MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders so far have had a favorable reaction to Cate Street Capital’s proposal to turn the Katahdin Avenue paper mill site into a nationally advertised industrial park.
“It is a positive thing,” Town Councilor Gilda Stratton said after the council’s meeting Thursday.
“It is all positive,” Councilor Jimmy Busque added. “We have always said that we needed to diversify the region’s economy and this will help us to do that.”
Councilor Michael Madore was more cautious.
“We want to see how everything plays out,” he said.
Leaders from the Portsmouth, N.H.-based company met in executive session with councilors for about an hour Wednesday and unveiled renderings of the first $35 million torrefied wood manufacturing machine they plan to build at their industrial park, the site of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill.
They also announced what they called “an aggressive, national marketing campaign to manufacturers in an attempt to bring new jobs and economic vitality to the Katahdin region” through the new park.
Company officials who are working with state officials to permit the torrefied wood machine said they expect to have it operational in the third quarter of 2013, almost a year behind their original schedule. They originally had wanted the plant operational in November, then pushed back the operating date to first-quarter 2013.
And company officials are pessimistic about their chances of restarting the paper mill itself anytime soon. They say the magazine-stock paper market that the No. 11 paper machine serves is still contracting, the overall paper market hasn’t revived enough, and that without a cheaper source of energy than the No. 2 heating oil the machine still burns — namely, a natural gas pipeline the LePage administration supports — starting the machine is unwise.
Stratton called that aspect of Wednesday’s announcement “a sad note.”
Busque called Cate Street’s delay in manufacturing torrefied wood “expected. We know how the permitting process works.”
Cate Street subsidiary Thermogen Industries LLC announced on Dec. 1 that for $20 million it had secured exclusive rights from Scotland-based Rotawave Biocoal to manufacture a type of machine — called the Targeted Intelligent Energy System, or TIES — that makes torrefied wood intended to replace coal burned at electricity plants.
Creating jobs for 22 to 25 workers directly and dozens of truckers, loggers and other support providers indirectly, the first $35 million TIES machine would supply United Kingdom utilities with biocoal, so named because it is made of wood but burns at a nearly 1-to-1 ratio with coal, company officials have said.
Other councilors have chosen to remain silent on Cate Street’s plans, saying they want time to mull them and that they respected the fact that Cate Street unveiled its plans behind closed doors.