“If nobody comes in, I am not going to have a job,” said Damboise, a Howland resident and clerk at High Street Market of Lincoln.
“A lot of people who live in Howland work at the mill and are going to be out of a job, and Howland is struggling to begin with. My thoughts go out to them all,” Damboise said. “It’s just a sad, sad thing.”
Business workers and owners in Lincoln echoed Damboise’s reaction to Wednesday’s layoff announcement. Several interviewed Thursday and Friday said that the halving of the workforce of the Lincoln Lakes region’s largest single employer would have widespread and unanticipated effects on the quality of life of northern Penobscot County.
Lincoln Trading & Pawn shop manager Luke Shorey, whose business is at near the mill site on Katahdin Avenue, said he expects to see more workers pawning than buying goods over the next few months.
“When the economy is down, pawning goes up,” Shorey said. “We will usually see a lot of workers come in once every few weeks. It’s a lot easier to shop when you’ve just cashed your paycheck.”
Though the layoffs are still underway and are not expected to conclude for perhaps a few weeks, workers started being sent home on Wednesday afternoon, mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter said. The layoffs were announced in the wake of a boiler explosion on Nov. 2 that has crippled papermaking and pulp production.
Town Council Chairman Steve Clay said he has already felt the effect of the layoffs with his business. One client who had agreed to pay a funeral bill told Clay Thursday that he has been laid off from his mill job and didn’t know whether he could afford it, Clay said Friday.
“It is not just people who lost their jobs,” said Clay, who owns Clay Funeral Home of Lincoln. “It’s the trickle-down effect down to the people who cut the wood, who ship the paper and tissue they make, who depend upon their workers for customers.
“It will have a trickle-down effect on everybody,” Clay said.
The layoffs, Clay said, have him pondering what, if anything, the town council can do to help the laid-off workers, the mill, and the town recover. Town officials have discussed seeking federal aid with representatives at the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and with state Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, Town Manager William Lawrence said.
Town leaders, Lawrence said, have pursued economic development aggressively but incrementally. Their biggest initiative over the last two years, the installation of a 12-mile natural-gas pipeline along West Broadway starting in spring 2014, will not be affected by the indefinite elimination of paper manufacturing at the mill that Van Scotter disclosed Thursday, he said.
Mill and gas company officials “have a contract. They need it [natural gas] to operate on the tissue side of mill operations, and that is still a go,” Lawrence said Friday.
Although the mill’s owners have been targeted with a $5 million lawsuit over allegations that they manipulated a demand-response program administered by ISO-New England that paid users to reduce their electricity consumption during peak hours, the explosion is the worst setback the mill has faced since Van Scotter and co-owner John Wissman revitalized the former Eastern Pulp and Paper Corp. in 2004.
Mills in Bucksport, East Millinocket, Madawaska, Millinocket and Rumford have closed or reduced workforces since that year but Lincoln’s mill has performed steadily, making its revitalization one of the highlights of Gov. John Baldacci’s tenure. Its success, Clay and Lawrence said, has allowed Lincoln leaders to avoid pressing voters for big-ticket investments that taxpayers loathe paying to finance.
The layoffs might change that, Clay said. Lincoln officials are in talks with Maine Department of Transportation officials over widening West Broadway from the Hannaford Supermarket shopping center to River Road, which connects with Interstate 95. The widening, plus the pipeline installation, might create enough momentum to allow town officials to press for a multimillion-dollar bond to pay for water and sewer utility installations on River Road, thus spurring development of eight open lots on West Broadway and River Road itself, Lawrence said.
Lincoln could also accelerate its plans to build an industrial park near its airport or its airport expansion, which town officials added to by buying a campground earlier this year. They are also planning seaplane dock expansion in the Penobscot River, Lawrence said.
Several businesses, including Dunkin Donuts and a hardware store, are slated to go in along West Broadway and Penobscot Valley Avenue in 2014, complementing a Dollar Tree store that opened on West Broadway several months ago. Many other businesses continue to inquire about Lincoln, Lawrence said.
“It is not good to depend on one major employer or company to provide the value that they do to the town. We should diversify. We should get bigger businesses in here so that we are not always relying on the mill,” Lawrence said.
But Lawrence and Clay said they don’t see anything big enough to offset the loss of 200 jobs happening anytime soon. That is one reason why High Street Market manager Julie Zagorianakos says she worries about what the next year will hold for her shop, which opened in July.
“Our hearts go out to the people who were laid off, but we knew it wasn’t going to be good for the mill when we first heard of the explosion,” she said. “We had hopes that they would somehow keep the mill going. It’s the foundation of the community.”