Buyer says purchase of Stinson Seafood plant moving forward

The Beach Cliff sardine fisherman sign towers over a rooftop Thursday, February 18, 2010 near the former Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor. Bumble Bee Foods announed Wednesday that it plans to close the plant for good in mid-April.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS)

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The Beach Cliff Sardine fisherman sign towers over a rooftop near the former Stinson Seafood Plant in Prospect Harbor Thursday  February 18, 2010. Bumble Bee Foods, the current plant owner notified employees Wednesday, February 17 that the plant will close in April. The cannery has left a large footprint in the community, having been a fixture there for over 100 years . (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
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The Beach Cliff sardine fisherman sign towers over a rooftop Thursday, February 18, 2010 near the former Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor. Bumble Bee Foods announed Wednesday that it plans to close the plant for good in mid-April. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS) CAPTION The Beach Cliff Sardine fisherman sign towers over a rooftop near the former Stinson Seafood Plant in Prospect Harbor Thursday February 18, 2010. Bumble Bee Foods, the current plant owner notified employees Wednesday, February 17 that the plant will close in April. The cannery has left a large footprint in the community, having been a fixture there for over 100 years . (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
Posted Dec. 02, 2010, at 1:36 p.m.
An employee at the Stinson sardine cannery lines up fish on the cutting machine as work starts early in the morning at the plant.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY GABOR DEGRE)

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An employee at the Stinson Sardine Cannery lines up fish on the cutting machine as work starts early morning at the plant.   (Bangor daily News/Gabor Degre)
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An employee at the Stinson sardine cannery lines up fish on the cutting machine as work starts early in the morning at the plant. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY GABOR DEGRE) CAPTION An employee at the Stinson Sardine Cannery lines up fish on the cutting machine as work starts early morning at the plant. (Bangor daily News/Gabor Degre)
Steam rises as Jackie Dorr dumps hot water and fish oil from cans of sardines after they were precooked at the Stinson plant in Prospect Harbor on Thursday morning. The plant is to shut down next week, but many hope to find a buyer to reopen it as a canning facility for another kind of seafood. Dorr has worked at the cannery for 35 years.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY GABOR DEGRE)



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Steam rises as Jackie Dorr dums hot water and fish oil from the cans of sardines after they were pre-cooked at the Stinson Sardine Cannery in Prospect Harbor Thursday morning.  The plant is set to shut down next week due to short supply of herring but a lot of people hope to find a buyer to reopen it as a canning facility for other kind of seafood. Dorr has worked there for 35 years. (Bangor daily News/Gabor Degre)
Steam rises as Jackie Dorr dumps hot water and fish oil from cans of sardines after they were precooked at the Stinson plant in Prospect Harbor on Thursday morning. The plant is to shut down next week, but many hope to find a buyer to reopen it as a canning facility for another kind of seafood. Dorr has worked at the cannery for 35 years. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY GABOR DEGRE) CAPTION Steam rises as Jackie Dorr dums hot water and fish oil from the cans of sardines after they were pre-cooked at the Stinson Sardine Cannery in Prospect Harbor Thursday morning. The plant is set to shut down next week due to short supply of herring but a lot of people hope to find a buyer to reopen it as a canning facility for other kind of seafood. Dorr has worked there for 35 years. (Bangor daily News/Gabor Degre)

PORTLAND, Maine — A Boston-based lobster company said Thursday it plans to complete its acquisition of the nation’s last full-time sardine cannery by the middle of January, despite snags that have put the purchase of the idled Maine plant months behind schedule.

The closing date for the former Stinson Seafood plant in Gouldsboro is now scheduled for Jan. 14, but the sale could occur before then, said Antonio Bussone, president of Live Lobster Co. Bussone plans to use the plant to handle lobsters and lobster bait but not to process sardines.

Bumble Bee Foods LLC closed the plant in April, costing nearly 130 jobs. The goal had been to complete the sale by early October.

The sale has been pushed back because of the complexity of the deal and a lawsuit that has forced Live Lobster to find a new lender to finance the purchase, Bussone said.

“I know that there have been delays, but we’re talking about a pretty serious purchase here and a big property,” he said. “It’s not as simple as buying a two-bedroom condo.”

Gouldsboro selectmen aren’t convinced Live Lobster will complete the deal on the century-old property where generations of workers packed the small, oily sardines. The company assured townspeople it would begin operations last summer, even before the sale was completed, but the plant has remained empty, they said.

“I don’t think anyone’s feeling confident,” Selectman Dana Rice said. “Obviously, everyone in this area would like to see jobs created there, there’s no doubt about that. But there are a lot of ifs here, I would say.”

When the Stinson plant shut down it marked the end of an era in Maine, which once had scores of canneries along its ragged coast. Production has declined since peaking 60 years ago, and plants fell by the wayside until the Stinson plant was the last full-time cannery still operating in the U.S.

Bussone insists the sale will take place, saying Bumble Bee already has cashed a $100,000 security deposit he made when he signed a purchase-and-sales agreement. In an e-mail from its public relations firm, Bumble Bee said it’s still working toward completing the deal.

One of the complications is a lawsuit filed against Bussone in June by his company’s former general manager. A judge’s decision last week prevents Live Lobster from using existing assets as collateral to purchase the plant with financing through TD Bank.

Bussone said he’s not pleased with the court order but that he has financing lined up from other lenders if needed.

When the sale is complete, Bussone said, he plans to build a tank that can hold up to 180,000 pounds of lobster and a large cooler to store bait for lobstermen. He hopes to have 30 to 40 employees by the end of 2011.

There are also concerns that the sale of the Stinson plant could be jeopardized by the sale of Bumble Bee Foods itself.

The British investment firm Lion Capital LLP said last month that it has agreed to buy Bumble Bee Foods, which is based in San Diego, from private equity firm Centre Partners Management LLC for an undisclosed sum.

“I don’t know what they intend to do with this little factory here in Maine,” Selectman Bill Thayer said. “I don’t know what it will mean to the new owners.”

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