AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s administration said Wednesday that he’s concerned about the proposed sale of a Maine paper mill to a Canadian scrap metal recycler and is weighing state actions to ensure the mill remains intact.
Verso Paper Corp. has reached a deal to sell its Bucksport mill to a subsidiary of Montreal-based American Iron and Metal for $60 million. That news has devastated the community, said town and union officials, who had hoped that a buyer would continue paper-making operations.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that the governor remains dedicated to protecting the mill from being dismantled and is “looking into whatever options may be available to him.” She declined to say what options are on the table.
“If there is anything the state can do to step in, we will do so in the best interest of the employees,” Bennett said. She added that the administration is hopeful that a positive resolution is in sight.
Verso officials have said that the official shutdown date for the mill will be Dec. 31. The more than 500 workers who are losing their jobs will remain on the payroll until then.
A spokesman for the scrap recycler didn’t immediately return a call on Wednesday seeking a comment regarding its plans. Bill Cohen, a spokesman for Memphis, Tenn.-based Verso, said that the sale is expected to be completed early next year, but said he “shouldn’t be responding to political statements.”
Dave Milan, Bucksport’s economic development director, said people in the community are angry and frustrated about the deal.
“People believe that the mill is profitable,” he said. “Because of a business decision being made from an out-of-state company it’s going to have a negative impact on our area.”
Bennett said LePage’s first priority is ensuring that the laid-off workers are promptly given severance pay, which state law requires to be issued within one regular pay period after employment ends.
Verso’s contact with the union says the payments won’t be made for three months, said Emery Deabay, president of United Steelworkers Local 1188. Deabay expects the issue will end up in court but isn’t hopeful for a quick resolution.
Short of “marching the street and stopping traffic going into Bucksport, I don’t know what else we can do,” he said.