MILLINOCKET, Maine — The federal government approved a $527,465 emergency grant Wednesday to aid as many as 208 Katahdin Avenue paper millworkers due to be laid off by mid-December with job retraining and other services.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s National Emergency Grant will supplement services already offered through federal Trade Adjustment Assistance funding. The funds will be administered through the Maine Department of Labor and Eastern Maine Development Corp., an economic development agency on retainer with the town.
Town Manager Eugene Conlogue complimented the state’s federal delegation — Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe and Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud — and Gov. John Baldacci for helping to secure the funds.
“Without their help it doesn’t happen,” Conlogue said Wednesday. “It provides the opportunity for some of our people who have been laid off to go back to school and get on new career paths if they choose to pursue them.
“This is a major award to the area, and I can see nothing but good coming from it,” he added.
The Katahdin Community Transition Team, a group of social service agencies, churches and town leaders formed in June 2008, helped developed training strategies and identified other community needs that the money will help pay for.
Mill parent company Brookfield Asset Management of Toronto announced May 29 that the Millinocket mill’s prodigious oil use would force in 60 days an indefinite shutdown and layoff of 208 workers if an alternative energy source weren’t found.
Brookfield was in talks with alternative energy providers on Aug. 26 when its officials ordered the mill shut down on Sept. 2, when cleanup and winterizing operations began. As of Wednesday, slightly more than 100 workers were laid off, said Glenn Saucier, the mill’s Personnel Department manager.
“Most winterization in the mill is coming to an end,” Saucier said. “We have been at it for quite some time and we are doing a bit of it in our East Millinocket mill right now. Everything should wrap up by the end of this month, though we may carry into the first week of December.”
Brookfield has said it hopes to restart the mill in 2009, if a partner to run the biomass boiler that will replace the mill’s oil burners can be found. Engineers are almost finished assessing the mill’s biomass capacity and preparing detailed plans and cost estimates for a boiler installation, Saucier said.
Baldacci and his staff were due to hear by the end of the month what the engineers had found.
“I remain committed to working with Fraser Papers and Brookfield to re-open the mill so that the employees can get back to work as soon as possible,” Baldacci said in a statement Wednesday. “In the meantime, the federal funds dedicated to provide dislocated worker services will give Katahdin Paper employees access to important support.”
An asset management firm, Toronto-based Brookfield pays Fraser Papers to manage the Katahdin Avenue and East Millinocket paper mills, which as Katahdin Paper Co. LLC are the Katahdin region’s largest single employer.
Counseling, case management, job search assistance, job placement and follow-up are among the services the grant will pay for.
“These funds will provide important resources to individuals seeking new opportunities for employment and training. While this is good news, it does not fix the systemic problems affecting the manufacturing industry across our state and nation,” Michaud said in a statement Wednesday.
“These funds will go a long way in helping displaced Katahdin paper workers during this difficult time,” Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement.
Workshops for displaced workers are set for Monday and Dec. 2 at the Katahdin Region Higher Education Center off Route 157 in East Millinocket. The “Starting a Small Business” workshop is set for Nov. 18 and “Coping with Job Loss-Transition” will occur on Dec. 2. Both will be held from 10 a.m. to noon.