State purchase of landfill could help reopen Katahdin mills

Posted May 11, 2011, at 10:17 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2011, at 8:36 a.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — State legislators will meet in Augusta on May 20 to discuss whether the state should buy an East Millinocket landfill to help revitalize two Katahdin region paper mills that employed about 600 workers.

The 10 a.m. meeting is the latest state effort to help secure a buyer for the two mills, said Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen.

“What it comes down to,” Scally said Wednesday, “is that if somebody wants to buy these mills, then we will make this sacrifice. If nobody is, well, then Brookfield, you are stuck with it.”

Brookfield Asset Management, parent company of the East Millinocket and Millinocket mills, closed the East Millinocket mill, idling about 450 workers, because the San Francisco-based investor who had signed a tentative agreement to buy the mills for $1 backed out of the pending deal on April 8 due to the mill’s customers starting to seek other vendors and a failure to secure conditions necessary for a successful revitalization.

The loss of all liability associated with the former mill landfill in the Dolby section of East Millinocket was among those conditions.

Gov. Paul LePage has said that the state will start assuming management of the landfill.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the May 20 meeting was scheduled after the introduction of LD 1567, a bill submitted by Rep. Herbert Clark, D-Millinocket, that calls on the state to buy the landfill. The bill, she said, enjoys some significant bipartisan support.

“The governor fully supports it if the town does,” Bennett said Wednesday.

Area leaders and residents have predicted that a failure to restart the mills would be a crushing blow to the Katahdin region, home to papermaking for a century and already an area crippled by a largely undiversified economy and a higher-than-average unemployment rate.

However, the impact of the mill shutdown hasn’t been fully felt yet, as workers’ separation pay and medical benefits are only now beginning to lapse.

Scally said he still had hopes that a buyer for the mills would be found and noted that Brookfield had paid all of its outstanding taxes to his town. LePage visited Millinocket last week to discuss the state’s efforts to find a new buyer. The East Millinocket plant’s sister mill, in Millinocket, closed in September 2008, idling about 150 workers.

As an expression of his optimism, Scally quoted a bumper sticker that read, “It’s you and I against the world — let’s attack.”

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