MILLINOCKET, Maine — Seeking to ensure that Brookfield Asset Management sticks with the Katahdin region’s two paper mills, town councilors will travel to the state capitol next week to testify on behalf of a bill requiring Brookfield to give the mills priority when allocating electricity created by its dams.
Based on fears that Brookfield Asset and its dam-operating subsidiary, Brookfield Renewable Resources, would close the mills just to generate electricity for the New England power grid, the bill presented by state Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, would make clear that Brookfield first must allocate electricity to “the paper production facilities located in Millinocket and East Millinocket.”
Nine state representatives and senators have signed onto the bill.
“We have to take a stand on behalf of our town, our workers, and say that it is not acceptable that we are on a yo-yo and at constant risk of [mill] closures,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue told the council during its meeting Thursday. He called the move “a bit of a pushback.”
Brookfield Asset officials were not available for comment Thursday night.
The Toronto-based management firm, which at one point had about $95 billion in holdings in Europe and North and South America, announced May 29, 2008, that it intended to shut down the Katahdin Avenue paper mill in 60 days because of its prodigious oil use. The mill burned about 400,000 barrels in 2007.
Gov. John Baldacci intervened, the mill’s satisfied customers guaranteed advance orders and the mill took significant energy-saving measures, which helped keep the mill going. But on Aug. 26, Brookfield ordered the mill shut down indefinitely effective Sept. 2, saying it lacked orders and was losing money.
The abruptness of that shutdown, and subsequent mixed messages from Brookfield regarding the mill’s viability, angered town and state officials and especially millworkers, who had been told by Katahdin Paper Co. LLC, a Brookfield subsidiary that operates the mill, that the mill had been making money.
Brookfield, Conlogue said, has also indicated that it has no long-term interest in running the mills, which further makes the bill a necessity, Conlogue said.
“The old line is, ‘We are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,’” Conlogue said, adding that the testimony was not intended to sour relations with Brookfield. “We are fighting to re-establish a beach head in this company to keep it [the mill] open and to keep people working.”
Several councilors agreed, promising to attend the state hearings Thursday on the amendment.
Brookfield officials have said they will meet with Baldacci and town officials sometime next week to discuss their efforts to convert the mill’s boilers to burn biomass rather than oil, but no date has been set.