MONSON, Maine — The planned reopening of the former Moosehead Manufacturing Co. plant in Monson has hit an environmental snag that could endanger efforts to resume making furniture there.
Louise Jonaitis of Portland submitted a winning $1,050,000 bid at an August bankruptcy auction for the purchase of the business. But before any money changed hands, she learned there were some environmental questions involving barrels of unidentified chemicals that had been left on the property.
Because of those questions, Jonaitis has since negotiated with Machias Savings Bank, which had foreclosed on the property, for the purchase of just the equipment and other contents. She said Monday that she hasn’t given up on reopening the plant, but rather than own the building, she would lease it.
“What I’m hoping will happen, which will be Plan B, is that somehow the town will be able to remedy that environmental issue through whatever process it can do,” Jonaitis said. She said municipalities are the only entities that can get federal and state environmental assessment and cleanup grants.
John Holden of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, who is under contract as interim director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, is working with Monson, in collaboration with Jonaitis, to get an advanced environmental assessment done on the property. The council has the funding in place and has retained Ransom Environmental Consultants Inc. of Portland to do the work, which is expected to start later this week, he said.
Holden said it is his understanding that the chemicals found on the site are the kind used in the furniture-making process, he said.
“What we hope to do is find a way to get the site cleaned up,” Holden said. “First we have to find out what’s on the site.”
He said the council will work with the town to seek cleanup funds once the evaluation has been conducted so that Jonaitis can begin production in Monson.
“If there’s a way, we will start up because the people in Monson are really the only people that know how to make Moosehead furniture,” Jonaitis said. “They are the craftsmen.”
She said she would like to continue the production of the previous line of Moosehead furniture in Monson and start the production of two new brands elsewhere in the state.
“The plan with Monson was to start in April anyway. It’s just that I’m going to have to sit on those assets up there, sort of in limbo,” Jonaitis said.
She said the bank has given her 90 days to move the equipment and furniture, but she hopes the town can work some deal out before then.
Jonaitis said she has moved some of the leftover finished furniture at the site to Stanley Furniture in Rumford, the longest and oldest retailer of the Monson-made furniture. The remainder of the furniture will be placed in a showroom in leased space in the Monson Community Center, she said.
Monson selectmen will hold a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss the issue. Town Manager Julie Anderson said that since the discussion involves real estate, it will be held in executive session.
Anderson said the sale of the Moosehead plant has been like a “roller coaster ride.”
“It’s very disappointing because everything that we had planned is not going to take place,” she said. “Right now as it stands, we’re going to lose the jobs, plus we’ll be losing our personal property valuation.”
Jonaitis had hoped to start with 12 employees during the first year of operations.
Anderson is hopeful that a speedy resolution can be reached.
“We’re not without a plan, and the plan has an 80 percent chance of coming to fruition,” Jonaitis said. “One way or another, Monson will always be the home of Moosehead furniture even if all we have is a retail outlet up there in the interim.”