Brotherton Pipeline has worked hand-in-glove with Avista Utilities for a quarter century, handling 90 percent of the Spokane company's natural gas pipe installations in Oregon.
When a new round of contracts goes into effect on March 16, however, the Gold Hill pipe firm will no longer be Avista's primary Oregon partner — a move that has led to two-dozen layoff notices.
Southwest Gas Corp. subsidiary NPL Construction, also known as Northern Pipeline, with offices stretching from Massachusetts to California, has signed a three-year deal giving the Phoenix, Ariz.-based company a 50 percent share of Avista's Oregon business.
NPL Construction will operate in Jackson and Josephine counties, while Brotherton Pipeline will continue its Avista work in Klamath Falls, La Grande and Roseburg. Chandler Pipeline Construction of Grants Pass, which previously had a small slice of the Avista pie, is no longer part of the equation.
Avista Utilities spokesman Dan Kolbet said the seven-figure pact was the result of a competitive process "to find the right deals."
Jim Brotherton, chief executive officer and president of the family business, was unavailable for comment Monday and was expected to be out of town for several days. A company spokesman confirmed the employees were notified on Feb. 25 they would be losing their jobs, and that Brotherton employees were moving out of a White City office used to service Avista.
"We're moving our stuff out, and the company coming in is hiring guys that worked for us," the Brotherton spokesman said.
He was unsure what the new arrangement meant for subcontractors such as Johnny Cat, Dave's Tractor Service and Pacific Paving.
Dave Sanders of Dave's Tractor Service in White City said his business will take a hit.
"Brotherton work is 50 percent of what I do," Sanders said. "Any time Brotherton tears into asphalt or cement I come in and repair it and make it look like new. This is going to hurt me and my workers. In the wintertime, when everybody else was dead, it was nice having them around."
While Brotherton employees with the right certification to work on gas lines were attractive to the newcomer, Sanders said that wasn't the case for cement workers.
"I tried to contact them when I found out last week," Sanders said. "I was told they do their own asphalt and cement work. Avista liked the work I did; three years and not one complaint."
Kolbet said a combination of price and cutting-edge technical practices landed NPL Construction the contract.
"There were some qualitative and quantitative differences in the (proposed) contracts," Kolbet said. "We still have a strong relationship with Brotherton, and at 50-50 it will still be a significant amount of work from us. It's a business decision that make sense ... these jobs aren't going anywhere. The same amount of work is still going to happen, there will just be another name on the truck."