Gov. LePage wants to stop Verso from selling Bucksport mill

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AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s office is looking for a way to prevent Verso Paper from selling its Bucksport mill to the Canadian metal recycling firm American Iron and Metal Co., but it’s unclear what leverage the state’s leader will have in that fight.

Nevertheless, Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said Tuesday in an email that the governor “is now looking into whatever options may be available to him.”

“The governor is concerned about the decision-making by Verso leadership, and the state will assess its options with regard to intervening in this process,” she said.

One way LePage could have some say in the sale is if state government has any loans to Verso or its power-generating company in Bucksport, but it’s not apparent that the state has such leverage.

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Verso doesn’t have any loans through the Finance Authority of Maine or the Maine Technology Institute. The company does have a tax increment financing agreement that was extended in 2010 to support some of its biomass boiler upgrade project, which is part of the mill’s 303 megawatts in power generation assets.

Regulatory approval for the sale appears to be limited in scope. The new buyer will have to prove creditworthy to take over a Maine Department of Environmental Protection permit for a landfill that’s on the site, and the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission will have to sign off on transferring the power generation assets on site to American Iron and Metal.

Verso spokesman Bill Cohen said Monday that American Iron and Metal plans to continue operating those power generation assets, which employ about 60 people and would sell power onto the grid during the winter.

Cohen and other Verso officials did not return requests for responses to the governor’s statement Tuesday. The attorney general’s office was not able to comment Tuesday on what power the governor’s office might have to intervene in the sale.

Tim Feeley, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, did comment on a separate issue, stating that the attorney general and the Department of Labor would hold the company to making severance payments within eight days of employees’ last day of work.

Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, said workers are faced with big career and personal decisions — such as moving — as the chance of ever returning to work at the mill appears less likely.

“That door may be shutting and that may force some of the workers — who were trying to buy some time — to make those decisions a little earlier, like before the holidays,” Rabinowitz said. “There’s a little more scrambling.”

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