ASHLAND, Maine — Legislation to increase the allowable truck weight limit by 100,000 pounds on just under a mile of roadway here could lead to the creation of 50 jobs or more at the former Fraser mill site.
“This request is for an exemption to allow increased truck capacities from the Realty Road to the old Fraser mill site in Ashland, which is currently owned by E.J. Carrier Inc., of Jackman,” said Town Manager Ralph Dwyer.
The change would make it more feasible for the new mill owner to do business, he said.
An informational meeting on the measure, LD 1467, sponsored by state Sen. Troy Jackson, will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, May 3, at the Municipal Building in Ashland.
“They’re in the forest products business. The new owners haven’t said what exactly they’ll be doing with the mill, but it will involve the use of wood. Trucks on the Realty Road are heavier than what’s already on the road. The weight exemption would only affect a short distance,” said Dwyer.
Currently, trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds can travel Maine highways.
“This change would allow significantly larger loads, up to 200,000 pounds. Trucks have traveled the Garfield Road before but this change would allow trucks to cross the bridge, then turn into the mill’s back entrance. A route about eight-tenths of a mile would be affected,” Jackson said. “The big hurdle was the bridge.”
According to Jackson, officials with the Maine Department of Transportation examined the bridge and found it to be sturdy enough to support the increased truck weight.
“They feel the bridge is structurally sound to handle the weight. They’re comfortable the bridge will take the added weight, with some recommendations. That was a huge hurdle to get over. They recommended reconfiguring and strengthening (the road) for eight-tenths of a mile,” he said.
Jackson said a portion of the expense would be handled by the mill owners.
“Mill owners are responsible for at least 50 percent of the highway upgrade — roughly $400,000,” Jackson said.
He said increasing the weight limit would make doing business at the mill more affordable for a number of reasons. Fewer trips would be necessary to truck raw product from the woods to the mill, thus saving fuel, and would allow larger shipments to be delivered.
“Carrier is looking to put in a high-tech mill. I’ve met with the owners before. I’m excited to have the Carriers put down roots in Aroostook County. They’re people that do things and treat their people well,” said Jackson. “They’re very much invested in this.”
According to online records with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, E.J. Carrier Inc. sought the transfer of pertinent licenses from Fraser Timber LLC, the mill’s former owner, in October 2012. Dwyer confirmed Carrier bought the mill from Fraser at the end of last year.
In addition to Jackson, Dwyer and other town officials, Ken Sweeney, DOT’s chief engineer, and David Cole, former DOT commissioner, are expected to attend Friday’s meeting.
“I hope to have other representatives there as well,” said Jackson. “Rep. Bob Saucier is in support of this bill as well.”
LD 1467 is actually a resolve that calls for the commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation to “establish a demonstration project in the Town of Ashland for the purpose of demonstrating cost effective ways of promoting economic development in the forest products industry by facilitating the transportation of forest product related materials, including logs and wood biomass, from product harvesting sites to processing and transportation facilities.”
The measure then requires the commissioner to report back on the results of the project to the Legislature’s transportation committee by Jan. 15, 2015, to help lawmakers determine whether it might be safe and effective to increase weight limits elsewhere in Maine as a catalyst for economic development.
Jackson said while there are still details to iron out, he’s pleased to have Carrier establishing a presence in Ashland.
“I’ve toured their other mills, spoken with employees. I’m very anxious and thankful they’re trying to do something here,” he said.
“They’ll bring employees from all over. If everything goes well for the town of Ashland, I’m very confident — given the amount of people who signed on the bill — it will go forward,” said Jackson.
Dwyer said the meeting is designed to address safety concerns and provide the public with information on why the change is needed. He said part of the plan includes reducing the speed to 10 mph for larger trucks along the specified route.
“We want people to know what’s going on and know we’re promoting economic development, so we can be more competitive,” said Dwyer.
Jackson said the change would aid in the economic development of the area.
“The company will create much-needed jobs, if they can bring the mill back online. We’re talking upwards of 50 jobs or more,” said Jackson.
For more information on the meeting, call the Town Office at 435-2311.