Baldacci: Katahdin mill restart could cost $30M

Posted Sept. 24, 2008, at 2:50 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Multibillion-dollar corporation Brookfield Asset Management Inc. hopes to finish in three weeks its final vetting of a 20- to 30-year plan to revitalize the Katahdin Avenue paper mill for about $30 million, Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday.

Baldacci will meet in Augusta on Friday with union representatives to discuss how Brookfield hopes to install a biomass boiler and otherwise improve the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill. The unions sought the meeting due to frustration with Brookfield’s silence on its mill plans, which the firm shared briefly with the governor last week.

“My sense when I talked to them was that it was going to require two or three weeks of drilling down and getting through things exhaustively. They are doing a lot of number crunching right now,” Baldacci said Wednesday.

“They are going to know what they have in two or three more weeks,” he added. “Then they would be able to give me more specifics.”

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Baldacci’s statement doesn’t mean that Brookfield has made a final pledge to reopen the mill.

Officials at Katahdin Paper, a Brookfield subsidiary, agreed on June 13 after meeting with U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe that they would open the mill in 2009 with a biomass boiler rebuilt from a mill oil burner — if the numbers added up.

But the plan had to be assembled and ultimately approved by Brookfield managing partner Peter Gordon. Former mill manager Serge Sorokin has assembled a team that created the plan which Brookfield is scrutinizing.

Given the recent cratering of the international housing market and the resultant instability on Wall Street and in financial markets worldwide, it is natural, Baldacci said, for Katahdin region residents to be concerned about the mill’s future — Katahdin Paper is the region’s single largest employer — and for Brookfield to scrutinize the plan with the greatest care.

“Our country in some quarters is facing a very precarious condition,” Baldacci said. “Sometimes that puts everything on hold, and you are talking about a $30 million project here.”

Brookfield announced plans May 29 to shut down the mill indefinitely on July 28, cutting 208 jobs, because of runaway oil prices. The mill used more than 400,000 gallons of oil to make steam in 2007. That date was extended repeatedly before the Sept. 2 shutdown.

Eighteen workers had been laid off as of Friday, with several more planned for this week, state officials said.

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