TOWNSHIP 1 RANGE 8, Maine — The owner of the two Katahdin-region paper mills doesn’t think Roxanne Quimby’s proposed national park would threaten his industry’s wood supply unless it grew far beyond 70,000 acres.
Speaking before about 75 Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce members at River Driver’s Restaurant just outside Millinocket, Great Northern Paper Co. LLC President Peter Hanson said he felt a national park and his industry could co-exist well, but added that he would “have a concern” about answering to federal air-quality standards.
“It’s not something that would affect the wood supply in any major fashion,” Hanson said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session that followed the Chamber’s quarterly dinner, “unless a large [additional] amount of additional land suddenly came under” federal control.
Questions about whether and how much federal air-quality standards would affect area industries have been a major element of the ongoing debate over Quimby’s proposed gift to the park service in 2016. The park service would, Hanson said, have legal authority to challenge air-quality impacts from industrial developments within 60 miles of a park.
Opponents say the park service would threaten paper mills and other emissions producers; proponents discount any effect a federal authority might have.
Chamber member Anita Mueller’s question about the park put Hanson somewhere he didn’t want to be. It came after a lengthy and warm speech in which Hanson outlined some of his goals for the mills and another Cate Street Capital employee, Thermogen Industries project manager Dammon Frecker, discussed the biocoal plant Cate Street seeks to add to the Millinocket mill in November 2012.
“I was going to stay away from that topic,” Hanson joked wryly.
But Hanson squared to it, saying that he doubted the park service would want the park and expressing doubt that other Maine landowners would contribute to Quimby’s donation. Hanson said he found it hard to know exactly how the park would impact his business.
“It would be another layer of regulatory administration to go through,” Hanson said after the meeting.
Paper mills and tourism are “perfectly compatible,” he said.
The top thing that drew Hanson and Cate Street to purchase the mills in September after many other investors walked away, he said, was a large supply of wood now almost harvestable on areas clear-cut decades ago.
“What attracted me to the mill is its situation in the heart of Maine’s wood basket,” Hanson said. “In the next 15 years, a huge amount of spruce and fir is coming online … All of those clear-cuts are now approaching maturity. As that happens, the wood processors that are sitting there are very well-positioned.”
The strength of the euro and a reshuffling among European papermakers give the East Millinocket paper mill a real opportunity to be competitive, as does its excellent workers, Hanson said.
“To a person, across the board everyone who has shown up for work, has shown up for work. They have all contributed and they want to make it a success,” Hanson said. “As a long-term deal, this is not a one-machine mill. There are two in East Millinocket and one jewel of a mill in Millinocket.”
But as president of a mill operating only since Oct. 17, it is far too soon to offer much of a long-term plan, even to say when the Millinocket mill might open, Hanson said.
“This is one of the top machines in the world, certainly in North America,” Hanson said, calling the mill’s No. 11 paper machine “a top sheetmaker in North America right before it shut down.”
A crucial element to its restart, Hanson said, is Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to run a natural gas pipeline to the Millinocket mill. Natural gas is necessary for that mill to be profitable, he said.
Of the biocoal plant, Frecker said the company is working hard on its plans to install the first of five to 10 machines at the Millinocket site by November 2012. Previous company statements pegged the number of Millinocket machines at five or six.
“We are very enthusiastic,” Frecker said. “We have looked at a lot of places in the country and we are really excited about having Millinocket be our first.”