MILLINOCKET, Maine – Layoffs at the Katahdin Avenue paper mill will start by week’s end with small numbers of workers as mill cleanup and mothballing operations continue, a mill spokesman said Monday.

“There will be a little bit here and there but not in large numbers or all at once,” Glenn Saucier, the mill’s Personnel Department director and spokesman, said Monday of the layoff process. “It could be several weeks before everything gets done because we still have a lot of work to do on the maintenance side as we prepare the mill for the winter.

“It could be very gradual,” Saucier added.

As many as 208 workers at the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill could be laid off as the mill goes into an indefinite shutdown as part of the company’s plans to convert the mill from oil-burning to biomass.

Mill managers and the mill’s parent company, Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, are negotiating with an unnamed third party to retrofit the mill’s No. 4 boiler with a system that would burn biomass – typically bark or other tree debris.

Brookfield announced May 29 that the mill’s prodigious oil use would in 60 days force an indefinite shutdown and layoff of 208 workers if an alternative energy source wasn’t found. Gov. John Baldacci intervened, the mill found energy savings and supportive customers, and the deadline was extended repeatedly.

Brookfield was in talks with alternative energy providers on Aug. 26 when its officials ordered the Sept. 2 shutdown in a manner that Baldacci and the unions said was abrupt. The mill ceased production on Sept. 2, when cleanup operations began.

The exact number of layoffs is unclear because of bumping, a union practice that allows Millinocket workers with seniority to claim jobs at Katahdin Paper’s East Millinocket mill. Also, the company and unions have yet to begin negotiations or to finalize management restructuring plans, Saucier said.

“I can’t tell you the numbers yet because we keep working through them,” Saucier said.