EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Exactly a week after he said that Great Northern Paper Co. LLC didn’t regard Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park a threat to his industry, Peter Hanson is no longer GNP’s president, company officials announced Tuesday.
Hanson resigned on Monday as a result of what company spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne called “philosophical differences” between Hanson and other company leaders.
“We parted ways with Mr. Hanson simply because of philosophical differences on how best to move the mill forward,” Tranchemontagne said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “There is no connection, no relation” between Hanson’s resignation and his statements about Quimby’s proposal.
“We are focused on making improvements to the way we produce paper and we are focused on using new techniques, implementing new efficiencies, making the mill profitable and viable over the long term because that is what is best for everybody,” Tranchemontagne added, “and we believe at this time that Everett O’Neill is the most qualified to lead us.”
Attempts to contact Hanson for comment were not immediately successful.
As GNP’s vice president of operations and manufacturing, O’Neill will oversee management and operations of GNP’s East Millinocket paper mill and replace Hanson immediately, Tranchemontagne said.
“Everett O’Neill is a leader and problem-solver who excels at identifying ways to improve our production processes,” Great Northern Paper CEO Richard Cyr said in a statement. “He has demonstrated strong abilities on the production line — as well as in the office analyzing financial data. Everett has a strong vision about employing 21st century technologies and procedures to increase efficiencies and move our mill forward, making it more viable over the long term.”
“We thank Peter Hanson for his hard work in getting the mill restarted this fall and we wish him well in future endeavors,” Cyr added.
Speaking before approximately 75 Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce members at River Driver’s Restaurant just outside Millinocket on Dec. 13, Hanson said he felt a national park and his industry could coexist 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 during a question-and-answer session that followed the Chamber’s quarterly dinner, “unless a large amount of additional land suddenly came under” federal control.
Hanson’s statements prompted clarifying remarks from Cyr two days later in which Cyr said the company did not support Quimby’s proposal in any way. Cyr and Tranchemontagne did not directly contradict anything Hanson said, but said they had done further study of the issue and also were concerned that Hanson’s statements could be misconstrued as company support for a park.
Cyr said he favors the diversification of the Katahdin-area economy but fears that the federal authority would limit the kinds of businesses which might be attracted to the region. Dealing with that additional layer of bureaucracy would cost businesses money, he said.
“We do not believe it is necessary to have any one thing limit that diversification and we don’t think we have to give up one thing to get another,” Cyr said. “The ideas that should come to the table are ones that do not create extra costs for other businesses. There are plenty of good ideas that will create good jobs and diversify the economy. It doesn’t have to be a park.”
Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, N.H., which owns GNP, is proposing to start producing biocoal, an almost pollution-free coal substitute that would be burned by coal-fired electrical plants, at the Millinocket mill site in late 2012, eventually employing as many as 125 workers directly and hundreds more indirectly.
O’Neill comes into his job as president with more than 30 years experience. A graduate of Bucksport High School and the University of Maine, he began his paper industry career in 1979 at the former St. Regis Paper Co. mill in Bucksport. He was promoted to the position of plant controller at Champion International’s Sartell, Minn., mill in 1987 and became line manager of the uncoated production system in 1990.
He rose within International Paper to become manufacturing manager at IP’s Hudson River Mill in Corinth, N.Y. Beginning in 2004, O’Neil worked at Finch Paper LLC, serving as vice president of manufacturing from January 2006 to October 2009. He joined Katahdin Paper Co. in early 2010 and was responsible for the wood yard, wood room, groundwood mill, recycled fiber plant, two paper machines, finishing and shipping. He was an account manager for Buckman Laboratories prior to joining Great Northern Paper in September 2011.
The East Millinocket mill makes newsprint and telephone directory paper. It employs about 220 workers. The Millinocket mill makes magazine paper and has been idle since September 2008. GNP hopes to restart the mill if conditions warrant, its leaders have said.
When Hanson spoke to the chamber, he found himself before some of northern Maine’s most ardent park supporters, although the chamber and downtown Millinocket business group have publicly and as a group said they only support having the National Park Service do a feasibility study of a park’s place within the U.S.’s 58 national parks and its cultural and economic impacts upon the region.
The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce is among at least 16 business, civic and environmental groups, including one formed by Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, that have expressed support for a park or for a National Park Service feasibility study. So has Medway’s town government.
An independent poll of 600 voters statewide done in October suggested that 60 percent of Maine residents support a feasibility study.
But the park concept also has many adversaries. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of East Millinocket, Gov. Paul LePage, the Legislature, the towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket, and the Maine Snowmobile Association are among the individuals or organizations that oppose a park or feasibility study.
The Maine Forest Products Council, which represents landowners, loggers, paper mills and others involved in wood products industry ― including some of GNP’s wood suppliers ― has also opposed the park and a feasibility study.
Hanson was aware that he was in a difficult spot.
“I was going to stay away from that topic,” Hanson joked wryly at the Chamber meeting.