OLD TOWN, Maine — In the dim, smokefilled Elks Club bar Monday evening, Del Brown finally got the phone call he had been awaiting for nearly half a year.
It was the payroll clerk from the bankrupt Red Shield pulp mill. She wanted to let the Greenbush maintenance man know that he should show up at work at 7 a.m. Monday.
“It’s great news,” Brown, who has worked at the Old Town mill for 30 years, said after the call. “It’s been too long. I’ve had to use up a lot of my retirement money to pay the bills. Now I’ve got to call my wife. She’ll be even more happy than I am.”
Brown will join about 160 of his former co-workers who will be getting back to work soon, because the court-approved sale of Red Shield Environmental to Patriarch Partners is now official. A week and a half ago, the New York investment group made the winning $19 million bid for the idle property, which closed its doors in June.
About 400 workers lost their jobs in May 2006, when Georgia-Pacific Corp. officially shut down the paper mill, which had operated in Old Town for more than a century. The Red Shield investors purchased the mill in September 2006 in hopes of re-inventing the facility but cited rising materials and fuel costs when they shut its doors less than two years later.
“We’re very excited about the potential of this opportunity and we are honored to be in a position to bring jobs back to Old Town,” Lynn Tilton, the CEO of Patriarch partners, said in a press release.
Tilton and other company officials are scheduled to meet today with Gov. John Baldacci in Augusta.
The new company — which for the moment is calling its property “Red Shield Acquisition” — is wasting no time getting started, according to Dan Bird, the human resources manager.
“We’re doing a lot of planning and finalizing the plans that we’ve been developing over the weeks to recall all the previously laid-off employees,” Bird said.
The first employees will return as soon as Friday, he said, with the first pulp dryer scheduled to be up and running by Nov. 14.
“We’re feeling pretty good about things right now,” Bird said. “It’s been a difficult five months for the people that were laid off. We’re ready to do it and it’s going to be a very busy next couple of weeks.”
Rep. Richard Blanchard, D-Old Town, who was up for re-election, stopped by the union hall Monday after hearing the good news.
“People at the hall are just bouncing with joy and so am I,” he said. “It’s just a bad time turned good. I’m excited about Patriarch. They seem to be a good company, very solid. I think it’s going to be good for the town.”
The men at the Elks hall — several laid-off millworkers among them — traded jokes while they drank their beers. Though some teased that the air quality has been better since the mill went idle, all were happy that it was starting back up.
“It has to reopen and we have to put people in Old Town back to work,” said Roger Sirois, the Exalted Ruler of the Elks and a retired Old Town assistant fire chief. “I’ve watched for-sale signs go up on houses, and people have moved away. It’s just not a healthy situation.”