Maine lawmakers are scheduled to resume debate on a state borrowing package on Monday. Most of the controversy concerns the $17 million earmarked for purchasing the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic rail line that runs through Aroostook County. The line would likely be abandoned without a buyer.
John Williams, president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, said while northern Maine would be most impacted by the MMA line closure, the paper mills in Jay and Rumford would feel it as well.
“It will have an indirect effect. If the mills that are further east of them can’t get wood because the rail line is not there, they will be buying wood that is currently being bought by the mills in Jay and Rumford, which means the mills in Jay and Rumford are going to have to buy wood further to the west or the price is just going to go up because there’s not going to be enough,” he said.
Five mills, located in Madawaska, Millinocket, Old Town, Skowhegan and Baileyville, use that stretch of rail directly, Williams said.
“It’s a pretty big issue; the mills that are directly affected are really concerned. A lot of it is about wood coming in, but it’s also products, paper rolls, that are going out,” he said. “The primary concern for us is: Will we be able to get wood at an affordable price if we can’t use rail at many of our mills?”
Williams said using trucks instead of rail would increase transportation costs for the five mills in eastern and northern Maine.
“Wood is one of the biggest costs for any of the mills, and wood prices are going up pretty quickly right now anyway, so if we add this to it, it could have a real negative impact for many of our mills,” he said, adding that, for once, things were looking up for the industry.
“The economy finally seems to be picking up and demand is going up for paper, and it’s particularly going up for pulp, which a lot of our mills make and use at their own facilities, but some of them also sell it worldwide,” Williams said.
Calls to the Verso mill in Jay and the New Page mill in Rumford on Friday were not returned.
— Rebekah Metzler