BUCKSPORT, Maine — Verso Paper Corp. announced Thursday that it will permanently shutter its Sartell, Minn., paper mill after a fatal explosion that gutted the plant on Memorial Day.
Now, representatives from the company say the workload from Sartell will be transferred to Verso mills in Bucksport and Jay, but that the increased paper production will not result in more jobs.
“Those products will be made within existing capacity,” said Bill Cohen, a Verso spokesman in Bucksport. “Following the Memorial Day tragedy, we transferred some production to both Jay and Bucksport. Now we’ll work with our customers to make those transfers permanent.”
One worker was killed and four others were injured in the May 28 explosion, which brought down structural support beams and destroyed nearly 4,000 rolls of paper. The mill has been idle since the explosion. The Memphis, Tenn.-based company said it based its decision to close the Sartell mill on the length of time it would take to rebuild and challenges in the papermaking market.
Cohen said 279 workers will lose their jobs in Sartell, where the 100-year-old mill forms the backbone of the community.
“Three or four generations of people worked at that mill, and the world of papermaking is a small, close family. So there’s a huge loss there,” he said. “The other side is that some of that production will end up in Bucksport and Jay. If you want to call that good news, it means there’s more tons being made in both those mills.”
Emery Deabay is a power plant operator at the Bucksport mill and president of United Steelworkers Local 1188. He said he was in Sartell a week ago for a memorial service for the worker who died in the fire.
“There was a lot of hope that day that they’d get the mill up and running for the community and the workers,” he said Friday.
Deabay said he knew Bucksport had taken on some of Sartell’s former workload, and had at one point hoped the additional paper tonnage might result in the mill turning on the No. 2 paper machine, which was shut down in November.
He now knows that the machine will stay idle, but said he’s still unsure exactly how the closure will affect workers in Bucksport.
“I know we’ve made some of their orders, but I don’t know if it will translate to job security or not,” he said.
The permanent closure of the Sartell mill will reduce Verso’s annual coated groundwood paper capacity about 20 percent, and will eliminate approximately 35,000 tons of annual supercalendered paper capacity, the company said in a news release.
The company expects the closure to cost $114 million, including approximately $19 million in severance and benefits for workers, $81 million in charges related to the impairment of the plant and equipment, and $14 million in other costs.
Verso also operates a paper mill in Quinnesec, Mich. In a May conference call presentation for investors, the company said first-quarter sales in 2012 were down $75 million from the last quarter of 2011, and reported a loss in adjusted net income of $39 million.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.