Aide says Maine governor's meeting 'went well' with local officials over future of two Katahdin Paper mills closed by owner Brookfield; 'qualified buyer' sought

Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton

May 5, 2011 – Bangor Daily News

MILLINOCKET, Maine , May 5, 2011 () – Neither Gov. Paul LePage nor the local officials from Millinocket and East Millinocket with whom he met Tuesday afternoon would disclose what took place during an hourlong closed door meeting at the Millinocket Town Office.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of two Katahdin region paper mills that have been closed, leaving hundreds of people without jobs. It remained unclear Tuesday evening whether any progress had been made toward finding a buyer for the shuttered mills.

Millinocket Town Manager Gene Conlogue also declined to disclose the contents of the meeting.

“It was held in executive session and there is nothing we can report coming out of it,” he said.

Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

“We’re not getting into the details of the meeting,” Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, told representatives of the region’s news media at the Millinocket Town Office, where the meeting took place.

The mills’ Toronto-based owner, Brookfield Asset Management Co., closed the East Millinocket mill on April 1, putting an estimated 450 union and nonunion employees out of work. The Millinocket mill closed in September 2008.

In early April, potential buyer Meriturn Capital, an investor in paper mills, stepped away from a deal with Brookfield that would have kept the East Millinocket mill operating and potentially reopen the Millinocket mill. Brookfield officials then confirmed plans to dismantle the Millinocket mill and liquidate its assets by the end of April.

Brookfield, however, since has granted LePage’s request to put off decommissioning the mill through July 31, Bennett noted Tuesday.

In a subsequent telephone interview Tuesday, Bennett did say that the meeting in Millinocket “went well.”

“The governor is deeply committed to creating jobs,” she added. “The discussions are preliminary at this point but the governor did say he was optimistic and that he would not have requested an extension [of Brookfield’s deadline] if he didn’t think there was something he could offer.”

The extension of the deadline is among the few bright spots the community has seen in recent weeks,

“We’re going to take our time and try to find a qualified buyer,” Bennett said.

East Millinocket officials say the mill in their community cannot be dismantled yet because the town still has a $2.17 million tax lien on it.

The Maine Department of Labor recently deployed a rapid response team to the hard-hit region.

“We are happy to hear that a little more than 400 [former mill workers] are taking advantage of the services of the rapid response team,” Bennett said.

The team’s mission, among other things, is to help affected employees find new jobs or make a transition to new careers.

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