Natural gas utility pledges to help Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth customers failed by defunct contractor

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CUMBERLAND — The utility bringing natural gas service to Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth on Wednesday said it will reimburse customers for deposits they paid for work that remains incomplete because a contractor went out of business.

Contractor David Ireland of David Ireland Builders also issued a press release Wednesday, apologizing to the customers hurt by his shutdown, and laying much of the blame for his situation on the utility, Summit Natural Gas of Maine.

The announcements by Ireland and Summit came about a week after Ireland abruptly closed his Howland business, which was handling natural gas connections in the three towns.

“Summit’s number one priority is its customers and we want to help them in what is a unique and urgent circumstance,” Mike Duguay, director of business development at Summit Natural Gas of Maine, said in the company’s statement.

“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. In addition, we do not want to put our customers’ in an uncomfortable financial situation, especially during the holiday season. We feel strongly that this is the right thing to do.”

Summit said customers should visit summitnaturalgasmaine.com, where they will find information about the reimbursement process. They can also call Summit at 621-8000 to begin the process.

Town Manager Bill Shane, other town officials, and residents urged Summit’s help in the resolution at a Nov. 24 Town Council meeting. Brochures with both Ireland’s and Summit’s names on them, encouraging residents to sign up with Ireland, drew the ire of some at Monday’s Town Council discussion on the matter.

“The Town Council stressed Monday night it was important that Summit step up and help all our citizens impacted,” Shane said Thursday in an email. “Kudos to the leadership of Summit for listening and  turning an awful situation into a great turn of events just in time for Thanksgiving.”

Shane and officials in the other towns have asked people who paid Dave Ireland Builders the deposits – said to range between $1,000 and $3,500 – to contact Summit Natural Gas with their complaints, and to also contact the Maine attorney general’s office with as much information about the matter as possible.

Martha Currier, a complaint examiner in the AG’s Consumer Protection Division, said Nov. 26 that she had heard from 50 customers since Nov. 20.

In the statement released by his attorney, Thomas Brown of the Eaton Peabody firm, Ireland said “having a lengthy track record of helping homeowners reducing their heating bill, (it) was my goal to increase (my) customer base and offer energy savings to more Maine homeowners.”

He listed five reasons for having to close:

• Delays with Summit putting in service lines, postponed repeatedly from July to December.

• A lack of payments from Summit for air-sealing work Ireland completed earlier this year, because Summit changed “an agreed upon process for handling air sealing rebates.”

• Significant business costs connected to handling many service calls for customers, “as our customers were telling us (Summit) was not returning their telephone calls.”

• Summit pushing connection dates from this year to the next.

• And spending the past few weeks “struggling to keep up with boiler installations in the (C)rossing (B)rook subdivision in Cumberland when the gas lines finally did go live.

“Moving forward, I have been working with my advisors and legal counsel to what can be worked out for customers that have paid my company deposits with their contracts,” Ireland continued. “My first priority is to take care of those homeowners and get their deposits back to them as soon as possible.”

He also commented on a story published Tuesday by the Bangor Daily News about a contested protection from abuse order that involves his daughter, and the Maine Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision that upheld that order. The order involves a child he is accused of having molested in 2012, and the accusation did not lead to criminal charges, according to the story.

“This personal matter has no bearing whatsoever on the closing of my business,” Ireland said. “The allegations for the basis for the protection order are so over the top and were not substantiated by medical and physical evidence nor by my daughter’s testimony to the judge.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.