LINCOLN, Maine — One of the town’s oldest businesses will get a $200,000 federal grant by January to help it diversify its manufacturing base and end a smoke problem that has bedeviled neighbors.
Haskell Lumber Inc. and its manufacturing arm, LMJ Enterprises LLC, qualified for the federal Community Development Block Grant and learned in late October that it would get it, said Ruth Birtz, the town’s economic development coordinator.
The grant will pay half of the estimated $300,000 to $500,000 cost of installing a filtration unit that will clean the air coming from LMJ’s wood-shavings mill, co-owner Mike McFalls has said.
The Town Council voted unanimously on Sept. 11 to co-sponsor the company’s grant application to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which administers the federal grant.
McFalls told the council that besides eliminating most of the blue haze and smoke that comes from the mill stack, the grant would help keep 10 workers employed making shavings and allow Haskell Lumber, a Main Street hardware store, to make the transition from a sawmill to a wood shavings operation.
Haskell’s “involvement in the community is longstanding, so the town council really felt it was important to assist the company in maintaining [its] viability here,” Birtz said Thursday. “Any industry, any expansion of industry, especially in a town like Lincoln with its population of 5,200 people, is a plus.”
The wood shavings that Haskell produces are sold to a nationwide retailer and farm supply store for sale as livestock bedding, McFalls said. Nondisclosure agreements don’t allow him to publicize the retailer or technology used to make the shavings, he said.
The air-filtration system costs well over $400,000. The company will pay most of its purchase price, said Birtz, who complimented Haskell workers for working with school officials to avoid operating the shavings machine when Ella P. Burr School was in session. The smoke was a nuisance there.
The company has done well in the early phases of the expansion, Birtz said. The only problem was that the engineer who designed the shavings maker underestimated the moisture content in the wood, causing the pollution problem.
The town will hold public hearings next month to ensure that townspeople approve the town co-sponsoring the grant, Birtz said.
The fix will bring the plant back in line with air quality regulations, Birtz and company officials said.
In its more than 80-year history, Haskell Lumber has helped Lincoln build the minimall building on Main Street and several other downtown establishments, Birtz said.
Councilors voted unanimously in January 2009 to shift a Pine Tree Zone designation covering 38 acres at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC on Katahdin Avenue to Haskell Lumber Co., 431 Main St.
Haskell received $3,000 from Lincoln in February 2008 to hire Eastern Maine Development Corp. to help the business diversify.