The Old Town mill has been sold yet again, this time to a Chinese group that recently expanded into the U.S. — including the mill in Rumford — earlier this year.
The mill’s new owner is ND Paper, a subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper of Hong Kong. ND Paper completed its purchases of the mill in Rumford and Biron, Wisconsin, in June. Nine Dragons Paper is China’s largest producer of containerboard, which most commonly is used in making cardboard boxes.
According to a news release Wednesday afternoon, ND Paper has entered into a purchase agreement with OTM Holdings, which currently owns the mill. Under terms of the agreement, ND Paper will acquire Old Town’s bleached kraft pulp mill, plus about 100 acres.
The sale was in cash; the amount paid was undisclosed.
When the mill abruptly closed in September 2015, it was producing roughly 155,000 metric tons per year of bleached hardwood kraft pulp. ND Paper said in the news release that the mill will be reconfigured to operate at substantially lower manufacturing costs than previous ownership in three ways: moving the production mix from hardwood kraft to softwood kraft pulp; eliminating bleaching operations and focusing on unbleached softwood pulp; and sharing several management and administrative functions with ND Paper’s Rumford Division.
After a series of phased-in capital investments, ND Paper anticipates the mill will restart in the first quarter of 2019 and ultimately produce 275,000 metric tons per year of unbleached kraft pulp.
“We are absolutely thrilled to restart the Old Town Mill and return well over 100 high-paying jobs to Penobscot County,” said Ken Liu, CEO of ND Paper. “By leveraging our existing manufacturing platform in Maine, combined with the financial capacity to wisely invest in the mill’s production capabilities, we expect to create a very strong future for this facility. Also, similar to our other recent acquisition announcement in West Virginia, this transaction supports Nine Dragons’ company-wide fiber sourcing requirements and global growth initiatives.”
Gov. Paul LePage congratulated ND Paper “for showing the confidence and vision to get it back up and running,” according to the release. “This is just the latest example of new investment and career opportunities throughout our forest products industry. It’s a trend we expect will continue as we work with various investors and projects in areas such as biofuels, cross laminated timber and pellets.”
Jean Carrier, president of CVG the — parent company of Old Town Holdings — said the investment was further proof that the pulp and paper industry is positively adjusting to market changes and is alive and well in Maine.
“One way or another, it has been our goal to protect the Old Town Mill site and see that it thrives into the future,” Carrier said. “There are many very talented and hardworking people in the forest products industry who will help make this a tremendous long-term success and we are excited to see ND Paper growing at this site.”
Old Town Mayor David Mahan said residents of Old Town had been promised that something great would be coming to the mill site.
“Over the last few years we’ve worked closely with Bill Firestone from MFGR, and over the last several months with Jean Carrier of CVG Inc. towards my goal of bringing jobs back to Old Town,” Mahan said.
Nine Dragons appears to be making a serious commitment to its U.S. mills. It announced Monday that it was going to invest $300 million in the Rumford and Wisconsin mills, with $111 million of that going to Rumford.
Old Town Holdings bought the mill Jan. 31 from MFGR. At that time, it had planned to redevelop the site into a wood fiber-based complex comprising multiple tenants.
MFGR, a Connecticut-based liquidation consortium, bought the mill in January 2016 after it had been closed in 2015 by former owner Expera, which itself reportedly had invested in excess of $25 million in the Old Town mill before closing it because of market conditions.
It was initially feared that MFGR would sell the mill for scrap, but the consortium agreed to work with city officials and other interested parties on redevelopment of the mill site. That led to the purchase by Old Town Holdings, a Lincoln-based subsidiary of a group known as CVG that included some of Maine’s largest timberland owners: Jeannot Carrier, Tim Varney and Tom Gardner.
A portion of the Old Town Holdings’ plan had involved generating electricity for UMaine via biomass, but Con Edison Solutions backed out in February, with Honeywell then being selected to work with the university.
Con Ed maintained it did so because the university’s timeline to put the project together was not feasible, although the utility’s decision also came after questions arose over whether Con Ed had been given information from a UMaine official that gave it an inside track. An audit committee at UMaine later determined there was no improper conduct by the official.
OTM Holdings’ plans further were bogged down by an ongoing court fight with Samuel Eakin, a Cape Elizabeth-based developer who had claimed he was forced out of future plans for the mill.
ND Paper LLC, the owner of the Rumford mill, has bought the shuttered Old Town mill and plans to restart paper production in 2019. (Portland Press Herald file photo)