Mill worker says energy prices must drop

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FARMINGTON — Lance Harvell has worked for International Paper Co., and then Verso Corp., at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay for 28 years.

He does not know if he will have a job next year after Verso implements its reduction of paper and pulp production.

The company announced Thursday that it planned to eliminate about 300 jobs at the Jay mill and shut down the No. 1 pulp dryer and No. 2 paper machine beginning in the fourth quarter of this year. Verso cited Maine’s high energy prices, imports, market decline and local and state taxes among the contributing factors in its decision. It also plans to idle a Kentucky mill and lay off about 310 people there.

Harvell works in the Ground Wood Department and is one of the 300 who could lose their jobs, he said. However, it will all depend on the type of process the company uses to eliminate those jobs.

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“As of now, my job is one set for elimination,” Harvell, 52, said. “No one knows what their options are. No one knows who will lose their jobs.”

He has been running a few scenarios through his head, if his job is eliminated.

“There are all kinds of possibilities,” he said.

It would be a change.

“I’m not really worried about it. I have had a chance to do some different things in my life,” he said.

He is also not worried about losing his house or paying his bills. His wife, Bernadette, has a job, he said.

“I’ll have to make some lifestyle changes. I will have to make some decisions,” Harvell said.

Market conditions are always changing. The price of coated paper is dropping faster than projected, he said.

Generally, when one industry is lost, another industry is built up, he said. The Internet is hurting magazines and newspapers, he said, but it is helping to build the box industry up because more people are shopping online.

Taxes are another issue in the state, he said.

In Jay, where Verso is challenging Jay’s appraisal of its mill for 2013 and 2014, Verso believes the property should be valued less than assessed, and Jay believes it is worth the amount the town assessed it.

The issue of the high cost of energy has him all fired up, said Harvell, who served as a Republican state representative for six years.

He understands if a competitor beats you fairly.

“What is terrible is when you are beaten when you are not given a chance,” he said.

Energy prices need to be decreased in the state, he said.

Gov. Paul LePage, now in his second term, has said that since he was elected. He has also said taxes in the state need to be reduced and has tried unsuccessfully to implement measures to reduce them.

“It’s absurd for anyone to believe that tax policies do not affect human decisions on businesses or otherwise,” Harvell said.

Verso closed its Bucksport paper mill in December. The company cited high energy costs as a contributing factor.

High energy costs as well as a sluggish economy were also factors when Wausau Paper Corp. closed its Otis Mill in Jay in 2009.

One decision that affects Maine businesses and energy costs is that of Massachusetts state officials in 2014 to withdraw support for a New England effort to expand the natural gas pipeline and to increase natural gas capacity to help lower energy costs, Harvell said.

There is a renewed effort under a new Massachusetts governor working with other New England governors this year, including LePage and his Energy Office, to address ways to lower energy costs in the states.

LePage released a statement Friday that said he sent another letter to legislative leadership “calling for action to reform Maine’s obsolete and costly energy policies.”

LePage has said many times during his governorship, and again in Friday’s release, that “we must make Maine more competitive and that capital investment goes where it’s welcomed and stays where it is appreciated.”

His administration is also working on proposals to modernize and lower the cost of state policies that were put in place years ago, according to the statement.

dperry@sunmediagroup.net

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