Summit Natural Gas of Maine will temporarily suspend service to its customers in the Waterville area as it inspects equipment believed to have been improperly installed by its contractors.

Starting this week, the company will begin examining 400 tees that connect service lines at residences and businesses with main gas lines in Waterville, Fairfield and Madison. Natural gas will be shut off for up to 12 hours to replace many of the connections.

The company has known about the problem since November, but decided to wait to start work until the spring, when natural gas service interruption would be less disruptive, said Summit communications manager Tammy Poissonnier. The company does not expect to replace all 400 tees, he said.

The so-called electrofusion tees use an electrical heating coil that melts the plastic of both the fitting and the pipe, causing them to fuse. The effectiveness of the process depends on the preparation of the surfaces being joined and ensuring that they have satisfactory contact during the welding and cooling cycles, according to the website of the PE100+ Association, an organization of polyethylene manufacturers.

Summit’s action was prompted by a Maine Public Utilities Commission investigation into tee installation in the Augusta area that violated commission regulations, according to documents filed with the agency. The fact that there were mirror violations by two different Summit subcontractors has raised concerns about the gas company’s oversight.

“I think it is safe to say that we have overall concerns with their quality assurance and quality control plans,” Harry Lanphear, the PUC’s director of administrative services, said Monday.


Summit is facing $30,000 in fines from violations relating to tee installation in Augusta and Hallowell, and additional penalties could be levied if the upcoming inspections find more problems, Lanphear said.

Summit came to Maine in 2012, launching an ambitious $350 million effort to connect 15,000 homes and businesses in the Kennebec Valley within five years. This year, it’s also working in Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth, where it pledged to spend $73 million to hook up 80 percent of the homes.

In 2013, Summit completed a 68-mile gas pipeline from Pittston to Madison in central Maine, but has run into delays and problems with regulators and contractors as it spearheads the largest gas distribution project in Maine’s history. In December, Summit agreed to pay $25,000 in fines for a series of safety violations in Augusta, Gardiner, Madison and Waterville. The company is also facing a $150,000 penalty for damaging sewer lines in Augusta and Gardiner. A resolution to that case and the electrofusion tee violations in Hallowell and Augusta are pending.

Summit also has been forced to pay back customers for delays and installation problems. In February, it agreed to pay $100,000 in reimbursements to Kennebec Valley customers for delayed service. Last November, it said it would pay back more than 100 customers in Cumberland who lost deposits for natural gas conversions to now-defunct Dave Ireland Builders LLC for work that was never completed.

Ireland blamed Summit for the problems, including the company’s delayed installation schedule, changes in how it reimbursed him for air-sealing work, and difficulties with boiler installations in one Cumberland neighborhood that forced him to wait to line up customers.

In a statement Monday, Summit President Michael Tanchuk called the electrofusion installation problems in Waterville and the other two communities “unacceptable.”


“We are no longer allowing contractors to use this equipment installation method, and have greatly increased the number of inspections performed on this type of installation to ensure greater oversight,” Tanchuk said.

Although Summit said Monday that there is no immediate safety issue, Lanphear cautioned that incorrectly installed equipment could have serious consequences. “In this case, if one of those tees was leaking gas in a significant amount, it can create potentially a serious issue,” he said.


The issues with electrofusion tees started last July, when the PUC issued a notice of probable violation to Summit about tees that had failed in Hallowell and Augusta. PUC investigators determined that the equipment was installed by unqualified employees from Tetra Tech, a national construction management firm with an office in Portland, and required Summit to remedy the issues and take steps to prevent further problems, including making sure the company uses qualified contractors.

In later meetings, PUC staff directed the company to inspect electrofusion tees in other locations to determine if there were similar violations, according to Lanphear.

Early tests showed tees installed by CCB Inc., a construction company from Westbrook, also were installed incorrectly, he said.


Tom Donnelly, director of business development at CCB, said Monday that he believed the company was still working with Summit, but did not have further comment.

The PUC’s Gas Safety Program has previously concluded that Summit committed numerous violations during construction activity while working in Augusta, Gardiner, Madison and Waterville in 2013. Among other things, workers from Tetra Tech and CCB were seen fusing plastic pipe, although they later were found not to be qualified for that task. The PUC said Summit didn’t maintain adequate records or conduct adequate evaluation of worker qualifications.

In September, Tetra Tech sued Summit in federal court for breach of contract. The lawsuit alleges that Summit underestimated the project’s budget and is refusing to pay for $3.6 million worth of extra work that Tetra Tech performed to get the job done. Summit, in its countersuit, claims that Tetra Tech broke the contract by hiring unqualified workers.

The recent trouble with electrofusion tees in the Waterville area was reported Dec. 18, when Summit informed the PUC that a tee had been blown off the main line on Lawrence Street in Fairfield as gas was being introduced into the pipe. The next day a tee was found to be leaking when a part of the main was tested in Waterville, according to a letter to the company by Gary Kenny, Gas Safety Program manager for the PUC.

In his letter, Kenny required Summit to file weekly reports updating the PUC on its progress examining and replacing tees installed by CCB. Because tees were still failing “due to workmanship issues,” it was clear that contractor training and qualification required by the PUC and Summit’s own construction inspection efforts “have been ineffective,” Kenny wrote.



In a letter to the PUC in January, Keith Lincoln, Summit’s senior operations director, said the company had found one tee improperly installed by a CCB crew during initial inspections, but “had not picked up on any systemic problem with CCB’s installation overall until the failure of the Lawrence Avenue tee.”

“Since that time, we have taken several steps, including stop-work orders and crew dismissals to ensure that those involved in that installation did not continue on the project,” Lincoln wrote.

The company also is modifying its inspection process for the 2015 construction season by adding more staff and streamlining its inspection requirements, Lincoln said.

“We are also in the process of re-evaluating our contractor base,” he said.

Summit officials said the company is conducting leak tests every 75 days and has done surveys more frequently in the areas where electrofusion tees need to be replaced.

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