MADAWASKA — Bill Hassell has been making paper for 35 years at the Fraser Paper mill complex straddling the St. John River.
Now that the mill is operating under the newly reorganized and fiscally solvent Twin Rivers Paper Co., he hopes to keep right on making in-demand papers for labels and packaging.
“It’s good we are still working,” Hassell said Thursday afternoon as a group of visiting VIPs toured his control center deep within the mill. “Everyone was nervous, but we are glad it got done and that we are heading in a new direction.”
Twin Rivers Paper Co. was born out of bankruptcy protection sought by Fraser in the Canadian bankruptcy courts earlier this year.
To save the company, creditors agreed to swap debt for equity, said Jeff Dutton, Twin Rivers president and CEO, during a Thursday afternoon ceremony at the Madawaska mill to launch the new name.
To get to this point, Fraser was required to meet several restructuring criteria including the company’s primary Canadian and United Steelworkers unions accepting huge pension plan cuts, an American wage cut and the New Brunswick government’s freeing more than $20 million for Twin Rivers by dissolving credit letters held by the regions’ public electric utility.
The new Twin Rivers is now a privately owned company with 51 percent of its assets owned by Brookfield Asset Management and 49 percent by Fraser’s unsecured creditors.
Dutton vowed the new company will be market driven and will no longer simply react to changes in the paper-making industry.
“We need a five-year marketing plan,” Dutton said. “We need to make sure we are not trying to play catch up [and] we need to get our feet back under us as we emerge from credit protection and look at our cash flow.”
With 100 percent of its manufacturing focusing on specialty papers, Dutton said increased efficiencies mean the three paper making machines currently in operation in the Madawaska mill now equal the one-time output of eight machines.
More than 600 residents of the Madawaska area work in the mill and the facility’s rebirth was good news for Town Manager Christina Therrien.
“This mill is extremely important for our area,” Therrien said. “It’s our largest employer and the economic engine in the St. John Valley that impacts every business or citizen in some way.”
In addition to the Madawaska and Edmundston mills, Twin Rivers is taking over Fraser mills in Plaster Rock and Juniper, New Brunswick.