A drilling company that has struggled to complete a $9 million cable between Southold and Shelter Island has been fired and work on the project suspended, the Long Island Power Authority said Wednesday.

New work on the project won't start until after Jan. 1, LIPA said.

National Grid, LIPA's project manager for the cable, made the decision to fire drilling subcontractor Bortech of Milton, N.Y., after months of delays and a malfunction that left a large drill head stuck in the 4,000-foot-long tunnel. Work on the project was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of May.

Bortech has not responded to numerous requests seeking comment.

"Today, National Grid, our service provider and project manager on this project, notified our drilling contractor Bortech that they have been terminated," LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said.

Gross said National Grid was negotiating with Bortech to determine when the company must vacate the site. LIPA will wait to hear back from Grid about future options, Gross said, including putting the contract out to bid to a new drilling company. LIPA has said it would prefer to continue with the already-drilled tunnel rather than start at a new location.

"Any options going forward to complete this project must make complete technical and economic sense," Gross said. "Once these options are presented to LIPA by National Grid, we will review them and move forward with a course of action." He added, "We would not expect any physical work on the project to start until after the new year."

Bortech was 500 feet from the Southold end when a drill head broke off and became lodged in the tunnel, cemented in place by drilling slurry.

Neighbors have been complaining about noise, spills and heavy equipment from the work site throughout the summer. A small public beach has been closed since work started in the spring.

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