Union rep: Furloughed Lincoln mill employees could face 8- or 9-month layoff

The Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill as seen on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.
The Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill as seen on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 12, 2013, at 1:11 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 12, 2013, at 8:06 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC’s furloughed paper mill workers could be looking at an eight- or nine-month layoff if mill officials continue with plans to rebuild the recovery boiler that exploded last month, a representative of the workers’ largest union said Thursday.

The United Steelworkers union’s international representative in Maine, Duane Lugdon, recalls that the Georgia-Pacific mill in Old Town endured a very similar explosion in 1987. A leak from a tube in the economizer section of the Old Town boiler sprayed water onto the boiler’s smelt bed, causing a catastrophic over-pressurization and explosion that forced the company to rebuild the boiler, he said.

“You could be looking at a rebuild of a boiler that could take eight or nine months. How long it takes will be up to the company,” Lugdon said Thursday. “We don’t have any choice in that.”

Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC officials continue to work with insurers and engineers on the boiler that exploded Nov. 2. Mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter has indicated that the company intends to rebuild the boiler, but declined to comment Wednesday on when that might occur in announcing that the company would be laying off about 200 workers indefinitely.

Company leaders sent notices to the mill’s approximately 400 workers on Wednesday. It was unclear when the layoffs would occur. Van Scotter declined to comment on a timeline on company layoffs or next moves.

The explosion idled one of the company’s paper machines and its pulping facilities. Another machine had been down prior to the explosion, and a third ran at partial capacity with trucked-in pulp for weeks after the explosion. The company’s tissue machines have run at full capacity and will continue to, Van Scotter has said.

Union and Maine Department of Labor Rapid Response Team workers are due to meet in a closed-door session at The Waterfront Event Center on Prince Street in Lincoln at 3 p.m., officials said. The team helps workers claim unemployment benefits and find work.

The layoffs affect about half the company’s workforce. The laid-off workers attend to the company’s paper machines and pulp-making operations, the areas served by the recovery boiler, which exploded on Nov. 2 when a tube within it leaked water onto a hot smelt bed, creating steam and pressure, Van Scotter has said.

The combination of paper and tissue manufacture has been durable and successful since Van Scotter and mill co-owner John Wissman, both Connecticut residents, came to Maine and resurrected the Lincoln mill in 2004.

“It is impossible to look at any one business segment and say that it is more important than the other,” Lugdon said.

Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.

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