AUGUSTA — A subsidiary of a Colorado-based company has agreed to buy the assets of the firm planning to build a natural gas pipeline in central Maine.

Officials say Summit Natural Gas of Maine Inc.’s project likely will be much bigger than what was initially proposed.

“What Summit told us … is their project is going to be a massive expansion of the network,” said Joshua Reny, Fairfield’s town manager. “They’re going to be doing a huge amount of marketing in signing up customers from Richmond to Madison.”

Mark Isaacson, principal in Kennebec Valley Gas Company, said Friday a purchase and sale agreement with the subsidiary of the Colorado-based holding company Summit Utilities, was submitted to the Maine Public Utilities Commission on June 1 and is pending approval.

Isaacson didn’t disclose terms of the purchase, but said Portland-based Kennebec Valley Gas Co. will be dissolving over the next few months and partners in that company will assist Summit with public dealings with government agencies and communities the pipeline is set to pass through in central Maine.

“As I have said many times, we have been searching for a company that has the financial and technical capacity to build this system and I believe we have found that in Summit Utilities,” Isaacson said. “We will continue to be involved with the project until it’s online.”

Isaacson said many local municipal officials learned of the sale at a Thursday meeting in Fairfield. Town officials from Belgrade, Farmingdale and Fairfield said Summit officials told them they plan on serving 25,000 customers in the first few years of the pipeline’s operation.

They said that would up service substantially to residential and small commercial areas, compared to Kennebec Valley Gas Co.’s original plan to mainly serve large commercial users along and near the main route, such as the Marketplace and the new MaineGeneral Medical Center, both in north Augusta. Those plans called for a 56-mile, $85 million pipeline from Richmond to Madison, with distribution lines connecting to certain users. Local officials said the new Summit plan calls for many more distribution lines.

In an email, Eric Earnest, Summit’s chief operating officer, said the exact distance of all distribution lines hasn’t been determined and will be settled later in the year after more talks with potential customers.

Earnest said the rest of this year will be spent getting permits and rights-of-way, and much of the project should be built in 2013.

He said 400 to 500 construction jobs will be created initially, with 1,000 long-term jobs afterward in construction, contractors who convert appliances and support. He said three engineering firms have already been contracted and are working on engineering and permits.

“We’re very excited about this project going forward,” Earnest said. “We’re going to essentially reach further out with our distribution techniques.”

Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he met with Summit officials Thursday and was impressed with their expanded vision.

“Bringing natural gas to this part of Maine … is a major goal of ours this year,” he said. “They seem to be a very strongly backed organization.”

Who is Summit?

The purchase is being undertaken by Summit Natural Gas of Maine, Inc., a corporation that filed with the Maine Department of Secretary of State in March. Their parent company operates in Colorado and Missouri.

A fact sheet provided by the company says they serve nearly 34,000 customers in both states and had 1,950 miles of mainline as of Jan. 1. The sheet says they’ve grown quickly, expanding from just over 9,300 customers in 2007 to their current total. They had been negotiating financing for the Kennebec Valley project for much of the year.

The Kennebec Valley pipeline has been slated to run from Richmond to Madison, and the 12 communities affected by the project have been asked to grant tax breaks — called tax-increment financing districts, or TIFs — that would return 80 percent of property taxes to the company for the first 10 years and 60 percent the next five years.

According to data cited in a January article in the Maine Municipal Association’s newsletter, TIFs regionwide would add up to more than $15 million in sheltered benefits for the developer if they won them all.

The towns of Sidney and Richmond have rejected the TIFs for pipeline infrastructure, while Oakland, Fairfield, Hallowell, Augusta, Waterville, Skowhegan and Gardiner have accepted.

In Belgrade, residents will vote Tuesday on whether to grant a TIF. Farmingdale citizens will vote on their TIF on June 22, the day before their annual Town Meeting.

Details of the tax breaks may have to be amended with Summit’s entrance, say town officials who were at the Thursday meeting in Fairfield.

Reny, the Fairfield town manager, called the sale very exciting, but said because Summit’s map for the pipeline may deviate from the one Kennebec Valley Gas Co. has been floating, changes may have to be made.

“Most likely next year, there’s a chance towns might have to amend their TIF agreements,” he said. “This poses some problems, but this isn’t impossible to overcome.”

Belgrade Town Manager Gregory Gill said he’s not sure how the sale of the company would affect the vote on the TIF.

“I’ve got some residents who don’t want any pipes in the ground in Belgrade. For some people, it’s going to be more upsetting if they put more pipes in,” he said. “Other people, they’re going to be happy about it. You really can’t tell at this point.”

Farmingdale selectman David Sirois said the sale to Summit should only have a positive impact on their prospects for a TIF in his town. He said he had no reservations about the change.

“This is a much better company,” he said. “They’re very experienced. They’re in a better position than KV Gas. It’s going to be better for everybody.”

Staff Writer Mechele Cooper contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632

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