Twin Rivers should get on board train with shippers

Posted Dec. 24, 2010, at 8:23 p.m.

The Dec. 20 letter by Jeff Dutton, CEO of Twin Rivers Paper Co., is very troubling to many of us who worked hard to ensure the preservation of the critical north-south rail line in Maine.

We take great exception to the contention that this deal has been rushed and not adequately considered. Since the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railroad announced that it would abandon 233 miles of track north of Millinocket in August 2009, we have worked with other shippers, the state, our legislators and our delegation in Washington to find a resolution to the potential loss of vital rail service to northern Maine.

A coalition of shippers worked alongside local communities to gain support for a state purchase of the line. This effort was dealt a blow in May when Twin Rivers (formerly Fraser Papers) announced that it had entered a three-year deal with the Canadian National Railway to move 100 percent of the freight to and from the Madawaska mill.

I personally asked Mr. Dutton to stick with the united front that shippers had formed to save MMA’s vital Maine rail link. Our efforts to keep this critical volume from Twin Rivers moving south through the state of Maine were unsuccessful. Mr. Dutton moved on a separate deal with CN with apparent disregard for the rest of the Maine shippers.

Now, it appears from the media coverage over the past months that the CN access to the Twin Rivers Madawaska mill has some barriers preventing the service from happening as planned. Now, the Madawaska plant is trucking the product to New Brunswick for loading on the CN rail line.

Seven months later, Twin Rivers now is concerned with the well-being of the shippers to the south of Madawaska and thinks changes to and more analysis of the state purchase agreement are needed.

The transparency referenced by Mr. Dutton was dealt with by the Legislature when approving the bond to purchase the line. A task force of shippers, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Department of Transportation and bipartisan legislators were involved with both the deal to purchase the line and with the development of a request for proposals for companies to compete to become the operator of the new state line. The question as to who will be allowed to operate the line is dealt with in the publicly available RFP posted on the state of Maine website.

Mr. Dutton is right about one thing — the “stakes are high … for the economic health of the region.” This is why we committed $1 million toward the deal at the 11th hour, when it became clear that the state was short of funding to get the best possible deal that would allow shippers, including Twin Rivers, access to a viable rail line in the north.

In the last 15 months, the governor worked tirelessly as the state put the terms of a deal in place, publicly went out for proposals for a new operator and secured federal funds to refurbish the line. Now, Mr. Dutton’s deal with CN is not looking as good, and he is using public positioning and legal filings with the Surface Transportation Board in Washington to attempt to influence his business dealings and to delay the Maine railway solution supported by so many. Once again, it seems without regard for the other shippers.

It’s time for action so we committed shippers can make plans for our businesses.

James D. Irving is president of Irving Woodlands LLC.

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