was failing, it could be held liable for continuing to recommend him to its customers.

Professor Keith Hylton said customers would have to show in court that Summit had a degree of “foreseeability,” and that because of the company’s recommendation, customers skipped the customary reference checks they would otherwise have undertaken had a trusted entity not offered the referral.

“If (Summit) had enough information about the financial condition of this company that they could predict with a very high degree of probability that the customer would lose their money,” the company could be responsible for the losses, Hylton said.

On Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling that affirmed a protection-from-abuse order requested by the mother of a female relative of Ireland who accused Ireland of sexual abuse. Ireland had challenged the order, issued by the Presque Isle District Court in 2012. Protection-from-abuse orders are civil matters and do not indicate guilt of a crime.

Ireland said in his statement that the closure of his business had nothing to do with his case before the court. He also strongly denied the allegations of abuse.

“The allegations for the basis of the protection order are so over the top and were not substantiated by medical and physical evidence nor by (the alleged victim’s) testimony to the judge,” Ireland wrote.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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