Hartland tannery to stay open

Posted Feb. 13, 2011, at 5:28 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2011, at 2:34 p.m.

HARTLAND, Maine — Voters cleared the way Saturday for the town’s largest employer to remain in business, albeit under different ownership and a new name.

Residents voted 196-15 on Saturday afternoon to approve a new cost-sharing agreement for the municipal wastewater treatment facility between the town and the tannery’s new owners.

The agreement to reduce the tannery’s share of the costs will translate into a higher municipal tax rate but also means the more than 150 people now employed at Prime Tanning will keep their jobs.

“It’s good news for the employees, the town, everybody,” Paul Larochelle, president of Prime Tanning-Hartland, said Sunday afternoon.

Soon after the vote, representatives of Tasman Industries Inc. inked a $6.5 million deal to acquire the tanning business. Larochelle said it may take a little while to get back to full operation but that Tasman Leather Group will begin work in Hartland on Monday.

Norman Tasman, president of Tasman Industries, and several other company representatives spoke in Hartland on Saturday about the company’s plans and answered numerous questions from residents.

Selectwoman Judy Alton said Hartland already has endured three bankruptcies with the tanning factory, so some residents were skeptical of entering into another agreement that could once again cost the town money.

But Alton said she heard from a number of people who changed their votes to yes after hearing Tasman’s assurances. She said he came across as “very sincere” and answered all of the residents’ questions.

In the end, only 15 people out of the 211 residents who participated in Saturday’s election voted against the new cost-sharing agreement. And when the vote was announced, Alton said, the room “exploded.”

“People broke out in smiles and everybody was clapping,” she said.

Tasman Industries is one of the worldwide giants in the leather and tanning business.

According to the company’s website, Tasman has hide-processing facilities in Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; Louisville, Ky.; Amarillo and Fort Worth, Texas; as well as in Mexico, China and Taiwan.

In November, Prime Tanning became Maine’s third tannery to file for protection in the past decade. Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company reorganized and sought to reinvent itself after shuttering its Berwick plant and selling another plant in Missouri. The company cited liabilities of $10 million.

Tasman, which supplied hides to Prime Tanning, emerged as a suitor during bankruptcy proceedings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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