BAILEYVILLE, Maine — With other mills in Maine struggling to survive, Woodland Pulp LLC indicated Friday that it is nearly halfway done with its $120 million expansion.
The first of two new tissue paper machines that Woodland Pulp announced it was installing in March 2014 is now running in the startup phase, company spokesman Scott Beal said Friday.
“It’s being commissioned as we speak,” said Beal. “The fruits of a lot of labor are fast becoming a reality.”
The two new machines will make products ranging from bath tissue to paper towels.
The first machine is undergoing normal startup and testing procedures, which will determine when it will be producing product at full capacity and when product might be shipped out, Beal said.
The second tissue machine is on track to be up and running by the end of June, he said.
Both will be operated by St. Croix Tissue Inc., an affiliate of Woodland Pulp, with tissue being made from pulp supplied by Woodland Pulp.
Speaking on Tuesday, March 15, in Calais during one of his periodic town hall meetings, Gov. Paul LePage referred to several mill closings of late and to Madison Paper Industries announcing plans early this week to shut down by May and lay off about 214 employees.
Among the troubled or shuttered mills, Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2015, causing 179 workers to lose their jobs. Expera Old Town LLC facility closed in December 2015, laying off 195 workers. And Verso Paper shut down its Bucksport facility at the end of 2014, laying off 570 workers.
LePage said Maine had 17 operating paper mills at one time and shortly will only have six.
“Two of the six [mills] are on oxygen, and one’s in a wheelchair,” LePage said.
Woodland Pulp will survive, according to LePage, “because we found someone to invest, and not only invest in the mill but invest in new technology for the mill.”
Beal said the plant is doing well because parent company International Grand Investment Corp., which is based in Hong Kong, invested in it.
“We are very fortunate to have been acquired by IGIC in late 2010,” Beal said.
IGIC, which acquired the plant from Domtar for $64 million, led the plant through a $15 million conversion from oil to natural gas in 2011 and 2012.
“We weren’t used to that kind of investment,” said Beal. “That has helped us considerably with our energy costs, which are still very high.”
The two tissue machines represent another good investment in the company, Beal said.
“As we considered options to add value to our current pulp production, we believe entering the tissue market was the right thing to do for our facility,” he said.
The installation of the first tissue machine has gone smoothly with no interruptions to the mill’s pulp production. The additional 80 people needed to run St. Croix Tissue have been hired, he said. Woodland Pulp has 320 employees.
“Strategic investment is the key to surviving and successfully competing in a global industry such as ours,” Beal said.