Bucksport mill starts up after 3-week upgrade effort

Posted May 08, 2009, at 9:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:09 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Verso Paper mill is gearing up to begin producing paper again after a three-week, cold mill upgrade and maintenance program that has kept the machines idled.

The startup process began Thursday and will continue through the weekend, according to Verso spokesman Bill Cohen. It will take crews into next week to get the mill up and running, Cohen said.

Beginning next Friday, the No. 2 paper machine at the mill will begin producing a specialty grade of paper for a limited two-week run. This will mark the first time since November that all four paper machines at the mill will be producing paper, Cohen said.

The mill converted the No. 1 machine to produce specialty paper last year, and orders have been relatively steady, according to Cohen.

“The number one machine is full; that’s the reason we needed to go to number two,” he said.

Because of a soft market for paper in general, the mill has taken regular downtime since last fall. With the No. 2 machine up and running, all of the mill’s 760 employees will be back to work, at least for that two-week period. It is a reason for cautious optimism, according to Cohen, but the key word is cautious.

“We’re telling people that this is certainly a reason to smile,” he said. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen after those two weeks.”

Because the paper market is so competitive, Cohen has declined to discuss what type of specialty paper the machines are producing, except to say that it is a noncoated paper, which is different from the mill’s staple coated paper used mainly for catalogs and magazines.

In December, the mill reported that it had met federal standards for producing a line of paper used for packaging in the food industry.

The mill wrapped up three weeks of maintenance and capital projects last week that required the entire mill be shut down, according to Cohen. Although no paper or electricity was being produced, mill crews and other contractors were busy working in all areas of the mill.

The multimillion-dollar project focused on three main areas, Cohen said: upgrading the paper machines to make them more efficient; upgrading systems on the thermal mechanical pump area to make them more reliable; and improving reliability in the electrical area and eliminating some of the problems the mill has had in the past year.

Crews also worked on the mill’s wastewater treatment plant and other smaller projects, he said.

The cold mill projects are a regular maintenance procedure that is done every two to four years, Cohen said.

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