BANGOR, Maine — With winter looming and more demand than Bangor Gas Co. can meet, more than 100 residents who signed up for gas service may have to wait until spring and make new plans to heat their homes this winter.
The morning after the city decided to stop issuing permits to install natural gas lines, the company’s crews continued to work at a feverish pace Thursday to hook up as many new customers as possible.
“We might not get them all in,” said Jonathan Kunz, manager of marketing and sales for Bangor Gas.
More than 1,000 Greater Bangor residents signed up for natural gas service this year and about 600 have been hooked up, Kunz said.
With seven service crews working overtime and weekends to hook up around 20 customers each day, Kunz estimates that Bangor Gas will connect between 300 and 400 buildings before it runs out of time.
Somewhere between 100 and 200 residents, many of whom have already paid contractors to install equipment in their homes, will have to wait until spring and make other arrangements to heat their homes this winter.
Among the customers that will have to wait are Sam and Mitzi Rogers.
The Rogers own a duplex on West Broadway which won’t receive service this year, despite that their neighbor across the street has already been hooked up to the natural gas line, they said.
“It’s unfortunate that promises were made and not kept,” Mitzi Rogers said Thursday outside her home.
The couple canceled their oil contract with Dead River and signed up for natural gas service through Bangor Gas, along with several neighbors, in October after researching equipment installation prices from contractors.
“Had we known we’d have to wait until next year, we wouldn’t have signed up,” Sam Rogers told Kunz when the two met on the sidewalk as crews worked down the street on Thursday.
“It’s a scenario that happens if you’re not in that first grouping,” Kunz responded.
As more people see or hear that their neighbors are switching to natural gas, more people decide to sign on and switch themselves. However, some customers waited until September or early October to sign up with Bangor Gas. Those are the customers who are most likely to have to wait until spring, Kunz said.
The Rogers couple have renewed their contract with Dead River and will use oil furnaces this winter in the duplex, they said.
Kunz said Bangor Gas has called all the customers it believes won’t be hooked up before winter to notify them that they should keep other heating options open, but the company will continue to work at hooking everyone up until it runs out of time.
All the while, Bangor Gas is repairing trenches that the city received numerous complaints about. Dirt and gravel used to temporarily fill some holes has settled or washed out, which led the city to halt permits after a series of meetings over the course of several weeks.
Kunz said he was surprised by the city’s decision, and that he had thought Bangor Gas had made it clear to the city that the company had a plan laid out for the trenches.
Bangor Gas planned to use cold patch to temporarily fill trenches for winter until they could be permanently filled with asphalt the spring, Kunz said.
The company fell behind on the trench work after one of the contractors filling the trenches went out of business and didn’t inform Bangor Gas, according to Kunz.
Bangor-based Gardner Construction Enterprises has been hired to complete the trench work. The goal is to fill nearly 200 trenches before the third or fourth week of November, when tar production plants shut down for the winter. Gardner can fill 50 patches per day, Kunz said, so this deadline should be met.
Bangor Gas has just three crews of its own, so it hires outside contractors from Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and other parts of Maine to install gas lines and replace sections of streets and sidewalks dug up to place lines.
Kunz said there are few contractors in Maine licensed to install natural gas lines, so Bangor Gas has to look across borders to find help if it hopes to meet booming demands for natural gas.
Bangor Gas wasn’t expecting the interest in natural gas to spread as quickly as it did during the summer, Kunz said, and it didn’t have the resources, salespeople or work crews it needed to meet the demand.
“We’ve been inundated by the number of requests for natural gas service,” he said. “We’re doing our best to ramp up everything.”