Northern Penobscot Tech developing natural-gas course to help laid-off paper workers

More than 200 workers at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC listen as state Department of Labor and union officials brief them on unemployment benefits during a meeting at Mattamawcook Academy of Lincoln on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.
More than 200 workers at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC listen as state Department of Labor and union officials brief them on unemployment benefits during a meeting at Mattamawcook Academy of Lincoln on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 24, 2014, at 5:35 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Displaced paper mill workers are among those who can learn to install and service natural gas and propane lines and burners under an adult-education class being developed at Northern Penobscot Tech, officials said Monday.

Workers at the Region III vocational school and Maine Department of Labor officials will hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the West Broadway school for people wishing to learn the skill set, particularly the mill workers. The course will start late next month or in early April, school director Mary Hawkes said.

“It is so new that we are still tweaking it,” Hawkes said Monday. “We needed some new courses and programs that could meet the demand out there. With the natural gas pipeline scheduled to go right by here in the spring, the timing just seemed perfect for that.”

Since December, about 412 paper mill workers have been laid off from East Millinocket’s Great Northern Paper Co. and the Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mills. The layoffs, and the $7.5 million natural gas pipeline Bangor Natural Gas Co. is scheduled to start building along West Broadway into the LPT mill over the next year, prompted Hawkes to approach certified natural gas and propane technician Chris Weiss of Old Town in January about teaching the course, Weiss said.

“I could see people retiring in the gas business after taking this class because there is a real need for good technicians,” Weiss said Monday.

Company officials told town Economic Development Director Ruth Birtz that they have been working to find a large area in Lincoln where they can store their equipment. They are seeking an easement to continue the extension they have recently been building from the Loring natural gas pipeline in Chester across the Penobscot River and into Lincoln, Birtz said.

Lincoln’s 12-mile gas line into the paper mill is expected to be built this year, but the entire fitting out of the natural-gas line network through the entire town is planned to last until 2023, with another line possibly running north into the Katahdin region, company officials have said.

Weiss said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 50 to 100 jobs develop over the next few years from the Lincoln pipeline alone for pipeline installers and burner servicers. Natural gas and propane technicians need three certificates and can get as many as six. Such jobs pay $13 to $25 per hour, Weiss said.

The curriculum Weiss and Hawkes are developing would offer three certifications, he said. Its cost to the workers is as yet undetermined, but Hawkes is working to develop the course so that it would provide free training to laid-off workers under the U.S. Department of Labor job retraining and employment services petition that LPT successfully applied for, Weiss said.

The Maine Department of Labor and Eastern Maine Development Corp., an economic development agency, also will be moving into an office in the school by the end of next week, where they will serve laid-off paper mill workers, Hawkes said.

Hawkes and Weiss encouraged laid-off workers to attend Tuesday night’s meeting. It will help them gauge interest in the class, answer workers’ questions and further refine the tech school’s efforts to help the workers get retraining and new jobs, she said.

 

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