June 22, 2018
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Is paper in Katahdin region’s future?


With state and local officials struggling to come up with a deal to save the paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, this is a pertinent, if harsh question. Join the discussion on the Opinion page at bangordailynews.com live from 10 to noon, or at your convenience.

Legislators are currently considering a bill — LD 1567 — to authorize the state to purchase the mills’ landfill in hopes of enticing a buyer for the two papermaking facilities. There is resistance to the proposal and the Legislature’s Taxation Committee last week rejected a bill that would have provided East Millinocket with tax help.

The mill in East Millinocket was shut down in April when negotiations with a potential buyer broke down. The Millinocket facility was closed in 2008 because its reliance on oil for energy made it cost prohibitive to operate.

Now, neither mill has a customer base. Both would need major investment to make the operations more efficient and, perhaps, to convert to more profitable products.

In 2003, the state stepped in to keep the Georgia-Pacific mill in Old Town operational. That deal also involved the acquisition of a landfill, although it was also needed for municipal garbage because the dump in Hampden was near capacity.

The Old Town mill now employs nearly 200 people — far fewer than worked there when it was making paper — producing pulp and biofuels.

Was this an appropriate trade-off? What lessons does it provide for the Katahdin region?

At the same time, many in the Millinocket area have been resistant to embracing tourism and outdoor recreation as key to the region’s economic future, despite the fact that the town is the gateway to Baxter State Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the North Maine Woods. Roxanne Quimby has generated vociferous criticism for buying up land in the area and putting some of it off to motorized access. She also would like her holdings to become part of a future national park.

Is this part of the region’s economic puzzle? Maine is making more paper than ever, but with fewer people, so it seems prudent to grow other parts of the local economy as well.

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