EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine – It’s nothing like a windfall, but the closing of the Main Street paper mill leaves the region’s economic development board with an additional $75,000 to help revitalize the Katahdin area’s economy, officials said Thursday.
Mill owner Brookfield Asset Management Co. gave the money to the Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion committee per an agreement outlined in a Legislature-approved agreement between Brookfield and the state that requires the payment be made annually in the event of a mill closure. In return, Brookfield can continue to generate electricity with its dams on the Penobscot River, said Mark Scally, chairman of the town Board of Selectmen and a KARE board member.
“It is bittersweet,” said KARE secretary Eugene Conlogue, who is Millinocket’s town manager. “It is not $75,000 we really want because we want them to run the mills.”
The East Millinocket mill’s closure forced the layoff of about 450 workers. Brookfield already had been paying the board $75,000 annually for its closure of its Millinocket paper mill, which idled about 150 workers in September 2008.
State Department of Economic and Community Development officials have been working to find another owner to run the two paper mills since Meriturn Partners, a San Francisco investor, dropped its attempt to buy both for $1 in April.
Disassembly of the two mills is due to start on or sometime after July 31. Gov. Paul LePage announced the decommissioning date in late April in saying that Brookfield Asset Management had granted the state a final extension of its original decommissioning deadline to allow officials more time to find a buyer.
State officials have said only that their efforts are continuing. Conlogue and Scally said they are unaware of any significant progress being made, and in the meantime, they have $150,000 of Brookfield money that they can grant to established and start-up businesses in East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket.
The additional payment leaves the board with $101,130 in its budget, minutes from the May 18 KARE board meeting show. Consisting of 20 town government leaders, administrators and local businesspeople from the three towns, KARE is charged with enhancing the region’s economy and aiding the creation of jobs there.
Since its inception as the region’s economic development agency in spring 2009, KARE has had some success starting or expanding local businesses or issuing grants to improve the region’s economic environment, Scally and Conlogue said. The efforts include:
• A $10,000 grant to Pine Grove Campground & Cottages of Medway that allowed owner Jeff Long to renovate four of his five cabins. Renovations included new roofs, fixtures and floors. The work cost about $25,000 in total and was supplemented by Long’s funds, he said.
“If I didn’t have it, I probably would not have had enough money to do much of it at all. It really made the difference,” Long said Thursday. “About the only things left from the original buildings when we were done was the original four walls. Everything else was replaced.”
• $5,000 in matching grant funds that helped launch Soup to Nuts, an East Millinocket restaurant.
• More than $19,000 in grants for a multiuse recreational bridge over the Penobscot River just outside Millinocket. Named after region snowmobile and ATV advocate Brian Wiley, the bridge is key to several snowmobiling and proposed ATV trails. The exact bridge funding amount was unavailable.
Proponents hope that efforts to connect the region to statewide ATV trail networks will create the same kind of multimillion-dollar revenue stream provided by the region’s snowmobile trails.
• An $18,000 grant to the East Branch Sno-Rovers Club that paid for a complete 2,200-foot snowmobile drag racing track and spectators area at the club’s Medway clubhouse.
• About $7,500 in matching grant funds to Lee’s Ready-Mix Concrete of East Millinocket for a new computer system and a $5,000 grant to the Millinocket Historical Society to help it pay for its new building or building renovations.
• About $8,125 that pays for the services of Kimberly Moore, an Eastern Maine Development Corp. specialist, to work in the area one day a week helping new and established businesses.
KARE relies upon businesses or would-be entrepreneurs to submit grant requests. Anyone interested in doing so can contact the area town governments.