Rumford doesn’t deserve jilting from biorefinery

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“We have been moving very, very fast on several fronts simultaneously, and what we are doing has the potential to significantly contribute to the employment and economic activity in the River Valley.”

– Scott Christiansen, Feb. 2004

Times have changed.

Christiansen, the current guru of the Rumford-based Fractionation Development Center, spoke these words during his tenure as executive director of the River Valley Growth Council, the organization which has helped, over the past several years, support his entrepreneurial vision to turn trees into oil.

Now, with plans for a $45 million biorefinery plant on the horizon, the community that nurtured Christiansen’s vision could be jilted. The science of pyrolysis, Christiansen’s timetable, and a reluctant NewPage mill has Rumford out of contention for the first phase of this development.

NewPage says because FDC and the mill need the same raw material for its products, it’s unsure what accommodating FDC will mean for production of its paper. NewPage is also awaiting a wastewater permit from the state, and accepting FDC’s overtures could put that in jeopardy.

Christiansen, for his part, is regretful. But not enough to slow his plans to benefit the River Valley, as there are other mills across Maine that are responsive. Maybe in two years, he says, when the second phase of FDC builds a plant to convert biomass into a kind of natural gas, will Rumford reap some reward.

Selectmen are puzzled, with good reason.

The region’s ballyhooed business incubator, the River Valley Technology Center, was supposed to create jobs inside the River Valley, not in Millinocket or Old Town, two of the eight sites Christiansen and the FDC have said are being considered for its inaugural investment.

Millions of dollars, and untold political capital, have been spent to buoy the technology center, in the hopes of a regional return from its successful incubations. Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, still wants more and has introduced a $50 million biorefining bond, and a one-third increase of FDC’s $210,000 subsidy into this legislative session.

Yet, despite all this progress, Rumford has been left with a half-empty building and vague promise.

There’s room for compromise among the town, NewPage and Christiansen to ensure Rumford sees its return first, given its long-term support. Perhaps stalling the decision on siting the biorefinery would give NewPage time to investigate its concerns, and improve Rumford’s place among the potential locations.

The community deserves the chance to compete, especially for something it should have had.

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