Baldacci says mills have several other suitors

Posted Feb. 14, 2011, at 10:08 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — State officials can turn to “four or five” other potential buyers if the tentative deal to sell two Katahdin region paper mills to a California investor collapses, former Gov. John Baldacci said.

“There are probably four or five investors, counting the ones that did due diligence, that expressed an interest,” Baldacci said Monday after San Francisco-based Meriturn Partners announced that it had signed a letter of intent to acquire the East Millinocket and Millinocket mills.

Brookfield Asset Management subsidiary Katahdin Paper Co. LLC will sell the mills for an undisclosed price by April 29 if several conditions are met.

Baldacci praised Gov. Paul LePage for keeping Rosaire Pelletier, Baldacci’s forest products industry adviser, on staff when LePage assumed office last month. In a meeting with Baldacci before his inauguration, LePage immediately grasped the mills’ economic significance and the hard work done by Pelletier and Jack Cashman, a commissioner with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, to find a buyer for the mills, Baldacci said.

“We knew that the deal had a long way to go, so it was going to bridge two administrations,” Baldacci said.

Rumors of a deal to buy both mills have floated through the region since Patriarch Chief Executive Officer Lynne Tilton confirmed in July 2010 that her company was interested in buying them. Patriarch and Versa Capital Inc., a commercial real estate investment and financing firm from Philadelphia, were among the entities that began due diligence before halting the process, a state official said.

Several other investors also had expressed interest in the Katahdin facilities. Pelletier and the Baldacci administration had been working to restart the Millinocket mill since June 2008, shortly after Brookfield announced its intention to close the mill, Pelletier said.

Aside from one mill in Jay, the Baldacci administration had success revitalizing paper mills or repurposing paper mill sites statewide, although few employ as many workers as they once had, Baldacci and Pelletier said. Mills in Lincoln, Madawaska, Old Town, Westbrook and Woodland are among those the administration had helped, though Baldacci dismisses the idea that these are part of his legacy as governor.

“Legacy,” he said, “that’s for somebody else to figure out. These are the best-paying jobs you’re ever going to find. They [workers] have been working at it [the paper industry] their whole lives. Now, in Millinocket, they see a glimmer of hope and a new future. It will be a new company, making a new investment, not like it was before.”

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