Pipeline workers in court as contract dispute is hashed out

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Several of the approximately 150 workers caught in the middle of a contract dispute between a pipeline company and its contractor showed up to listen this week as the disagreement was aired out in court.

“We’re all just here to find out what’s actually happening,” said Cody Burleson of Durango.

The workers lost their jobs and failed to receive their last paycheck in a dispute over a natural gas pipeline being built between Rulison and Parachute. Contractor U.S. Central Pipeline has accused ETC of failing to pay it more than $2 million, but ETC contends it has paid U.S. Central Pipeline in full.

Wednesday’s hearing was held to consider ETC’s request to be able to recover around $1 million worth of supplies from U.S. Central Pipeline’s contractor yard in Rulison. In private negotiations before the hearing was over, the two sides reached an agreement for the release of the materials. But beforehand, a representative for ETC’s parent company said in court the project had gone over budget and gotten behind schedule. U.S. Central Pipeline is no longer on the job, which has not been completed.

Cory Jordan, a senior engineer with ETC’s parent company, Energy Transfer Co., said his company agreed to pay U.S. Central Pipeline an additional $5.4 million to complete the work, but to pay no more than $12 million in total.

He said ETC ultimately paid more than $12.7 million, including payments to U.S. Central Pipeline’s vendors, and $650,000 so the contractor could make payroll.

U.S. Central Pipeline president Joe Longtin didn’t testify Wednesday. But in interviews, he and his brother Richard, a company foreman, said the company was losing money on the project and suffered from numerous problems not of its own making, such as a lack of adequate right of way to accommodate speedy construction.

They said U.S. Central Pipeline is facing possible bankruptcy after ETC strung it along on its own credit, didn’t make payments on time and failed to pay all that was owed.

Joe Longtin said all he wanted to do is break even on the project and get workers and vendors paid.

U.S. Central Pipeline has filed a $2.7 million lien and a breach of contract claim against ETC, but hearings have yet to be held on either of those matters.

Meanwhile, “I’ve got everything in pawn right now just to pay rent,” said worker Steve Delacruz, a Grand Junction resident who said he’s owed $6,500.


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