LINCOLN, Maine — Jamie Graham and Joyce Thornton have been involved in family businesses in Lincoln almost all of their adult lives. Graham is an excavating contractor who inherited the two-man business from his father, while Thornton’s husband and sons have owned the Thornton Brothers auto dealership for several generations.
Both agreed that Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing announced Monday likely will make for a lean next few years for their family enterprises.
“We’re a mill town. We hate to see it. I mean that’s what we are, but things happen. You have to do what you have to do. We will have to try to survive,” the owner-operator of E.H. Graham & Son said Tuesday. “If money gets tight, [people] are just not going to have it to spend. If people don’t have it to spend, a lot of projects may or may not happen. We will have to see.”
Thornton Brothers “does have a lot of people from out of town that he does business with, but it isn’t going to be good. You can’t really pinpoint any one thing, but I am sure it will affect a lot of businesses,” Thornton said. “Don’t you think?
“And a lot of people have already left because of the layoffs they have already had. There are a lot of houses for sale in town. It is going to have a big impact,” she added.
Town Council members held a previously scheduled special public hearing on Monday night and immediately reacted to Lincoln Paper’s filing earlier that day by opting to suspend for at least a year plans to lease and then buy the Lincoln District Court building at 52 Main St. for use as a new town office.
Their motion to place on the Nov. 3 ballot a question seeking voter approval of an appropriation of as much as $1.15 million for the plan failed to draw a second, Town Manager Ron Weatherbee said.
“There was a lot of discussion as to was now a good time. What was the situation with the mill? What was the situation with that building? Then [the motion] died,” Weatherbee said. “Most of it was the uncertainty of the mill. To turn around and spend for that building, to make it the new town office, they didn’t feel they could justify to the taxpayer.”
“I am concerned, I am worried, but … I think some good things may happen before we are done,” Weatherbee added. “I have talked to some people who feel that there are buyers out there for the mill but whether they would come in and scrap it or continue production would be one of those gray areas that we are not going to know.”
The loss of the mill, which employs 179 people directly and at least five times that indirectly, would be a heavy blow to the Lincoln Lakes region economy, Weatherbee said.
“I feel very bad for the people who are there [working at the mill] right now not knowing what the future holds for them. There may be no change or it may be a case where their life drastically changes,” he said.
Much depends on whether a new owner has plans to restart the mill, Weatherbee said. Keith Van Scotter, who co-owns the mill with John Wissman, said Monday that a bankruptcy auction would be held in 45 days.
In the meantime, eight new businesses are due to open in Lincoln, Weatherbee said, and more have expressed interest.
The mill’s bankruptcy was not unexpected, but the news still hits hard, said Kimberly Bernier, president of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.
“Even though you think you are prepared, when it actually happens, it is a really devastating thought, of what’s ahead,” Bernier said. “I think more than ever it is important that we continue the economic development plans that we can accomplish at this point so down the road maybe we have some other options for jobs in the community.”
Besides hoping to continue its plans to expand a natural gas network in town, Lincoln is working to bring water and sewer utilities to the River Road-Interstate 95 area, further develop its airport and adjoining industrial park area, widen West Broadway, continue developing town walking and hiking trails near Mattanawcook Academy, and revitalize plans for a regional recreation center.
Lincoln and Howland are the only Penobscot County towns between Passadumkeag and Baxter State Park with articulated economic development plans that their leaders have been working on for several years.
DNA Tattoo owner Damien Arthurs said he is bullish about Lincoln’s chances of surviving without its mill.
“Lincoln is a pretty productive little town so I think we will be all right no matter what happens to the mill. I have had a business in this town for five years, and it is doing better every single year,” Arthurs said. “Plus I am on a downtown [revitalization committee] for Lincoln so I get a little more insight than everybody else does as far as that is concerned.”