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Montana-Dakota Utilities, sisters plan cuts

BISMARCK (AP) -- Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. and three sister utilities plan to consolidate five call centers into two, sell an office building in Seattle, do away with customer walk-in traffic and cut about 130 jobs in eight states over the next nine months.

The changes were announced on Tuesday by Dave Goodin, the president and chief executive officer of Montana-Dakota Utilities, Great Plains Natural Gas Co., Cascade Natural Gas Corp., and Intermountain Gas Co.

The companies are owned by MDU Resources Group, Inc.

The Bismarck-based company purchased Intermountain Gas last year in a deal worth $328 million. The Idaho utility supplies natural gas to some 300,000 customers in about 75 communities in the state.

MDU Resources Group bought Cascade Natural Gas in 2007, and Great Plains Natural Gas in 2000. Cascade, serves 246,000 customers in Washington and Oregon. Great Plains distributes natural gas to 19 communities in western Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota.

Montana-Dakota Utilities, based in Bismarck, serves about 122,000 customers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said a review of the four companies' operations found they could learn from each other and be more efficient.

"We're finding best practices from each other," Hanson said. "But the final factor is the economy -- it is playing a role."

Hanson said the utility group has a base of 930,000 customers in eight states, and about 1,650 employees.

The utility group's "integration plan," including the 130 layoffs, "will touch all four companies across eight states in all kinds of areas," Hanson said.

The utilities also plan to eliminate customer walk-in traffic over the next four months at all offices for Montana-Dakota, Great Plains and Intermountain, Hanson said.

"We will be communicating with customers on their bills, on their options," he said.

The utility group says it will sell the Cascade office building in Seattle and relocate the Cascade general office to a community within its service territory.

"We don't have customers in Seattle," Hanson said, citing the reason for the move, which could take several months.

"We don't have the current building sold and we don't have a new site selected yet," he said.